By Cary Shuman
Robert “Bobby” Kalustian knows restaurants.
And if you own or have owned a restaurant in the region, you know Robert Kalustian.
For 71 consecutive years, Kalustian’s family has been providing equipment to restaurants large and small, bakeries, submarine shops, pizza places, college cafeterias – and more recently, food trucks.
Setrak Kalustian, Robert’s grandfather, started Eastern Bakers Supply Co. Inc., in 1946 in Arlington, selling supplies to bakeries. Robert’s father, Edward Kalustian, used to make deliveries in his station wagon and young Bobby would assist on Saturdays, often receiving donuts and cupcakes from bakery owners during his weekly rounds.
The business branched out to selling equipment such as refrigerators and ovens to bakeries and eventually moved to Commercial Wharf on the waterfront. It moved to its current location at 145 North Washington St. in the North End in 1956, joining a number of other restaurant suppliers in the neighborhood.
“This street had close to a dozen service equipment suppliers on it,” said the 68-year-old Kalustian. “This was the Bowery of Boston for restaurant equipment.”
“It was just like the Bowery in New York,” added his wife, Julie Kalustian, who helps oversee the business.
But Eastern Bakers – the last of the restaurant suppliers in the neighborhood – will leave its longtime location and move its operations to offices and a warehouse in Westwood in the fall. Kalustian has sold the three buildings that house Eastern Bakers and two other adjacent properties to a Boston real estate firm.
Restaurant owners began descending on the business Monday for a relocation sale, purchasing smallwares including pots, pans, glassware, and china – “all the carryable items,” said Kalustian.
“All the bigger items – the fryers, the grills, the refrigerators, the ovens, the shelves, the tables – are in our warehouse in Everett,” he said.
“It’s a relocation sale,” said Julie. “The plan is for the staff to move to Westwood.”
Kalustian said other restaurant suppliers moved away from North Washington Street because “the rents are too high, the traffic’s too bad, and there are parking issues.”
Julie Kalustian said competition from the internet has also affected the restaurant supply industry. But Eastern Bakers’s customers have been very loyal through the years, benefiting from Robert Kalustian’s expertise while appreciating the integrity in which he runs his business. New restaurant owners often sought the advice of Kalustian, who is also an electrical engineer, before they opened their doors.
The Kalustians have always prided themselves on providing excellent value, high-quality equipment, and exceptional service to their customers.
“Our prices are probably the cheapest of anyone in this business,” said Robert.
“We’ve always been known for value and quick turnaround – if you want something in the morning, a lot of times we’ll have it to you by the afternoon,” said Julie.
Just about all of the area’s well-known restaurants – Anthony’s Pier 4, Jimmy’s Harborside, Legal Seafoods, and Durgin Park in Boston, Kowloon, Hilltop, Augustine’s, and Continental in Saugus – have purchased some of their supplies at Eastern Bakers. Hundreds of Dunkin Donuts and Finagle A Bagle stores and several local bakeries have also been clients.
What has been the most popular item that restaurants have purchased through the decades?
“We have sold a tremendous number of refrigeration units and tons of ovens and fryers,” Kalustian said. “Because the Northeast is known for its seafood (fried clams, especially) [Pitco] fryers are very popular.”
Robert and Julie Kalustian had a touch of sadness in their voices when they talked about their big move away from Boston.
“It’s the end of an era, it’s going to be sad to leave,” said Julie.
But Eastern Bakers will continue to thrive in its new location in Westwood. New restaurants are opening regularly in New England.
“What’s been especially rewarding is that we’ve been in business so long that we’re selling equipment and supplies to the sons and daughters of restaurant owners to whom we sold 30 years ago,” said Robert.
One treasure through his family’s decades-long ownership of Eastern Bakers that Robert Kalustian cherishes each day is the relationship he was able to begin with his wife, Julie, a personable and energetic woman who has been a tremendous asset to the business and a warm and welcoming presence in the showroom.
One of Eastern Bakers’s customers introduced Julie to Robert.
“That’s all it took. So because of Eastern Bakers, I met my husband,” said Julie.