As North Washington Street gentrifies, the last of the restaurant suppliers ships out
For six decades, any chef, baker, or restaurateur looking to make a mark on Boston’s culinary scene needed at least three things to get started: a location, a menu, and Eastern Bakers Supply Co. in the North End.
Robert Kalustian, the store’s third-generation owner, has helped outfit restaurant, church, and public school kitchens with everything from 140-quart, 1,500-pound Hobart commercial mixers to 60-quart lobster pots, salt and pepper shakers, and hundreds of knives for every job. And yes, kitchen sinks.
He has navigated the narrow, packed aisles of the family business since he was 5 years old, back when North Washington Street was Boston’s version of New York’s Bowery neighborhood. It was lined with about a dozen other restaurant suppliers, all meeting the needs of hundreds of bakeries and restaurants.
“It was very convenient for customers,” Kalustian said. “You could come here, walk up and down the street, buy your [range] hood from one, and somebody else would have your furniture, and another your china — you could furnish your whole restaurant by walking two blocks.”
But now Eastern Bakers Supply, the last of the North Washington Street restaurant suppliers, is packing up to move to the suburbs. After years of shooing away investors eager to buy his well-situated property, Kalustian finally gave in earlier this year. It marks the end of an era in a part of the city that’s rapidly becoming known for sleek condos and modern office buildings.
Kalustian, who runs the business with his wife, Julie, recently sold five properties adjacent to one another — including the three buildings that house Eastern Bakers — to the Boston real estate investment firm Ad Meliora LLC, for $10.5 million.
He plans to move the business, which began in Arlington in 1946, to a 16,000-square-foot warehouse in Westwood, where he will have offices, a showroom, and inventory under one roof.
Kalustian has leased a warehouse in Everett to store inventory since the completion of the Big Dig brought more traffic to North Washington Street, making it impossible for delivery trucks to line up in the street outside the company’s loading docks.
Eastern Bakers wants to reduce its inventory so there’s less to lug to Westwood, so everything will go on sale starting Monday. That’s likely to attract swarms of chefs — amateur and professional — along with restaurateurs from all over the region.
Cutlery, dishes, glassware, fry baskets, baking supplies, rice cookers, and even a vintage milkshake/frappe mixer will all be discounted by 20 to 25 percent below wholesale prices. Large commercial items, like mixers, refrigerators, and freezers, will be discounted on a case-by-case basis.
Need a pizza peel? The company has that. Colanders? Yup. Icing piping bags? A bunch. Stainless steel piping bag tips? Dozens in every shape imaginable.
Julie Kalustian estimates 80 percent of the stock is current, but some items have probably been in the buildings for at least 20 years. She said the sale is scheduled for the rest of this week, but that there are likely to be others through the summer. They expect to move by late summer or early fall.
Julie, the more animated of the couple, loves recounting the history of the business, which she joined just six years ago. She rattles off the names of local food startups that got all their equipment from Eastern Bakers before they made it big — companies like Au Bon Pain, Legal Seafoods, and Finagle a Bagel. There also are many longtime customers, like Mike Kamio owner of Anna’s Taqueria; and Stephen Napolitano, vice president of development at Boston Restaurant Associates, the parent company of Regina Pizzeria and Polcari’s Italian Restaurant.
Kamio and Napolitano said Eastern Bakers’ new address won’t affect the relationship.
“I’ve known Bobby for so long, I just tell him, ‘This is what I need,’ ” Kamio said. “I have a lot of faith in him, I don’t shop around.”
Napolitano said he’s been doing business with Eastern Bakers for about 40 years, when Kalustian’s father and uncle were running the operation. He said he’ll miss having them nearby.
“The convenience was great,” Napolitano said. “Especially when we needed something right away, they were there all the time.”
Kalustian said he doesn’t “do well with change” and the thought of moving is stressful.
So is he ready?
“I think I am, yeah,” he said. “It’s going to be a change, but I think it’ll work out fine.”