She is tall and slender, wearing an elegant conical hat. She frequents the tables of the most coveted restaurants in New York City. She lights up a room.
Perhaps you have seen it? She is a lamp. The Pina Pro cordless lamp from the Italian design company Zafferano, to be exact. And she is everywhere.
In the evenings, the waiters at the elegant Italian restaurant Altro Paradiso in SoHo place Pina Pros on the outside tables, where the 14 tiny LED lights in each cast a soft, romantic glow on the pappardelle with duck ragu. A cozy enough glow, perhaps, to make you forget about the rat that just ran past or the noise from the Ducati dealership across the street.
At the Dutch, a few blocks away on the corner of Prince and Sullivan streets, the pitch black of the chandelier matches the columns surrounding the outdoor tables. A street over, several Pina Pros line the plant-filled dining room at French-Indonesian restaurant Wayan. The list of lamp loyalists continues to grow, mostly 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 there could be for an outdoor light fixture for a restaurant,” said Lauren Miller, chief operating officer of Mattos Hospitality, which runs Altro Paradiso. “They’re totally easy to use, they last a long time, they don’t go out,” like candles do. At $149 per lamp, they aren’t cheap, but they are rechargeable.
At Altro Paradiso, some lamps mysteriously disappeared, Miller said. When the restaurant didn’t yet have one for every table, “people were fighting over them,” he added.
All the fuss about a light source may remind some diners of the exposed-filament Edison light bulb, which became a restaurant decor cliché a decade ago.
The Pina Pro owes its ubiquity in part to the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, when New York restaurants were allowed to begin outdoor service after being closed, owners suddenly had to dine on sidewalks and streets, amid the smells and the sounds of the city, felt as intimate as dining indoors.
It was time for the lamp to shine.
“Restaurants across the city started setting up tables on the sidewalks in the dark,” said Barrett Gross, president of Zafferano America. “I saw this as a great 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 walked through SoHo, where he lives, with two lamps in hand. He approached the reception posts, put down the lamps and lit them.
At the Cipriani Italian restaurant, “one of the hosts said, ‘When can I have them?’” Gross recalled. “It was the most enthusiastic response I’ve ever received selling anything in my life.”
Once the lamps landed at some Cipriani locations, other restorers began asking about them, Gross said. Diners asked if they could buy the lamp for his table.
The lamp “was so great for restaurants back in the day when restaurants had no idea how to serve outdoor dining,” said Joey Campanaro, chef and owner of Little Owl. He provided “comfort and utility”.
“The power of light is incredible,” he added, “especially in a restaurant.”
More than 20,000 of the lamps were sold last year in the United States, Gross said.
Sales grew 910 percent from 2020 to 2021, and are on track to more than double in 2022, said Ben Austin, who heads marketing for Zafferano America. Restaurants made 20 to 30 percent of those purchases, most of them in New York. But the lamp is gaining traction in other cities, such as Miami (where the white model is the favorite) and Washington, Austin said.
In various restaurants, diners can order the Pina Pro directly from their table, using QR codes placed on the bottom of the lamps. The company says it hasn’t spent any money on traditional advertising.
Gianni Morsell, who was dining at the Dutch last Saturday night, said he had never seen a lamp quite like the Pina Pro. “I would totally buy this for my house,” he said.
KwangHo Lee, the president of Momoya Japanese restaurant’s SoHo and Upper West Side locations, spotted the lamps at the Dutchman in March. He now uses them at his SoHo location and said he won’t go back to the candles, which must be replaced and cleaned regularly.
But there will always be those who prefer to dine by candlelight. On a recent night at Altro Paradiso, Jillian McKigney turned off the Pina Pro at her outdoor table and said she was “a little sterile.”
Her dining partner, Blair Brice, said the lamp’s tiny head and heavy base felt out of proportion. She missed the yellow glow of a candle and the way she flickers and dances. “Votives forever,” she said.