SCRANTON, PA—Recently, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Independent Gazette had the honor of sitting down with a business owner with whom this reporter has had the pleasure of doing business over the years. John Tulaney is the proprietor of Scranton Restaurant Supply, a fantastic small store that many chefs, restaurant owners, and home cooks alike have come to know well. As one walks in and looks around, it is impossible not to notice the friendly, open atmosphere created by Tulaney. “I like this store to feel like a general store, one of the old general stores,” he remarks. “When a customer comes in and I ask what they need, I’ll walk around and pick this up, pick that up, get their order together for them.”
It’s a novel experience in a world dominated by national chains, and it’s part of Tulaney’s business strategy. In his words, “Being a small businessman is a double-edged sword. You can expand and be more competitive, but I feel like if you did that you would lose that personal touch. Just be good to people. Treat them like people, treat them like gold, recognize them. Getting bigger would ruin that.”
This strategy also affects Tulaney’s business philosophy. He explains, “I feel like this place is a Chamber of Commerce for the restaurant business. Two customers will come in, I’ll say, ‘This guy is from this restaurant,’ and introduce the two, and they will start talking. I love that. Small businesses need to watch out for each other, and that’s the same with restaurants.”
Having operated Scranton Restaurant Supply since 2007, his expertise on the local restaurant industry and dining out is comprehensive. Tulaney notes that the sector is slowly recovering from the hard early years of the recession, and that diners are now becoming more adventurous, which he attributes to the proliferation of more daring food shows on the Food Network, Travel Channel, and PBS (such as America’s Test Kitchen and Mind of a Chef), as well as the influx of food trucks willing to experiment with their small, flexible inventories. As we end our interview with an anecdote about a local new, small restaurant and how Tulaney helped furnish it, he leaves me with this message: “If you can help someone with their business—their dream—you’ve made it.” If that is how one measures success, Mr. Tulaney, then you “made it” a long time ago, and have many more successful years to come.