Anyone who’s driven through Waterford on Route 19 is probably familiar with A. Caplan Co.’s slogan: “If you cook, stop and look!”
As Luke Caplan describes, the slogan was a spur-of-the-moment creation from his father, Aaron, who founded the business in 1981.
The slogan, which now graces the sign of the Waterford Township business, perfectly sums up the draw of the kitchenware store.
On the retail side, at least, the store has become almost a destination of sorts for at-home cooks, Luke Caplan says. In the storefront, all manner of kitchen gadgets and gizmos jockey for space. There are stacks of gleaming silver pots, rows of coordinating china, racks of spoons and spatulas for any purpose. There is also a collection of vintage items, including quirky or collectible kitchen tools and serving pieces reminding shoppers of days gone by.
But the retail side only represents about half of what the business does. A. Caplan Co. also serves commercial kitchens, supplying equipment to restaurants, taverns, schools, clubs and churches. That equipment, which A. Caplan Co. sells both new and used, runs the gamut: Huge commercial ovens and refrigerators, stainless steel sinks for proper sanitation, other devices like rice cookers, bread slicers, mixers and meat grinders.
The business has evolved over the years into its current form, with the Caplans tacking on extra room as needs required. They’ve grown slowly but steadily over the years, Luke Caplan says – and that was the intention. “Dad never was in it to make a ton of money,” he says. “Just to make a living.”
Today, that living supports a second generation of Caplans – Luke and his brother, James, as well as 10 other dedicated employees – and has carved out a comfortable niche for itself in Erie County. Even so, the Caplans are cognizant of their main competition – the Internet – and have had to make their mark as a unique presence.
“We know we have to get out there and sell the experience,” Luke Caplan says, “and sell ourselves.”
About A. Caplan Co.: Aaron Caplan started his business in the former Dog N Suds, and the drive-in’s old awning remains. Today, the commercial side of the business serves customers in a fairly wide radius, serving customers as far south as Pittsburgh and delving into eastern Ohio and western New York. The retail side of the business has been bolstered by a nationwide trend of home cooking, evidenced by the variety of cooking shows and competitions. In addition to supplying equipment, the business offers services as well – including installing equipment, advising customers on kitchen layout, and even professional knife sharpening.
Why Erie County: A trend in Erie County to support locally owned restaurants has proved beneficial to A. Caplan Co., Luke Caplan says. In addition, A. Caplan Co. enjoys a good relationship with other restaurant equipment dealers in the county. “There’s a camaraderie” in their industry, he says.
Challenges of Erie County: As previously mentioned, one of A. Caplan Co.’s biggest challenges as a retailer is from the Internet, in the form of online shopping. However, the company also sees challenges here at home, particularly when it comes to attempts to expand the business. The company might have the resources to expand, but not necessarily the time or money to invest in the process – including permitting – that must be undertaken before the expansion can actually take place, Luke Caplan says. The obstacles can be disheartening, he says, for a company that is trying to grow.
Fun fact: Luke Caplan might just be destined to work in the restaurant supply business. His father’s parents were in the restaurant equipment business, long before his father opened A. Caplan Co. And his mother recently found a paper from his elementary school days that revealed his childhood hopes for this future. “It said, ‘When I grow up I want to sell restaurant equipment,’” Luke Caplan says with a laugh.