facebook pixal

Kitchens on a shoestring

It’s not going to do you much good if you go broke outfitting the back of the house. But if you use a little creativity here, a little elbow grease there, you can have a first-rate kitchen with money to spare. Take a look at what these inventive operators did with a little money and a lot of ingenuity. They spent anywhere from just over $13,000 to, in one extreme example, over $200,000 for a whole new prototype for an entire chain's new kitchen. 

Manhattan Beach, California
Kitchen size: 600 square feet
Makeover cost: $16,000

When Christian and Tedde Schaffer bought the restaurant that was to become Avenue, the kitchen was “a disaster,” in Tedde’s words. “It had very little in the way of fixtures,” she says, “just griddles, fryers and a grill.” That just wouldn’t do. As chef, Christian was planning a progressive American menu that required specific pieces of equipment. The husband-and-wife team found a liquidator to get rid of everything they didn’t want, then got down to work remodeling.

To keep costs in line, Tedde knew she had to be creative. She shopped online, bought equipment at auction and perused restaurant supply stores. Any equipment that was worth keeping—some pricey coolers, for instance—was repaired.

Internet searches turned up several key pieces, including a salamander, one freezer and an oven for the dessert station. Two ranges were bought from Tepper Bar Supply, a retail outlet known for its discount prices and good quality, and the reach-in refrigerator was purchased at a live auction that’s held regularly in downtown Los Angeles. The pots and pans Christian uses to cook with came with the building’s lease; he supplemented the stock with a few extra pieces.

But “one of the biggest challenges was to upgrade the exhaust hood, which could be seen by diners through a pass-through window,” Tedde recalls. A brand new hood could easily have made a dent in the couple’s budget, so Tedde decided to cover over the existing hood with thin copper sheeting. Great look, great price. Smart use of materials in other parts of the kitchen also kept costs in check. Backsplashes and walls are lined with fireproof reinforced plastic (FRP) instead of more costly ceramic tile and the floor is covered with economical 3-inch terracotta tiles.

• Live restaurant auction provided major pieces
• Exhaust hood upgraded with copper sheeting
• Surfed the Internet for bargains
• Pots and pans part of lease agreement

What things cost: FRP tiles: $2,200; Flooring: $1,620; installation, $850; Copper sheeting: $1,245; installation, $450; Fridge: $3,300; Salamander: $1,450; installation, $250; Dessert oven: $499; Electrician: $1,650; Plumber: $1,220; Carpenter: $1,050

HQ New York Bistro
New York City
Kitchen size: 300 square feet
Makeover cost: $13,400

When Terrence Cave took over a former steakhouse in September, 2005, to open the self-financed HQ, he didn’t have the funds to change the kitchen’s footprint. Besides, real estate is as precious as black truffles in his hip SoHo neighborhood, so it made sense to keep the tiny cooking space and add more tables out front. Cave salvaged what kitchen equipment he could and reconfigured the space largely through sweat equity. “As a chef who owns a restaurant, you have to learn to do a lot more than cook,” he says.

First on the agenda was knocking out a window and replacing it with a door leading to a new staircase. Previously, the kitchen had no access to the walk-ins in the basement and runners had to go through the dining room, out and around the side alley to retrieve ingredients, then come back through the front of the restaurant and into the kitchen. Cave found that unacceptable, so he and an employee built a flight of steps—a temporary wooden structure soon to be replaced by a permanent wrought iron staircase.

Next, Cave took stock of the existing kitchen, figuring out what could be salvaged and hiring an electrician and plumber to bring everything up to code. He kept the old Garland stove “because it had more BTUs than a new one,” but spent about $1,000 to replace some parts. Repairs were made to the fryer and espresso machine, too ($900 went to fix the latter instead of $4,000 to $5,000 to buy a new machine).

The rest of the budget was spent on bare necessities like stainless steel shelving, a lowboy cooler, salamander and grill—all of which were purchased at restaurant supply houses. “They had everything I needed and I didn’t have to wait for delivery or pay shipping charges,” says Cave, who drove a van the mile or so to pick up the pieces himself. HQ’s chef-owner was clever about filling in the gaps with “loaner” equipment. His dishwasher, freezer and coffee maker all came free from suppliers; in return, he contracts to use their branded detergent, ice cream and coffee in the restaurant.

Between scrubbing years of grease off kitchen walls, laying floor tiles, building a staircase, creating a winning menu and welcoming a new baby (Cave’s wife gave birth close to HQ’s opening date), there’s been little time to relax. But Cave managed to finish the kitchen almost completely and open for business six weeks after he started renovating. 

• Acted as general contractor and head carpenter
• Replaced parts in old but solid appliances
• Shopped locally and picked up own purchases
• Uses loaner equipment from food/ equipment suppliers

What things cost: Salamander: $1,000; Lowboy: $1,000; Grill: $1,500; Electricity upgrade: $3,000; Plumbing upgrade:  $2,000; Door and staircase: $4,000; Espresso machine repair: $900; Stove repair: $1,000

Damon’s Grill
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Kitchen size: 1,400 square feet
Makeover cost: $230,000

There’s makeovers—and then there’s makeovers.

To cash in on curbside carryout’s growth in casual dining, 120-unit Damon’s Grill, based in Columbus, Ohio, developed a whole new prototype for its kitchens—on a budget. The design cuts 420 square feet out of the kitchen and places the carryout prep station directly off the line to promote efficient flow right to the curbside takeout window. This more compact kitchen has been installed in two locations so far and its smaller price tag and increased efficiency make it the model of the future, says John Votino, VP of franchise services.

In Damon’s Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, location, the new prototype resulted in a 1,400 square foot kitchen that not only lops $120 per square foot off construction costs, it saves staff steps and increases productivity. The exhibition design features several changes: the pantry and salad stations were merged into one; the dry storage area was shrunk; and stainless steel worktables were custom-built to block the stoves and grills and divide the kitchen into two areas. “Guests can look into the kitchen from their tables but what they see is people cooking, not the cooking equipment,” explains Lewisburg franchisee Chris Baylor.

Baylor and his CFO, Robert Pierce, worked directly with a dealer, Trendco Supply in Cincinnati, to purchase all the kitchen equipment and fixtures. Included in the package are two broiler stations/grills with exhaust hoods (for steaks and Damon’s signature ribs), several ranges, a divided walk-in (one half holds 10 beer taps and beverages, the other holds perishables), a dessert cooler and a dishwashing system, as well as specialty pieces such as panini grills, food warmers and fryers. The construction materials were also chosen with convenience in mind. Like the counters, backsplashes are stainless steel, the walls are lined with easily cleaned FRP tiles and non-slip quarry tiles cover the floor. A general contractor took care of the whole construction project.

The franchisee preferred buying over leasing the equipment. It capitalized on Damon’s longstanding relationship with Trendco to get the best prices possible, but didn’t experience a great savings on the equipment side because of unforeseen problems. “Hurricane Katrina resulted in some cost overruns,” Pierce says. “Our coolers were coming from Mississippi and some of the parts got damaged and had to be repaired, increasing our labor costs.”

After a few months of operation, however, the kitchen layout and design is working seamlessly, Baylor says.

• New kitchen prototype costs about $175,000 less to build than previous design
• Smaller footprint saved $120 per square foot in construction costs
• Equipment distributor had longstanding relationship with Damon’s

What things cost: Conveyor-style dishwasher: $11,275; High-output gas broiler/grill: $3,960; Two convection ovens: $7,495 each; 36-in. range: $2,650; Two sandwich toaster/grills: $675 each; Food slicer: $2,280; Two refrigerated counters: $2,050 each; Pass-thru fridge: $3,190; Two cook/hold cabinets: $3,305 each; Three microwaves: $770 each; Shelving: $925; Work tables: $5,245

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


More from our partners