Attention, Bistro Shoppers!

By Donna Garlough | Boston Magazine |

Scanning the shelves at South End shop Las Ventas is not unlike reading the menu at neighboring restaurant Estragon: jamón serrano, three types of manchego cheese, boquerones in olive oil. The store, which opened alongside the eatery last June, is meant to feel like walking into the chef’s own pantry—or a glorified version of it, anyway, giving shoppers a taste of the eating-out experience without the actual eating out.

It’s all part of the latest trend in restaurants: going retail. In recent months we’ve seen the openings of Las Ventas; Brookline beer and cheese outlet Publick House Provisions, which debuted just up the street from its tavern namesake; and, most recently, Downtown Crossing’s Bina Alimentari and Bina Osteria, an Italian market/resto combo from the owners of Bin 26 Enoteca and Lala Rokh. They join trendsetter shops like Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop and Plum Produce, suppliers of luxe meats and status vegetables to fussy South Enders, and Tomasso Trattoria offshoot Panzano in Southborough, purveyor of wine and Italian goods.

In a need-to-diversify economic climate, the concept makes pretty good business sense. There’s the built-in clientele, for one. Love your dinner? Here’s where to get that great chorizo or Italian roasted peppers (sure, they may cost $15 a jar, but these are curated peppers, and still cheaper than what you’d pay at the restaurant). Then there’s the matter of scale. "Having three other restaurants and a shop gives you buying power," notes Bina Alimentari co-owner Babak Bina. "We have the ability to, say, buy a whole grass-fed cow and butcher it for use in all of them." And in a business that typically relies on lunch and dinner rushes to generate most of its revenue, having a steady stream of retail customers can reduce money-sucking downtime—and provide between-meals shoppers and snackers a place to stock up.

You don’t even need a whole storefront to get in the game. When the North End’s Nebo found itself packing up free jars of marinara for its regulars, co-owner Carla Pallotta decided to put some sauces up for sale. "We make it anyway, so it’s easy," she explains. But for those who do open shops, there’s one sure benefit to crossing over: When times are lean, being able to put all those handcrafted foods in shopping bags as well as on dinner plates can help make for a healthier bottom line.