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waiter, i'll 
have the table
shopping restaurant supply stores to decorate your digs
by Jennifer 
Johnson Avril
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When my husband and I moved into our new apartment last fall, we were thrilled that we would have a genuine dining room, something neither of us had ever had in our apartments past. But the thrill turned to concern when we examined the space. Just 9 feet wide and 10 feet long, it requires a walkthrough area to get to the living room. What we needed was a dining room table that was like many a hipster -- slender, cool, and low budget.

As we discussed the type of table we wanted, we started to bring up some of the things we'd seen in restaurants we'd both worked in over the years. Enter Manhattan's restaurant supply district on the Bowery. In the course of one rainy Saturday afternoon, we surveyed about ten different stores within a few blocks of this legendary stretch of commerce. The merchandise varied greatly from store to store. Some specialized in freezer cases or bakery racks, some in metal kitchen counters, and some in tableware and cutlery. Some of them were large and cavernous with a mix of all kinds of items, from the mundane (salt shakers) to the sensible (faucets) to the kitschy (movie theater nacho machines).

After asking lots of questions and getting some price estimates, we bought a fabulous, sleek, stainless-steel kitchen prep table for $125.00, including the cost of having the legs cut to a suitable height. We shimmied up the metal plate that would ordinarily stabilize the table by being placed near the floor, so that we now have a shelf for stashing placemats, mail that should be hidden from dinner guests and, best of all, an IKEA ping pong set, complete with net. Now surrounded by second-hand black velvet upholstered chairs, the table comfortably seats six and looks much more expensive than it actually was.

Our success with the table caused me to wonder -- are restaurant supply stores an undiscovered goldmine for cheap, modern home decorating? The answer: sometimes. I did a little under-cover investigation to help you have a successful, fun shopping excursion. Here's what to look for, what to expect, and what to ask.

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