A restaurant isn’t really a restaurant without the kitchen.
For one family-owned Emporia business, it is their job to provide all the equipment to outfit those restaurant kitchens to create their culinary masterpieces.
Emporia is celebrating Restaurant Month during the month of February, and MI Restaurant Equipment Supply helps keep many of the local establishments fitted with the cutting edge equipment necessary to please even the pickiest of palates.
MI Restaurant Supply Company is the kitchen supply company many Emporia and midwest restaurants count on to keep their kitchens running smoothly.
The business began in 1900, and today it is owned and owned by Jim and Theresa Muckenthaler and two of their sons, John and Joe. The business has two locations, one in Emporia and one in Topeka.
April Jackson, Outside Sales and Marketing for MI Restaurant Supply Company, said many of the EmporiYum restaurants are customers.
Bobby D’s, Radius, Commercial Street Diner, Coaches, Taco Express, Casa Ramos, El Lorito and Chi Em Eats are some of their best customers.
“We stock every item a commercial kitchen needs to operate,” Jackson said. “From thermometers for food safety, containers for food storage, griddles, ranges, ovens, fryers to prepare hot foods, refrigerators, freezers, ice machines for cold prep, janitorial and sanitation cleaners to spatulas, knives, plates, drinkware and silverware. We stock over 1,500 products every day and order from over 100 different suppliers. If a customer needs parts for any commercial food service equipment, we have next-day service available, but can usually get it within 2-3 business days.”
The company also provides services to Emporia restaurants.
“We also deliver equipment and provide service work on equipment,” MI Restaurant Supply Company President John Muckenthaler said.
John said the restaurant supply business has changed in many ways over the years.
“In 1971, most customers were independent operators,” John said. “Over the years, franchise restaurants have taken over a lot. There are not as many independent customers, and most of our volume comes from bids/contracts with schools and health care facilities.”
He also said the internet and advancements in technology have changed how they do business.
“It seems everyone is driven by lowest price and instant availability,” John said. “We can’t stock everything, our budget won’t allow it. But we can order it, and our suppliers stand behind us, so if it’s not represented correctly, we certainly want to and can make things right for our customers, unlike most internet companies.”
“We used to deliver and set up almost everything a customer ordered,” Joe added. “Now we drop ship quite a lot. The customer uses the internet for researching equipment and prices, which they used to rely on us dealers for that.”
“Technology continues to develop and can be seen in what was once a manual piece of equipment becoming automated or multi-functioning, as well as decreasing the overall size of the machine,” John added. “Food safety is paramount, and all the products that are available to maintain time and temperature standards keep evolving. This can be seen in automated and digital-read applications, as well as in materials once being insulated glass or plastic, now are a high-heat, BPA-free, plastic-type material.”
The internet has also allowed them to expand their territory. Between the Emporia and Topeka locations, the company supplies kitchens all over Kansas, as well as western Missouri — especially the Kansas City area — and northeast Oklahoma, thanks to their website.
“Our reach is unlimited with the use of our website and access to regional shipping companies,” Jackson said. “However, we consider our service area to be Kansas … but more specifically, within 200 miles of Emporia. Our only limits are usually time and customer budgets.”
MI Restaurant Equipment Supply also wants Emporians to know that they do and can supply more than just restaurants. They are also supplying the kitchen needs of other businesses and organizations all over town and the surrounding area.
“We supply commercial kitchens, not just restaurants,” Jackson said. ”If there is food being prepared and served to the public — we want to be the equipment supplier to that kitchen. Senior centers, school cafeterias, sale barns, event centers and even office break rooms ... all these kitchen areas can and do use our equipment and supplies.”
They also have a showroom that is open to the public. They encourage Emporians to come in to take a look around, especially those who enjoy using quality cooking supplies when they are making food for their own families and friends at home.
“For those of us who enjoy quality pots, pans and baking tools, we have the kitchen tools for you,” Theresa said. “Popular items we sell locally are our sheet pans — they are incredibly durable and bake evenly. Bowl scrapers, spatulas and our paring knives are very popular. We have them in a variety of colors and sizes at a great, low price. We have a can-opener that will open any can with ease, and we have carpeted floor mats that are perfect for entryways on rainy days. All these items can be found in our store every day and are generally at a much lower price than at the big box or national retailer stores.”
The family-owned business has served Emporia restaurants and businesses since the early 1900s, when it was a retail grocery business that was owned by David Stone and Morris Maib.
In 1912, the partners established a coffee company serving Emporia and a small surrounding territory. In 1915, CJ “Mose” Neill purchased the plant that was then known as Emporia Wholesale Coffee Company.
By 1945, the business sold teas, coffees, spices, extracts, candies, restaurant and fountain supplies and equipment. It had 22 employees.
In 1955, Neill passed away. His interest in the company was purchased by WJ “Wally” Evans. Wally and his wife had two children: a daughter, Theresa Ann, and a son, Charles “Skip”
Evans. Both worked in the family business.
In 1956, Jim Muckenthaler moved to Emporia to attend what is now Emporia State University, where he met Theresa Ann. He went to work for Emporia Wholesale Coffee Company as a substitute driver.
In Summer 1959, a salesman was involved in an accident on the route. Wally met Jim at the end of his day and told him he better wear a tie tomorrow — he was going out as a salesman. He and Theresa Ann married in Fall 1961.
At this time, the equipment industry started to expand greatly. In 1970, it split from Emporia Wholesale Coffee Company and sold to the Muckenthaler family in 1971 under the new name of Muckenthaler Incorporated.
In 1984, the company opened a branch location in Topeka.
Sons John and Joe joined the business after graduating from Emporia State. John is the president of the company and Joe serves in sales.
In late 2018, the company made a rebranding effort to push toward the future and changed its name to MI Restaurant Equipment Supply.
MI Restaurant Equipment Supply said it is always focused on hometown customer service.
“We care about the community we live in and the customers we serve,” Joe said.
“Our motto through the years has been, ‘Large enough to serve you, small enough to care.’ Come in and see what we have to offer,” he said
MI Restaurant Equipment Supply is located at 308 Commercial Street in Emporia. The showroom is open 8 a.m. — 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays.