One-Stop Kitchen Shop: Ever check out the string of kitchen-supply stores on the Bowery near Houston? No? Well, you're in for a treat. Like Chef Restaurant Supply (top), they're open to the public and have all sorts of neat gadgets (above, left and right) that the average home cook would never need. That doesn't mean it's not fun to browse, though.

If you were to describe life as a cycle that comprises sleeping, eating, and working (along with some other fun stuff thrown in to break up the monotony), then there are two obvious "depot" superstores that have us covered on two of those fronts. There's the ubiquitous Office Depot on every corner in Manhattan, keeping us in pens, paperclips, and reams of paper. Then there's megamart Home Depot helping us craft cozy lairs to retire to after long days at the desk. But, alas, there is no "Kitchen Depot."

Or is there?

Take a stroll along New York City's Bowery just above and below Houston, and you'll find such a store—if not with that exact name, then with the spirit it implies. This strip is the restaurant-supply district, and if you're an eatery owner—or just dream of becoming one—this is a kitchenware wonderland.

This reporter recently made a pilgrimage to "the other restaurant row" in search of supplies to streamline his pizzamaking operation at home, and, ladies and gentlemen, he felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

Curious wannabe chefs will be pleased to note that these stores are open to the public. You don't need a special card or business license to make purchases. I was there to find pizza serving trays along with the little stands that elevate the trays above the table—among other things. I found them—and many other things that, while cool, were probably more impulse buys than anything. Unfortunately, it's not like the old trick of grocery shopping on a full stomach; there is no preventive measure for wanting to buy novel kitchen gadgets.

20040918Hobart.jpgPizza ovens, steam tables, nacho-cheese warmers, cola dispensers, Parmesan shakers, toothpick dispensers, every permutation of the restroom sign imaginable. It's all here in these amazing places—and then some. If you like to cook, you could spend a good hour or so in the restaurant-supply district, imagining, What if ... ?: What if I owned a 60-quart Hobart mixer? (right), or, Getting through my Netflix queue would be so much easier if I had a popcorn machine at home—and the butter-topping pump to go with it.

As I walked the jam-packed aisles and crowded showrooms, I couldn't help but think of that oft-quoted statistic—that 90 percent of all new restaurants fail within the first year. Clearly, I stood on ground that had birthed and buried many a dream.

But enough dime-store philosophizing! Let's look at some cool stuff!

Some Cool Stuff!

I started out at Ray Bari, simply because I recognized the name from the many Ray Bari pizzerias throughout the city and because the New York Times's Jeff VanDam wrote a nice story about the place in late July. Bari had everything I needed. Big, clean, and easiliy navigable, the store's logical layout made it easy to find all items on my list right off the bat. But you know how when you're apartment-hunting, you're not supposed take the first place you look at? Same thing here. I felt I could do better, pricewise, so up the street I went to Paragon Restaurant Supply.

Slightly more cramped than Bari but a bit cheaper, Paragon was asking $0.50 to $1 less per item on my list. And its selection of restaurant-specific signage was nonpareil. (There were at least three variations on sanitation policy: "Employees Must Wash Hands Before Leaving This Room," "Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work," and the laconic "Employees Must Wash Hands." Between you and me, I prefer the former because it leaves no room for interpretation.) Still, I had price-comparison fever and was convinced I could do even better. On to Chef Restaurant Supply.

I had originally skipped Chef because of the Chinese writing on its sign. I was afraid they'd specialize in Chinese-restaurant supplies at the expense of other tools. Foolish gweilo. Chef had everything the previous two places had, and it was $1 to $2 cheaper per list item than Paragon. Parmesan/oregano/red-pepper shakers were $1.25 compared to Paragon's $2.95. The type of pizza-pan stand pictured at right was $10.95 at Paragon and only $8.95 at Chef. (The online restaurant-supply stores are cheaper yet; this holder retails for $5.27 at BigTray.com.) That did it. I knew Chef was the place. A quick mental calculation told me I'd save about $20 by buying here.

Regrouping for lunch at nearby Lil' Frankie's, I calculated costs on paper while waiting for my pizza Margherita (right). Yes, going with Chef was going to cost $21 less than Paragon and probably about $27 less than Bari. Probably no big deal to a restaurant placing an order in the thousands, but that savings represented lunch and a cab ride home for this reporter.

As I left Chef with a number of pizza pans, a couple of pan stands, shakers, and a handy bar-condiment holder (right) that will serve as a prepped-topping station, I was satisfied I'd found my own personal "Kitchen Depot." My pizza-making efficiency was sure to increase, I knew, and that would leave more time for sleep and work.

Chef Restaurant Supply

294 Bowery, New York NY


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