Home cooks upgrade their wares

TUESDAY, OCT. 30, 2007

Blame it on television’s Food Network.

Restaurant supply stores in Spokane are seeing more noncommercial customers come through their doors. During the last five years or so, homeowners have begun buying everything from knives to professional ranges at shops that normally cater to chefs and restaurant owners.

“It’s just something people have grabbed a hold of. They want to take their cooking at home to another level,” says Mike Schneider, owner and president of Spokane Restaurant Equipment Inc. “There’s a lot more awareness of food.”

Schneider recently added another salesperson to his front counter to keep up with the increased activity from both commercial and retail shoppers, he says.

For foodies, strolling through a restaurant supply store feels a bit like a treasure hunt. The showrooms have more of a Costco look than a Williams-Sonoma aesthetic, but shoppers can uncover top-quality kitchen tools for reasonable prices.

They’ll also find items that rarely are offered anywhere else, including glass syrup dispensers, diner-style booth seating, and the stainless steel magnetic wall strips that the pros use to hold their knives.

Mike O’Neill, front counter salesman at Bargreen-Ellingson’s Spokane store, says some of the most popular items for homeowners are flatware, glassware, knives and utensils, such as whisks and spatulas. He even has sold chefs’ hats and coats to people who intend to wear them at home.

“Customers will come in and say, ‘I saw this knife that (Food Network star) Rachael Ray uses,’ ” he says. The store broadcasts the Food Network throughout the day, further inspiring noncommercial shoppers.

Most restaurant supply stores are open to the public, but O’Neill says about 20 times a week he has to assure customers who hesitantly step through the doors at Bargreen-Ellingson that they’re welcome to shop there.

“More and more people are realizing you don’t need to be a member,” he says.

Restaurant supply stores generally charge more for pots, pans, bowls and other items than a Target, Shopko or other discount store, but customers usually are willing to pay for the upgrade in quality, O’Neill says.

“You’re spending a little bit more, but the reason why is a lot (of the products) have gone through vigorous commercial testing to withstand the use and abuse of restaurant kitchens,” he says.

Kris DeVries, a salesperson at Spokane Restaurant Equipment, agrees that cooks increasingly want to use restaurant-quality items in their home kitchens. But they’re also wooed by the latest gadgets and tools that make cooking fun.

“I put the impulse things on the counter, and they go flying off the shelf,” she says.


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