NEW YORK — Cafeteria, the 24-7 hipster diner in Chelsea, has been making fashion statements along with tasty late-night meals since it opened its doors in 1998.
Now, as it counts down to its 15th anniversary and unveils its new PDR (private dining room), it’s taken a turn toward the casual, dressing its waitstaff of about 80 in jeans by Los Angeles-based Item jeans and shoes from Vans.
“We’ve always looked to the fashion world for partnerships and we’ve always had a fashion element — and a fashion clientele,” said Marko Kalfa, the fashion photographer who serves as director of events and marketing for the 2,200-square-foot restaurant. “Whether it’s the food we’re serving or the interior design or the clothes our waitstaff wears, it makes sense for us to stay relevant in a trendy market like New York City.”
In its early days, designer Victor Alfaro was among the eatery’s investors and Dolce & Gabbana provided apparel that at one point included corsets that made serving difficult. The approach today is a good deal more laid-back, with Item’s jeans and Vans shoes projecting a far more relaxed vibe. “We wanted a sleek, simple, clean look, just like we have in the restaurant and now in PDR,” Kalfa said.
As has been the case with previous fashion affiliations, there is no formal agreement between Cafeteria and its outfitters. The companies are providing the clothes in exchange for the exposure as well as opportunities to hold parties and press briefings at Cafeteria’s Seventh Avenue site.
Charlie Chung, vice president of brand management at Item, which styles its brand “!iTEM,” said Cafeteria’s typical customer was nearly a perfect match for his target customer, typically a college graduate in his middle or late 20s involved in some kind of creative pursuit such as fashion, music or art. “There’s a constant surge of energy in this group,” he said. “They’re constantly connected to the digital world.”
The Cafeteria aesthetic matched Item’s clean, uncluttered look as well: no oversize logos, a signature single-needle stitch of blue thread across the right back pocket.
Considering its fashion heritage, Cafeteria might take the step of selling branded clothes of its own in the future. “Everything we’ve done so far with fashion has been casual and friendly, based on handshake agreements — ‘we give you this, you give us that,’” said Kalfa. “If we decide to get into sales of apparel, that would have to change.”