We've written a couple of times about restaurant supply stores. These stores have all the gear you'd need to to stock a restaurant from cocktail napkins to 40 quart stockpots and everything in-between. Some are even open to the public.
I took a trip yesterday to the near northwest side of Chicago to visit two of these stores that you should know about if you live in the area. One I had visited many times before, the other was new to me. Both offer bargains and equipment you might not find anywhere else in the city.
Just north of Diversey at Clybourn in a half public housing, half big-box retailer area near the Chicago River, I first visited Krasny & Company. Krasny is big on selection, but short on presentation. The space is dark and dingy, but the goods on display are plentiful and varied. The first thing to catch your eye is a glass case with examples of glassware inside. Now I know where people get those enormous pickle jars you see in delis (or more disgustingly pickled egg jars you see in older bars).
Restaurant china, disposable party plates and cups, pizza rounds, ladles; just about everything basic you would need for a restaurant or basic cooking chores is here. Cookware here is basic and utilitarian - you won't find big brand name pots and pans like AllClad or Calphalon, but you will find pans you can beat the heck out of.
I do not recommend forming an opinion of the place from their awful website. They've been around since 1918 and in their current location for 25 years.
If your tastes tend towards a more consumer-friendly experience, you might cross the river and head down Elston, past the Target and Great Ace and MicroCenter to Edward Don and Company.
The storefront to Edward Don and Company is inconspicuous buried in among a long string of megamarts, but once you get inside you'll see that the selection is as good or better than any higher priced Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma you've ever been in.
Don is similar to Krasny in that it emphasizes prices over presentation, but their presentation is much better than Krasny & Co. There are two rooms inside Edward Don's store. The front room, where you enter, is sized like a small store jammed full of kitchen gadgets and gear. This store is much more consumer oriented than Krasny. The front space is light bright, though packed. You can find much of the same materials here that you'd find at Krasny, but for a little bit of a price premium. One Lodge cast iron skillet I looked at in both locations was 10% cheaper at Krasny.
The back room of Edward Don's outlet store is more like Krasny's with steel shelving holding mass quantities of everything from bug spray to paper plates to uniforms to glassware.
I found several items at Edward Don I did not see at Krasny. Among these were a pancake "blooper" - that trigger pull pancake batter dispenser you see in busy diners - a sports ball cake mold (useful for making cakes for fans of soccer, baseball, golf, etc...); and a skillet I could sit in (no exaggeration - this thing was 3 1/2 feet across).
Krasny had the edge when it came to prices, glassware, and probably the basics. Edward Don will be my choice when I'm looking for tough to get or branded items like Wusthof cutlery, Nordicware bakeware, giant skillets, and odd cake molds. Don has the edge on uniforms and linens as well.
Unlike Krasny, Edward Don has a nice website where you can browse and even puchase some of the goods available in thier store.
These two are far from the main batch of restuarant supply houses on the near West side just past Greektown. But there are stores in almost every city that provide restaurant goods, and many are open to the public. Make sure you check out the store in your town so you'll know what's available and whether you can do better than $100 for that knife you're about to spring for pr when you want glasses just like the ones in your favorite greasy spoon.
Krasny & Company
2829 N. Clybourn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
773-477-5504 Fax: 773-477-5512
Edward Don Outlet Store
2525 N Elston Ave