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waiter, i'll have the table
shopping restaurant supply stores to decorate your digs
by Jennifer Johnson Avril
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You can find your local restaurant supply store by looking in the yellow pages or asking your favorite restaurateurs. Often several stores will be grouped together in a district, making for an easy single stop. It might be a good idea to call ahead and ask if they take walk-ins. Many stores do, but some of the larger stores, such as the Jetro chain, will only sell to industry professionals who have registered with them. For less run-of-the-mill items like shelving and industrial kitchen appliances, check out online catalogs for major retailers, such as Eagle or Metro, to get an idea of what you'll see.

According to Gilbert Young, a sales representative at Chef Restaurant Supplies in New York City, individuals looking for kitchenware or home décor do browse his store, but not enough to make it a significant part of his business. He said the average shopper will have a better experience if they know what they need. Questions about cost and quality are fine, but keep your "Ooh, what does that do?" to a minimum -- which might not be easy in a store filled with meat grinders or rotating diner cake displays. Supply store workers are used to working with restaurant and commercial kitchen professionals who already understand the equipment. Also, while you're shopping, check price labels to see if the item you're interested in is only sold in bulk, as dishware and some bakeware, like ramekins, often are.

Restaurant supply stores are perfect if you do a lot of entertaining. You can find sternoware and huge iced tea dispensers for reasonable prices. The hard-core gourmet can find equipment not offered by the average home décor shop as well as professional grade cookware that will stand up to heavy use, even by multiple roommates.

These stores are also a lot of fun to browse in a low-key, what-might-I-find today sort of way. Whatever your style of décor, you're likely to come across some pitch-perfect pieces for your pad. On one recent trip to the Bowery I found a diner counter toothpick dispenser for $10.95 -- perfect for the retro 50s kitchen -- as well as sugar dispensers, funky 3-cup condiment holders and, best of all, a metal cake stand with a plastic bubble dome for just under 9 bucks. Another store had giant wooden salad bowls. With a width of 20", these could be used as a rustic pet bed or a spot to toss shoes in an entryway. Metal pan grates, which are basically square steel grids, start at $2.95 and could be used as industrial bulletin boards for a modernist home office.

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