She is tall and slender, with an elegant conical hat. She frequents the tables of the most coveted restaurants in New York. It lights up a room.
Have you seen her? It’s a lamp. The Pina Pro wireless lamp from Italian design company Zafferano, to be exact. And she is everywhere.
In the evening, waiters at the elegant Altro Paradiso Italian restaurant in SoHo place Pina Pros on the tables outside, where the 14 tiny LED lights in each cast a soft, romantic glow over the duck stew pappardelle. A cozy enough glow, perhaps, to make you forget the rat that just passed by or the sound of the Ducati dealership across the street.
At The Dutch, a few blocks away at the corner of Prince and Sullivan streets, the black hue of the lamp matches the columns surrounding the outdoor tables. A street away, several Pina Pros line the plant-filled dining room of French-Indonesian restaurant Wayan. The list of devotees of the lamp continues to grow, mainly in Manhattan: Little Owl, Market Table, Cote, Mercer Kitchen, Vestry, Lodi, Cipriani. Brooklyn restaurants with Pina Pros include Evelina and Aurora.
“They are the most perfect model that can exist for an outdoor lamp for a restaurant,” said Lauren Miller, COO of Mattos Hospitality, which runs Altro Paradiso. “They’re totally user-friendly, they last a really long time, they don’t blow out,” like candles do. At $149 a lamp, they’re not cheap, but they’re rechargeable.
At Altro Paradiso, a few lamps mysteriously disappeared, Ms Miller said. When the restaurant didn’t yet have one for each table, “people were fighting over them,” she added.
All the hubbub around a light source may remind some diners of the exposed filament Edison light bulb, which a decade ago became a cliché of restaurant decor.
The Pina Pro owes its ubiquity in part to the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, when restaurants in New York City were allowed to start outdoor service after being closed, owners suddenly had to make dining on sidewalks and streets – au amidst the smells and sounds of the city – feel as intimate as indoor dining.
It was time for the lamp to shine.
“Restaurants across the city have started putting tables on sidewalks in the dark,” said Barrett Gross, president of Zafferano America. “I saw this as a tremendous opportunity.”
The Pina Pro debuted in February, a year after Zafferano officially opened its US branch. But it didn’t sell well at first. So one night in June 2020, Mr. Gross strolled through SoHo, where he lives, with two lamps in his hand. He approached the reception stands, put down the lamps and turned them on.
At Italian restaurant Cipriani, “one of the hosts said, ‘When can I have them? ‘” Mr. Gross recalls. “It was the most enthusiastic response I’ve ever had selling anything in my life.”
Once the lamps landed in a few Cipriani locations, other restaurateurs started inquiring about them, Gross said. The diners asked if they could buy the lamp on their table.
The lamp “was so good for restaurants back when restaurants didn’t know how to serve meals outdoors,” said Joey Campanaro, chef and owner of Little Owl. It offered “comfort and utility”.
“The power of light is amazing,” he added, “especially in a restaurant.”
More than 20,000 of the lamps sold last year in the United States, Mr. Gross said.
Sales are up 910% from 2020 to 2021 and are expected to more than double in 2022, said Ben Austin, who leads marketing for Zafferano America. Restaurants made 20-30% of those purchases, mostly in New York. But the lamp is gaining traction in other cities, including Miami (where the white model is a favorite) and Washington, Mr. Austin said.
In several restaurants, diners can order the Pina Pro directly from their table, using QR codes placed under the lamps. The company says it hasn’t spent any money on traditional advertising.
Gianni Morsell, who ate at Dutch last Saturday night, said she had never seen a light like the Pina Pro. “I would totally buy it for my house,” she said.
KwangHo Lee, the president of Japanese restaurant Momoya’s SoHo and Upper West Side locations, saw the lamps at The Dutch in March. He now uses them at his SoHo location and said he wouldn’t go back to candles, which need to be replaced and cleaned regularly.
But there will always be those who prefer to dine by candlelight. On a recent night out at Altro Paradiso, Jillian McKigney turned off the Pina Pro at her outside table, saying it was “a little sterile”.
His table companion, Blair Brice, said the tiny head and heavy base of the lamp looked out of proportion. She missed the yellow glow of a candle, and the way it flickers and dances. “Forever votives,” she says.