Here’s What to Buy at Restaurant Supply Houses (Because Now You Can Shop at Them!)
It may be the only upside of quarantine.
Have you ever driven by a restaurant supply house and wondered what magic and wonder might lie behind those doors? Most such stores are membership only, and many require documentation of a food business in order to qualify (and enter!). But due to the current crisis, many restaurant supply stores are allowing the general public to make purchases—no membership application or fees required—and often either with delivery or contactless pickup options. You’ll find that when it comes to bulk goods, you’ll find even lower prices here than at big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.
This access is temporary, so think about taking advantage of these great prices (and access to some products it's hard to find at regular stores) while you can! Here are the six best things you can shop for at a restaurant supply store right now.
1. Paper and plastic goods
Looking for large rolls of heavy-duty foil and plastic wrap that are better quality than what you will find at the grocery store? How about plastic and foil deli containers of all shapes and sizes? You can also score foil pans; disposable plates, cups, and flatware; and large-scale packages of paper towels and toilet paper (you read that right)—all at great prices. Yes, you will have to buy in larger amounts than usual, but if you have the storage? Go for it.
2. Storage containers
Cambro, as well as other brands of commercial storage containers, are a godsend for a home cook. These pieces don’t stain or warp. They are dishwasher safe, hard to break, and usually come in either square or round shapes and in sizes from one quart to 22 quarts. I use them for everything: storing baking supplies like flours and sugars, brining and marinating meats, soaking dried beans, prepping items like chopped onions for odor-proof fridge storage, and storing leftovers.
3. Hardy staples
When it comes to bags of onions and potatoes, hard squashes, and things that can stand up to cold storage like ginger or apples, restaurant supply houses can save you a ton of money—if you have the space to store things. I almost always buy my shallots, which I go through at a staggering pace, at a store like this because they are usually fresher than what is in the grocery, and always much less expensive. If you want to buy something that only comes in a size you don’t think you’ll get through, see if you have a friend or neighbor who wants to split it with you. I have a girlfriend with whom I split a big box of plum tomatoes during tomato soup season, for example. Think of it as a bonding activity!
4. Basic spices and condiments
Kosher salt, black peppercorns, ketchup, Tabasco, soy sauce… things that you go through a lot of and don’t need a fancy version of? You can buy them here at larger scale and at lower prices. If your kids put ranch on anything not nailed down? Restaurant supply places will have the 52-ounce Hidden Valley, or even a box of shelf-stable individual packets if you don’t want to worry about fridge space.
5. Bulk pantry items
That two-pound package of Red Star yeast doesn’t look so crazy after 10 weeks of baking bread, does it? Same for all-purpose flour, sugar, rice, and dried beans. Bulk is your pal here, and the prices will be great, so pick up some Cambro storage containers to wrangle it all, and stock up your pantry!
6. Dairy staples
Whether you are suddenly going through half-and-half by the gallon with your spouse and college-aged kids keeping the coffeepot on the go ‘round the clock, making eggs for breakfast five days out of seven, or baking nearly daily, suddenly buying eggs in two-dozen flats or pounds of butter a dozen at a time, you can save a lot of money stocking up here. Keep an eye out for specialty items that may be available in your area, like things from a local creamery or full-fat real buttermilk.