IMBY – In My Backyard

Homer Laughlin China Archived Plates
Archive dinnerware at The Homer Laughlin China Company (photographed by Morgan Tucker)
  • Imperial Dade
  • McKee Foodservice
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Easy Ice
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • Day & Nite
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Atosa USA
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One of the best lessons learned from the pandemic was to appreciate our own backyards. From camping to foraging to snowshoeing, I learned to deeply appreciate my local parks and recreation. Thankfully, two legendary tableware destinations are also local, and the minute they reopened to visitors I jumped at the opportunity.

When the dense fog began to accumulate and Waze started to lose GPS navigation, I knew I was close to the holy grail of American pottery, but I first had to cross the threshold. Then she appeared. It was not a mirage, but the Newell Toll Bridge in all her glory, proof that old industry folklore can ring true. Built in 1905, a majestic 1500’ span, 86’ above the Ohio River, to transport the craftsmen of Ohio to the potteries of Newell, West Virginia. Utilitarian, magnificent, and timeless, like the best tableware.

Newell Toll Bridge Entrance BackyardI blissfully handed over my dollar bill ($.75 one way, $1.00 if you pay for the round-trip up front) and immediately began flooding two elder statesmen, the czars of The Newell Bridge Toll Booth, with questions. We didn’t get much time to talk, given the one-way nature of the situation, but they were quite accepting of both my exuberance for their head-to-toe whiteware and request for a selfie.

On the other side of the bridge is The Homer Laughlin China Company, a bucket-list destination for anyone passionate about American pottery, and truly the stuff of legend. I’ve been steeped in those tales since the start of my career. The story of the mentor of my mentors demanding more “seconds” from the factory for one of his largest accounts, Charlie Brown’s restaurants, is one that has stuck with me for years. Few things are more Americana than Charlie Brown. Perhaps even fewer are more Americana than Homer Laughlin.

Operators today may never have even heard of dinnerware seconds, but in earlier decades it was common practice to offer the slightly blemished or irregular results of production pottery as a cost-saving alternative to restaurateurs. Standardized manufacturing, robotics, automation, and even new recycling processes have made seconds a thing of the past. Vintage seconds have become rare jewels, just as archived patterns have become icons.

  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Atosa USA
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • Easy Ice
  • Day & Nite
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • RATIONAL USA
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Imperial Dade
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • McKee Foodservice

There’s always been something extremely special about the quality and legacy of The Homer Laughlin China Company. John Miles, President and CEO of Steelite, vehemently agrees. He acquired the company just as the pandemic was erupting.  The reason for our visit was to peruse collections of the past that will be reissued in years to come, for new generations of diners to fall in love with.

We were also offered a complete tour of the newly established and thriving Fiesta Tableware Company factory. With a focus on only Fiestaware, perhaps the most instantly recognizable American tableware, the factory is booming with business to satisfy our nation’s growing interest in reviving heirloom pottery. Finally.

Upon departure, a glorious sun appeared over the Allegheny Plateau reflecting onto the Ohio River. As rainbow mountains of Fiestaware glistened in the distance, I knew how I envisioned the entrance to paradise.

Across the Buckeye State lies another American tableware titan. I also spent time at Libbey Glass, in Toledo, this year. As we usher in 2022, state-of-the-art glassware manufacturing is already underway with a new “BLT” machine producing Master’s Reserve glassware at the Libbey Plant. To satisfy America’s increased need for domestic upscale glassware production, the Black Label Tableware project has moved to the brand’s headquarters.

It is wonderful to see domestic tableware manufacturing grow and evolve. Some of the most historical names become brand new, as if we have rediscovered them. As you make your own travel plans for 2022 and beyond, consider the destinations you have previously overlooked and the discoveries you can make for yourself. I don’t know what’s in your backyard, but I’m sure glad I discovered mine.

  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Atosa USA
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • McKee Foodservice
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Imperial Dade
  • Easy Ice
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Day & Nite
  • RAK Porcelain