Coronavirus

Forget Giant and Acme: The Real Panic Shoppers Go to Restaurant Depot

Cases of toilet paper, enormous cans of beans, and whole goats were among the items we found this weekend at the Northwest Philly location.


woman shops at restaurant depot during the philly coronavirus crisis

A masked woman scores some toilet paper at Restaurant Depot during the Philadelphia coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Victor Fiorillo)

If you want to shop at Restaurant Depot, you have to be a member. And during normal times, if you want to become a member of Restaurant Depot, you have to work for a restaurant. Like, you actually have to show paperwork. So what’s a place like Restaurant Depot to do when many restaurants have been forced to close due to the coronavirus? Open up membership to the general public, of course.

In case you’ve never heard of Restaurant Depot, it’s a national chain of warehouse stores where restaurants buy food and non-perishable items that restaurants need (like toilet paper!) in large quantities.

Yes, you can buy a bag of bread there and other assorted individual items, but generally speaking, Restaurant Depot is like Costco. On steroids. Restaurant Depot’s warehouse locations in the Philly area are in Northwest Philly, South Philly, Pennsauken and Langhorne.

I stopped into the Northwest Philly one — which the chain calls its Manayunk store, but is really east of East Falls — twice this weekend to see just how crazy things are in the age of the coronavirus and, perhaps, because we only had a roll of toilet paper left.

And, well, things weren’t crazy at all. Oh, don’t get me wrong. People were most definitely panic shopping in the sense that they were buying large quantities of food and other items because they are panicked about what the next weeks and months have in store for us. But they weren’t doing it in a panicked manner. There wasn’t anybody screaming or yelling. There was plenty of food (and toilet paper!) available for purchase.

“It was a lot crazier a week ago or so,” one Restaurant Depot employee told me on Friday. “But things have really calmed down for whatever reason.”

To become a member, you simply present your photo ID at the front desk and a very friendly (or at least she was to me) clerk makes a photocopy of your ID and then hands you a day pass. As the phrase “day pass” suggests, it’s only good for that day, but you can come back as many times as you want — well, until we sort out the coronavirus mess that we’re in — and obtain a new day pass each time.

Other things you need to know if you want to shop at Restaurant Depot as a regular person (i.e. not a restaurant person): if paying by credit card you must present photo ID. No exceptions. And there are absolutely no returns of any kind.

And there are no baskets. If you ask for a basket at Restaurant Depot, somebody might look at you like you’re crazy.

Restaurant Depot doesn’t even have shopping carts.

No, if you go to Restaurant Depot, you get a freaking shopping dolly. Like this one:

buying toilet paper at restaurant depot during the philadelphia coronavirus crisis

A man buying toilet paper at Restaurant Depot during the Philadelphia coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Victor Fiorillo)

No, that’s not me, silly.

First of all, that man is much less challenged than me in the follicles department. Secondly, I would never wear a suit to buy groceries. And third, I went to Restaurant Depot for one pack of toilet paper. Not however many rolls this guy had on his dolly. Hey, maybe he’s got a big family. Maybe he’s buying some for his elderly neighbor. Who’s to judge?

No, this is me at Restaurant Depot:

man holds a frozen goat at restaurant depot during the coronavirus crisis in philadelphia

A man and his goat in the age of the Philadelphia coronavirus crisis.

Yes, this is me with a goat. A frozen halal goat. Restaurant Depot will sell you the whole goat for $4.95 per pound. A whole frozen lamb comes in at $3.63 per pound:

frozen lamb and goat on sale at restaurant depot during the philadelphia coronavirus crisis

Lamb and goat on sale at the Restaurant Depot during the Philadelphia coronavirus crisis.

Speaking of meat, there was more than enough of pretty much every kind available (and no, no price gouging), from chicken to oxtail to some beautiful looking steaks and some not so beautiful looking tubes of ground beef:

meat on sale at the restaurant depot during the coronav

Ground beef on sale at Restaurant Depot during the coronavirus crisis in Philadelphia.

But, hey, if you want ground beef, they’ve got plenty.

Restaurant Depot is also offering discounts by the pallet. If you’re a true survivalist, you can get $1.00 off per 50 pound bag of Pillsbury’s Best flour if you buy said 50 pound bags by the pallet. Maybe you can finally learn how to be a pastry chef with all that free time you have on your hands now?

I didn’t buy any pallets of flour.

And I didn’t come home with a whole frozen halal goat or a tube of ground beef.

But I did grab a 10-pound bag of frozen falafel balls, that turned out to be really good. And yes, yes I did find my toilet paper. There was plenty.

toilet paper on sale in philly during the coronavirus crisis

Toilet paper on sale at Restaurant Depot in Philadelphia during the coronavirus crisis.

But I promise — promise — I only bought one bag.