Oh, the panic right before the party! You cannot fit the turkey into the roasting pan. Or you are pretty sure the turkey would fit perfectly – if you could only find the pan. Whether you just opened a restaurant and need big broilers and fryers, or you left the stove on and are running around Monterey County looking for a stainless steel spatula, Bill Locklar of Monterey Bay Restaurant Equipment is your guardian angel. His store doesn’t end so that your misery can.
Imagine pots and stoves, china, coffee mugs, flatware, glassware, tabletop, glass washers, toasters, ice cream scoopers, baking pans, knives, Asian dinnerware, Italian pasta makers, home bar accessories, gizmos, gadgets, brooms and cookbooks all under the same roof.
“People cannot believe it,” says Rose Haislip, when finally located in the gourmet section of MBRE. “Especially women. They say it’s like a candy shop.” Haislip has been with the store for 20 years now and is considered family.
The store has evolved to have everything not just for restaurant customers but also home cooks, whose interest increased during shelter-in-place.
It’s fair to say that Locklar was one of the best-prepared people in Monterey County when Covid hit. This man mastered the art of stocking and preemptive restocking long before we paid much attention to the supply chain. Hence, the cleaning supplies section at MBRE had it all – gloves, bulbs, paper and bleach – when other stores ran out. The business, supplying local restaurants, was deemed essential and remained open the whole time. According to Locklar’s daughter, Alyssa Barnes, who does marketing for the company and was delegated to share the family story, Locklar can predict when a Monterey restaurant will decide it’s time to replace glasses, and orders appropriately. Big restaurant families in the area know him as their great supporter and the backbone of the local cooking community.
It started over 30 years ago when Locklar, a consummate cook (professionally until 1988, now for his own enjoyment), was closing a restaurant in Marina and the equipment sold like hotcakes. He realized there was a market and since then, it has been his ambition to support culinary efforts on the Peninsula by providing equipment and service. The first store was 1,000 square feet in Seaside. The business grew like wildfire and soon MBRE moved to a big warehouse in Sand City where it remained until 2019, before moving to its current 15,000 square foot location in Monterey. Meanwhile, Locklar, 62, has continued to expand his expertise so that, according to Barnes, there is no restaurant service call he cannot answer.
“In the restaurant industry, there’s no time to wait and he can fix anything,” she says, recalling how her father worked on Sundays building kitchen floors. “He knows all the laws and how far the sink should be from the electrical.
“My favorite part is listening to him advising clients,” Barnes adds. “They don’t know he is an owner. Today I saw him with a [customer] and they were adorable. He was trying to convince her that the $18 jar is all she needs, not the $35 one. He loves to find exactly what people are looking for.”
It’s a family business through and through. Barnes and her four siblings have been helping since high school and are still called in to cover a shift. “My mom knows where every penny is, and my dad knows where every product is,” Barnes says, walking along “the stainless aisle,” her favorite since she was a child. “I remember when I first brought my now-husband here. He loves to cook. He didn’t want to leave.”
Since moving to New Monterey, the store has gained many new customers thanks to more foot traffic, Barnes says. More people have picked up cooking since the beginning of the pandemic and come here on weekends instead of a trip to Williams Sonoma. The store started to deliver, too, and they currently do a lot of business on Amazon.
“It’s always been a hidden gem,” Barnes says, “but now we are more out in the open.”