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Unique pottery featured in metro-area restaurants

McAlister’s Deli, Gail Pittman colllaborating

RIDGELAND — Two Mississippi companies are giving a new twist to the term “strategic partnership.”

Jackson-area diners can now see samples of McAlister’s Deli’s signature dessert offerings — Kentucky Pie, Cheesecake Supreme or Chocolate Loving Spoon Cake — displayed in their deli cases on unusual pottery pieces created exclusively for the restaurants by Gail Pittman Studios.

Ian MacDonald, marketing director for McAlister’s Deli, said that although Gail Pittman’s work has been featured in the decor of their restaurants for some time, this particular concept was developed over the past year. “We found ourselves in a lot of very similar markets,” MacDonald said. The collaboration is a way for both Gail Pittman and McAlister’s Deli to promote each other’s products, said MacDonald.

The companies’ relationship continues beyond shared markets; McAlister’s Deli and Gail Pittman are primary sponsors for the Salvation Army’s SOUPer Bowl fundraiser every January; the 2001 event will mark the fifth year of the event. McAlister’s donates much of the food and manpower involved; Gail Pittman creates the signature bowls used for the event, according to MacDonald.

During last year’s event, Pittman and McAlister’s began discussing how to design the new pattern and how to best use it, MacDonald said.

The design was influenced by the color scheme already established in the 65 McAlister’s locations and the need to draw the diner’s attention to the desserts in the deli case, Pittman said.

“We were using the same colors but gave it a more updated look,” Pittman said.

Mauve, tan, blue and green dots on a creamy white background coordinate with the colors in the design details throughout the restaurants.

The displays, currently only in the Madison and Ridgeland McAlister’s Deli locations, feature pedestal plates at varying heights, some square dishes, some triangular dishes to showcase individual pie pieces, background tilework and baskets used on the counters to hold the individually wrapped selection of cookies — chocolate chip, Heath Bar crunch, white chocolate macadamia and oatmeal raisin — sold in the chain.

“We used many tablescaping principles in designing the display,” Pittman said. “Only we call it dessertscaping!”

MacDonald said that McAlister’s plans to put the displays in the other company-owned locations in the metro Jackson area in early 2001.

“We had our convention in Jackson recently; the franchise groups got to see the deli case and really liked it,” MacDonald said.

Franchises account for 80% of the McAlister’s locations; they can adopt the look as well.

“We hope for Gail Pittman to become a vendor of McAlister’s; restaurants can just call her to replace or add to their displays, “ MacDonald said.

Patterns designed exclusively for a particular company is an emerging trend in Pittman’s marketing. In November, the studio previewed three new designs called “Adam”, “Eve” and “Eden” sold only in the Saks stores, including McRae’s, Proffitt’s and Parisens.

According to Pittman, one of her upcoming projects is a collaboration with Southern Living in providing all the tableware for their new home furnishings division called Southern Living At Home.

The new McAlister’s pattern, however, is not available to the public — much to the dismay of some customers, according to Kirk Shorter, program participant in Ridgeland.

“People are asking if they can buy it and send it for Christmas presents, “ he said. “The baskets are what people talk about, the ones we use for cookies” said Shorter.

Trisha LeBouef, associate manager in the Madison location, said customers there have also noticed the new look.

“It’s brings color to the restaurant,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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