There's nothing wrong with a little friendly competition
How is it that, in a neighborhood that needs a grocery, two restaurant supply stores now face each other across the broad swath of cement that was once Handy Andy's parking lot?
According to Ace Mart, which opened two weeks ago at 1220 South St. Mary's, it's just a coincidence: The grocery store closed, Ace Mart was looking for a larger space, and the real-estate agent never mentioned Mission Restaurant Supply. "The neighborhood association came to us and said they were hoping for a grocery store," says Ace Mart Regional Manager Jim Pieper. "But that's not what we do." As a gesture of community support, however, the company commissioned artist Robert Tatum to repaint the mural on the side of the building - he added a hot dog character and the Ace Mart flag.
Ace Mart is no relation to Ace Hardware. It's owned locally by the Gustafson family, who this month celebrates the anniversary of Ace Mart, which opened its first shop on South Flores 30 years ago. With outlets around the state, Pieper says the stores focus on the small mom-and-pop restaurants that buy items "onesy twosy" and "cash and carry."
Ace Mart's many Metro shelves of cookware - Stainless Steel braziers, tip trays, ice sculptures, and chef coats - are open to home cooks, but the store won't sell large equipment to residential customers. "The stoves aren't insulated. They are too hot, especially for kids, and they could start a fire," Pieper says. "People see the Stainless Steel and think, Cool, but they wouldn't be happy - these fridges are loud."
|On South St. Mary's, Ace Mart (bottom) and Mission Restaurant Supply (top) face each other across Handy Andy's old parking lot. While locals may not be able to buy a gallon of milk at either store, they will find an endless assortment of plastic pitchers in which to serve it. (Photos by Julie Barnett)|
Mission Restaurant Supply is also locally owned, by A.J. Lewis, who started the company as Mission Party Ice in 1998. The company has stores in Austin and Corpus Christi, and its headquarters have always been in San Antonio, at two different sites on South St. Mary's Street.
Two years ago, Mission bought the Cinta Uniform building at 1126 South St. Mary's, but it just moved in this week. Brenda Weil, spokesperson for Mission, says it took a while to remedy environmental issues at the site, but it was worth the wait. Mission tripled its space in the new digs, which were designed by architect Jim Poteet and include the combined corporate offices, a warehouse, and a retail-sales floor.
Along with general restaurant supply, Mission provides industrial kitchen design, Stainless-Steel fabrication, installation, and equipment leasing. The bulk of its customers are chain restaurants, hotels, schools, and hospitals, but it also has worked with some of the upscale restaurants in town, including Ácenar and Paloma Blanca.
In the new space, Mission has expanded its sales floor to make it more appealing to the smaller restaurants, and added a dedicated home-cook section that includes more baking and barbecue tools, OXO products, Fiestaware, and high-end chef-wear.
Weil says locals aren't likely to see Ace Mart and Mission battling it out with wooden spoons in the parking lot anytime soon, because the two serve such different customer bases. "And, anyway," agrees Pieper, "a little competition is always good." •
By Susan Pagani