Restaurant t-shirts, to me, are what I imagine band t-shirts are to other people.
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and the idea of wearing what you love as a way to signal who you are. And I love restaurants and food and I love how repping merch from my favorite restaurants feel super local — it feels specific to a place, a neighborhood, and to other people who live there or who have visited there and who might know and love that restaurant too. For the same reasons, I also love indie bookstore merch. And plant store merch (I was thrilled to find out that some of my favorite plant stores in LA have merch!). And merch from any of the places around me. If the tiny little pocket park around the corner had merch, if the local cornerstore had merch, if the magnolia tree down the street had merch, you bet I’d be wearing that merch, too.
Whenever I find myself in a new place, it feels like finding the spots to eat that this place contains is always the first way I can feel some sense of comfort and familiarity with the new location. The moment I start to feel like I know a place (or maybe, more accurately, that a place begins to know me) is when I can list off a few great places to eat in the area. And I tend to keep finding more and more favorite menu items and dishes, and restaurants, and trucks, and little carts, and markets, and I kind of just keep doing that over and over again until suddenly I’ve found that I’ve fallen in love with being where I am and being alive. If I could have a t-shirt for every place I fell in love with, every dish I fell in love with, I would.
I like to imagine going to a restaurant as a fan of that restaurant, the same way one goes to a concert as a fan of the artist, wearing the restaurant’s own merch as a way to show how excited I am about eating there. And I imagine if I have to run to the bathroom, that on my way back to my own table, someone at another table might stop me, thinking I worked at the restaurant, and ask me a question about the menu. And I’d say “oh, I’m sorry I don’t work here, I’m just a fan.” And they’d look at me, all confused, like, why are you wearing a shirt with the name of the restaurant on it then. And I’d understand their confusion and say, “…but as a fan, I can definitely still talk to you about the menu.”
PS. If anyone reading this has any favorite restaurants that have merch, please share those links!! I’d love to see the merch of your favorite places!