The word “wholesale” might conjure visions of deep, deep discounts, but that’s not always the case when it comes to food: Restaurants operate on notoriously low profit margins, so much of the food they buy from their distributors isn’t jaw-droppingly cheaper than the prices you might find at the grocery store. As most wholesalers’ restaurant business declined precipitously when dining rooms were shuttered by the coronavirus crisis, many have opened their doors to the public — and others have slashed their prices in an effort to sell their wares before they expire. For shoppers who love behind-the-scenes scoop, that means they can finally see how industry insiders shop — and for everyone else, it means a chance to find items scarce at local grocery stores, score some decent deals, and buy Costco-sized containers of food without the Costco-sized hassle.
Here’s a list of just some of the wholesalers that serve the Bay Area and have, in recent weeks, also opened to the public. Things to remember are that as these are places that have typically been business to business, you might not experience the effusive customer service you’d expect at, say, Mollie Stones — but you won’t be paying Mollie Stones prices, either.
Cheetah: SoMa-based logistics startup Cheetah has launched Cheetah For Me, an app-based wholesale ordering platform that uses its fleet of refrigerated trucks (which prior to the pandemic, solely served restaurant customers) to park and dole out orders at pick-up locations across the Bay Area. To order, you have to use their proprietary app (which isn’t ideal), but the company offers next-day pickup for stuff like produce, meat, seafood, dairy, and pantry staples.
The Chef’s Warehouse: This is a national specialty foods company that’s served restaurants owned by folks like Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, and Nancy Silverton, so you know they’re not messing around. They don’t have a local spot you can visit, but they opened online shopping to residents of Northern California last month. On its site you can find deals like a 10 lb “chef’s box” of Bassian Farms chicken for $39 and a dozen Clover single-serving yogurts for $13.69. Delivery is promised within three business days, and there’s a $35 service fee for orders under $250.
Cream Co. Meats: This Oakland-based whole-animal butchery operation opened up consumer sales in late March, and it sources from sustainable and regenerative ranches, which means responsibly raised poultry, beef, pork, and lamb is yours to take home. Prices start at $10 for a dozen Hoover Ranch eggs, and go up to $1,199 for a quarter of an organic steer from Prather Ranch. Local pickup and delivery is available via its website, and its curated boxes can be scored through Uber Eats.
Restaurant Depot: Wholesale cash-and-carry food service supply chain Restaurant Depot has three Bay Area locations (SF, Oakland, and San Jose), none of which have been open to the public in its four decades in business. The pandemic changed all that, and its 135-store network of warehouses opened to consumers at the end of March. When Eater SF visited the SF location (2045 Evans Avenue) in April, they stocked eggs, yeast, and flour — all items unavailable at many area grocery stores.
Sysco: You’ve likely seen big trucks bearing the Sysco logo outside most chain restaurants: their deliveries of produce, dairy, meat, and frozen goods are the mainstay of many a franchise. Via Instagram, Sysco’s local location has announced that it’s accepting online orders here, with pickup at its Fremont warehouse at 5900 Stewart Avenue. If you ever yearned for 100 beef empanadas ($71) or 48 chicken breasts ($56).
TwoXSea: This Sausalito-based sustainable fish purveyor says that it’s now delivering home cooks “the same catch we offer to Bay Area chefs.” That means 16 oz of sashimi grade albacore loin that’s actually albacore for $21.95 and — when in stock — Tennessee caviar. Order online here.
Water2Table: This San Francisco fishing company supplies spots like Delfina, Comal, and Nopa — and now they’ll supply regular old Bay Area humans with home delivery of a variety fresh-caught local and sustainable fish from a daily-changing list. To order, email retail@Water2Table.com with name, address, delivery instructions and phone number by 9 p.m. for next-day service. Delivery fee is $5 for orders over $100, $15 for orders less than $100, or save a couple bucks and pick it up at the Pier.