NEWPORT, Maine — The largest food service equipment supplier north of Portland said this week that he has two warehouses full of supplies and gets daily calls to buy more.
The country’s shaky economy is both a blessing and a curse for Hollis Edwards, owner of Bubba’s Food Service Equipment. Edwards is seeing more restaurants and food businesses fail, but because he sells 98 percent used equipment, he is seeing an increase in business owners looking for a bargain.
“We’ve got people coming from all over New England,” manager Chris Mudie said. “We have a vast inventory and something here would cost twice as much in Boston.”
“Business is going to be tough for a lot of people this coming year,” Edwards predicted. “They will be shopping hard in places like us.”
Edwards said one woman recently purchased a popcorn maker for a drive-in movie theater in New Hampshire. “She paid about 35 cents on the dollar,” he said. “She was delighted.”
Walk the aisles in Edwards’ two 6,000-square-foot warehouses, and the breadth of his supplies is amazing. There are shelves upon shelves of small wares: dishes, silverware, pots and pans, trays and glassware.
The aisles are full of Snocone machines, fryolaters, pizza ovens, griddles, dishwashers, slicers, cotton candy machines and hot dog steamers. There are booths and signs and barstools and everything else — including hundreds of kitchen sinks. There is even a fake palm tree or two for ambiance.
“It is very, very rare that a customer calls with a request, and we have to say we don’t have it,” Edwards said.
And it’s not just business owners who have sought out Bubba’s. Small maple syrup producers come in for stainless steel boiling pots. Greenhouse operators buy racks to store their seedlings on in the spring.
Bubba’s also offers plenty of new equipment and has a full repair and loaner system in place.
“I’m concerned about what is happening out there in the food industry,” Edwards said this week. “We’re seeing a lot more interest by customers and businesses looking to sell than we have before. It’s the economy, sure, but it is also the season.”
Luckily for Edwards, he can afford to sit on his inventory, keep purchasing more, and wait for the economy to turn around.
“We’re young and this business isn’t saturated [with competition], so we will see some growth,” he said. “But that growth will not be what it could have been.”’
Edwards began stockpiling equipment about three years before opening two years ago. “I have been in the food business all my life,” Edwards said. As a manufacturers’ representative for eight different companies, Edwards found he was constantly linking people up with the equipment they needed.
Because of the great travel distances in Maine, Bubba’s often e-mails pictures of products to prospective customers.
“There has been only one time that we’ve e-mailed and then didn’t make the sale,” Mudie said.
“I had a tremendous network of customers out there,” Edwards said. “For me, it’s all about the customers. If I can keep them in business, keep them satisfied, my business will prosper.”
But why, Edwards was asked, did he choose the name Bubba’s with its often negative connotation. Maine, he said, is a blue collar state.
“See these?” he asked, as he stretches out a suspender strap. “These suspenders sold as much flour as I ever did. If anyone can’t look past the business’s name, were they really a potential customer anyway?”
Bubba’s Food Service Equipment is located on U.S. Route 2 in East Newport. The warehouse can be reached at 368-4010.