Get kitchen gadgets for less at the local restaurant supply store

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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Steven
Steven
10 years ago

Gotta disagree. “Commercial” grade equipment doesn’t mean much, and restaurant “quality” supplies are actually crappier than supplies found at Sur la Table. If you were comparing to Walmart supplies, then yes, you’re getting about the same quality stuff. But stuff at Sur la Table is usually high quality raw material. I know they overprice things to look good as well, but it’s good stuff. The reason you don’t find that stuff in real kitchens is the amount of use and abuse restaurant equipment goes through. The average home cook would sharpen their knives every 6 months to a year, where… Read more »

MRH
MRH
10 years ago

Mark Bittman had an article in the New York Times a few years back about how to outfit your kitchen for $200-300 at a restaurant supply store. Link I buy quite a bit at the restaurant supply store in Boston (Eastern Bakers Supply in the North End). However, one thing to be aware of is that restaurants have dishwashers as a job description (items may not be easy to clean) and chefs cook quickly over very high heat while paying constant attention to the food. Consumer grade pans are more forgiving. One cheap tip – have as few pans as… Read more »

Dylan
Dylan
10 years ago

“But some – such as the strawberry stem remover – are essentially useless.”

I’ve always used a disposable drinking straw for mass de-stemming of strawberries. Just push it up through the bottom and off it pops. A single straw can do dozens of berries in about a minutes. (you can even squeeze out the straw every few berries to catch extra fruit.)

mythago
mythago
10 years ago

Steven @1, in my experience it’s not all that high quality unless you want to pay top dollar – and you can get similar high-quality materials at large restaurant supply stores. If you’re a home cook and you only sharpen your knives twice a year, either you don’t cook very much or you’re working with very dull knives.

It’s also worth noting that Sur la Table is not the only nor the best source of supplies for the home cook. I highly recommend Lehmanns.

Emmy
Emmy
10 years ago

Yes! One essential thing, which you can’t find ANYWHERE else, is the sheet pan. I’m a professional baker, and it’s incredibly frustrating to see people pay, what, 20 bucks at williams sonoma for the same basic half-sheet pan you can get at Rose’s for seven. And frankly, for home use the cheaper option will do just fine. My other favorite thing from the restaurant supply store is the huge selection of Cambro containers. The two and four quart rectangular containers are really durable and useful, though probably not as cheap as rubbermaid. And I’m addicted to the small soup to-go… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
10 years ago

I fear that going to a store like that might be even more tempting than going to a Williams-Sonoma or similar store. When you see the better prices, and the wide variety of unitaskers and other not-so-necessary kitchen tools, you might end up spending more! Even the things you want, but don’t necessarily need, could end up costing you and cluttering up your place because they’re so cheap!

Peter
Peter
10 years ago

Restaurant supply stores are awesome. I went to one here in Philly after my wife and I got married and outfitted the whole kitchen for next to nothing. If you are a kitchen gadget entusiast you better be careful. They have all kinds of great stuff and it’s all dirt cheap. @Steven – I don’t know what supply stores you went to, but I found the quality of of the items to be very good. We use our kitchen suppies a lot and pretty much everything I bought those 18 years ago is still in use and still in good… Read more »

valletta
valletta
10 years ago

My husband and I own a restaurant (he’s the chef) and you really need to shop prices, like anything else. Some things are much cheaper, some are much more expensive. You need to purchase for the way you cook.

I would say that buying a stack of hotel pans and a half dozen stainless steel bowls would work for any cook.

We have our knives sharpened professionally but also use bulk knives for day to day chores. A combination of inexpensive and quality works for most people.

Diane
Diane
10 years ago

I buy my kitchen equipment at thrift stores. You can get every gadget you need, even very good quality, if you keep checking and don’t have to have it right away.

Steven
Steven
10 years ago

@4 mythago Never said Sur la Table was top of the line. Just trying to say that comparing prices alone doesn’t mean much. Like this line where he compares something made of steel to plastic “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.” You’re comparing apples to oranges. I mention material quality because I’m a materials engineer by trade, and with the few items I’ve run a chemistry on, the restaurant supply stuff is the lowest grade… Read more »

shamrockalock
shamrockalock
10 years ago

I’m not familiar with Rose’s but I have found some prices and quality I was happy with at Smart and Final.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago
Robyn
Robyn
10 years ago

I get some of my kitchen supplies from Big Lots actually, which is the same price or cheaper than a restaurant supply store.

Johanna S.
Johanna S.
10 years ago

Ouch, dissin’ the prices at my workplace! Having worked with the stuff we sell and the stuff you can buy at restaurant supply stores, I have to agree with Steven; kitchen supply stores are selling stuff that has a lifespan of at max six months in an environment like a restaurant; it’s cheap because it’s more or less disposable after extremely high heat and frequent use for that period of time. Yes, kitchen supply stores have really decent stuff, and most home cooks don’t ever match the workout supplies get in a restaurant kitchen so they will generally last longer,… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

There’s a restaurant-supply place in West L.A. called Surfas which is a fun destination in its own right. They have an excellent cafe, and sell cheese, charcuterie, relishes and spices and grains and frozen gourmet meats … and while the prices on these things are not spectacularly low, they carry items that are next to impossible to find elsewhere. We shop Surfas for gourmet items and for things that – again – are hard to find or overpriced elsewhere. Like sheet pans, and eight-ounce ladles, and cast-iron skillets. Actually, come to think of it, we haven’t been in Sur la… Read more »

mythago
mythago
10 years ago

Steven @10, comparing prices alone means quite a bit when you’re comparing similar or identical items. For example, J.D. notes that a Lodge skillet cost $8 more at Sur la Table, and smaller fungible items like ice cream scoops were two to three times as expensive. And if the cute plastic avocado slicer is the only one available at a high-end kitchen store, then it is fair to note that they don’t carry less-expensive alternatives. I don’t need an “insane edge” on my knives, but I do need an edge. If you’re an occasional cook or cooking for one or… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
10 years ago

I think it is appropriate for JD to compare prices here. A couple of the items are identical between the stores, and several others are probably indistinguishable – like the citrus zester. Will someone in a home really use that so much that it wears out?

The knife may be better/worse quality between stores, but I bet the others are 99% the same.

TR
TR
10 years ago

Definitely agree with Johanna S. Commercial pans are usually aluminum and get nasty looking pretty quickly. Quite a bit of difference between that and a clad stainless steel pot. I do buy all my non-stick cookware at the restaurant supply since the non-stick surface doesn’t last forever no matter how much you pay. I also buy most of my cooking utensils like tongs. However I definitely agree that if the choice is between commercial and low-end home cookware, for utility, the commercial cookware is a much better bet since a thick aluminum pan conducts heat much better than the flimsy… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
10 years ago

I’m surprised that they only had aluminum pans at the restaurant supply store. My Dad owned restaurants and at home we had a supply of pots and pans originally from the restaurants. Those things were heavy gauge steel (heavy) and even if dented or a little stained on the bottom, lasted forever.

Steven
Steven
10 years ago

@mythago Cost alone means nothing and you proved my point. “…comparing prices alone means quite a bit when you’re comparing similar or identical items.” You are making sure the quality is similar before comparing price. If quality didn’t matter, why not raid Wally World (Walmart) or the dollar store? And sectioning your own chicken? You consider that the repertoire of an average cook? I put you, and that skill, above that. It seems your standard for average is a lot higher than mine. BTW, you have a butcher’s cleaver? That what I use to take apart birds and remove the… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Aww. Strawberry stem removers aren’t worthless!

My mom would drag us kids to Upick farms and we would spend all morning picking and then all afternoon making jam. Definitely worth it.
All grown up – I bought my own stem remover. We buy strawberries from the store, occasionally. Probably not worth it – but I like the convenience of it still. 🙂

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

I’ll have to keep this in mind when our gadgets wear out…

bethh
bethh
10 years ago

I was happy to discover a local restaurant supply store in the Bay Area. I bought shelving there – four poles and five shelves – for a LOT less than something that seemed similar but less sturdy at the Container Store. Adding all that storage to my apartment kitchen has enabled me to buy a lot more kitchen stuff (only some of which is Stuff).

Thad
Thad
10 years ago

Love the restaurant supply stores … have not needed to search out our local here near DC.

Like with everything else, you need to know what you need, how it is going to be used, and how long you want it to last … then, make an informed decision. Restaurant supply stores are great for things like non-stick pans, baking sheets, cheap knives, cast iron, whisks, spatulas, serving utensils, et al. Specialty stores are better for things like nice knives, All-Clad pots/pans, and similar higher quality items.

Cheer!

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