My pal Chris Guillebeau is out of town on another one of his around-the-world jaunts. While he’s living the high life in Equatorial Guinea, his wife Jolie (the artist behind my Kermit painting) is left to entertain herself here in Portland. What does she choose to do? While away her hours with me and Kris.

On a whim, yesterday the three of us made a trip to the local restaurant supply store. This wasn’t my idea. Kris and Jolie decided it’d be a fun way to spend part of an afternoon; I tagged along for the husband points. Turns out, however, that the restaurant supply store is a great place to save money.

I’m not sure how Kris heard about the place, but Rose’s Equipment and Supply is located in Portland’s central-Eastside industrial district (not far from OMSI). It really is an equipment supplier — they don’t carry foodstuff — for local restaurants, but their warehouse is open to the public. Basically, it’s like a Costco for kitchen gadgets.

The restaurant supply store contains aisles of pots and pans, knives and ladles, soup kettles and popcorn poppers. It has bulk toothpicks and cases of coffee mugs, 55-cup rice cookers and 15-cup rice cookers, and…well, just about anything you might use in a restaurant.

A lot of the items are perfect for the home kitchen, too. In fact, although I don’t have the stats to verify this, I suspect you can buy commercial-grade equipment at the restaurant supply store for the same price you could pick up the consumer stuff at your local kitchen cabana. Most (but not all) of the stuff at the restaurant supply store is fairly inexpensive.

How can I be sure? Well, since we were killing an afternoon, we decided to swing by the nearby Sur la Table to see what some of these things usually go for. Here are our very unscientific observations:

  • The 2-inch stainless ice-cream scoop at Rose’s was $9 and $18 at Sur la Table.
  • The rubber handled citrus zester was $3 at Rose’s and $9 at Sur la Table.
  • The 10-3/4 inch Lodge cast-iron skillet was $12 at Rose’s and $20 at Sur la Table.
  • The 2-ounce stainless ladle was $2.25 at Rose’s and (no joke) $29 at Sur la Table. (Though the one at Sur la Table had spouts.)
  • The “deluxe dual grater” was $12 at Rose’s and $20 at Sur la Table.
  • The 8-inch chef’s knife was $30 at Rose’s and $50 (on sale) at Sur la Table.

Not everything was cheaper at the restaurant supply store, however. For example, the stainless steel avocado slicer at Rose’s cost $12; the cute plastic Flexicado at Sur la Table was $6.

The restaurant supply store also had a broader selection of useful items. Sur la Table had plenty of gadgets, to be sure. But some — such as the strawberry stem remover — are essentially useless. The gadgets at the restaurant supply store are the sorts of things that real-life food professionals might find handy. (I’m not ashamed to admit that I picked up an $8 bus tray. I used to love my tray when I worked as a busboy, and I’ve often wished we had one for dinner parties and summer barbeques. Now we do.)

One final note: If you want something stylish and trendy, you won’t find it at the restaurant supply store. These tools are for real-world work. They’re utilitarian and functional. They’re sturdy. (They’re like the equipment you’d find in a restaurant!) But if you’re willing to forego “cute”, then the restaurant supply store is a great place to look for bargains. It’s worth doing the research to discover the one in your town.

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