Dishes: Old school plateware at The Top

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

The plates at The Top haven't changed in 60 years. The Homer Laughlin dishes, adorned with the restaurant's iconic logo and an ombre black edge, are as classic as the restaurant's steak au poivre and baked potatoes with ice cream scoop-sized mounds of sour cream.

The only thing that's changed is how the dishes come to the Bexley steakhouse. "It used to be a one-on-one relationship [with Homer Laughlin]," says co-owner Regina Adkins, who now orders them locally through restaurant equipment wholesaler Wasserstrom. "It's not so anymore. But we would never change companies."

"I had a gentleman last night who wanted to buy a dozen plates," Adkins says. "I'm not a collector, so it's interesting to me that someone would want a dozen plates." (She said yes.)

Although dishes leave the restaurant, some find their way back home. People return plates from The Top that they've found in garage sales and home auctions, Adkins says. A year ago, a gentleman brought in four sets of (legally obtained) dishes from his mother's 1956 wedding reception.

And how do 59-year-old plates compare with the ones Adkins orders from Wasserstrom today? "They look exactly the same," she says.

The Pottery Capital of the World

Chances are you've had a meal on Homer Laughlin china. From boring white plates to bright orange Fiestaware to your grandmother's flower-laden set reserved for holidays and special occasions, this plate-making powerhouse caters to restaurants and homemakers alike. Were you aware, though, that those plates, salad bowls and teacups have Ohio ties?

East Liverpool, Ohio, was once the Pottery Capital of the World, with around 35 potteries in the area, says Dan Williams of Homer Laughlin. In 1873, the company settled in the Ohio Valley because of its rich clay deposits and a grant awarded to brothers Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin by the city of East Liverpool. As demand for their pottery grew, the company built a facility across the river in Newell, West Virginia (along with a bridge for easy access).

"While we are known for Fiestaware, the tagline we use right now is, 'We've been setting America's table for 144 years,' " Williams says, citing Applebee's and Cheesecake Factory as some of the company's biggest clients.

The Fiestaware line (a favorite of Alana's Food and Wine on Campus) became a bright spot 50 years into the company's history. In the early 1930s, a traveling salesman saw vibrant dishes out west. Believing that making affordable and brightly colored dinnerware might raise consumer's depression-era spirits, he brought the idea back to Homer Laughlin.