Salt and Pepper abound
by Jeff Mortimer
A Roadhouse collection celebrates the humble saltshaker.
When Zingerman's had the produce market in Kerrytown for a time in the late 1990s, it was decorated with fifty or so produce-themed salt and pepper shakers. After the market closed, the shakers reposed in boxes in Zingerman's offices until cofounder Ari Weinzweig remembered them one day while he was in the company's relatively new Roadhouse restaurant.
"I was thinking they'd be pretty cool in the bar, just to liven things up a bit," Weinzweig says. "We put them in there, and I liked them, so I decided to do more. Then I liked those and decided to do more, then more, and there you are."
Now there are about 1,100 sets of vintage American salt and pepper shakers displayed in custom-made cases lining the restaurant's walls, and they're in almost as many shapes as there are sets: oil derricks, a television (turn the dials and the shakers pop out), polar bears, lawn mowers, Siamese cats, skyscrapers, tepees, numerous breeds of dogs, a set of Bakelite Washington Monuments that he thinks dates from the 1930s, and a souvenir set from the 1939 New York World's Fair in the forms of the Trylon and Perisphere structures that were its visual signature.
Many of them, in fact, were souvenirs or promotional items, like Willie and Millie, the Kool cigarettes penguins; Elsie and Elmer, the Borden Dairy Company cows; and Fifi the Cat and Fido the Dog, mascots for Ken-L-Ration. They were also popular premiums at service stations and utility companies and were even produced by renowned pottery studios like Rosemeade in North Dakota, Ceramic Arts in Wisconsin, Frankoma in Oklahoma, and Bauer in California.
Bauer made the blue and yellow tuna over Table 106 for Chicken of the Sea, but "salt and pepper shakers were not their main item," says Weinzweig. "They were a sideline they'd sell for a dollar."
They're not the main item at the Roadhouse, either, but he likes what they represent. "They're a unique-to-the-U.S. bit of pretty cool commercial art," he writes on the company's website, "and because salt and pepper historically were very costly and hard for most people to get, there's something I like about most everyone here in this country having access to them."
[Originally published in September, 2013.]