When you eat at your favorite Acadiana restaurants, do you ever wonder where the silverware, plates, or glasses come from? Well, there’s a good chance they have come from Hilton’s Restaurant Supply. For more than 80 years, Hilton’s has been providing Acadiana businesses and residents with the kitchenware they need. The current owners, husband and wife Casey and Valerie Rawlings are passionate not only about supplying good-quality kitchen items, but also about supporting the local Acadiana business community.
What’s the story of Hilton’s Restaurant Supply?
“My understanding is that in 1939 a gentleman named Gordon Hilton (the business’ namesake) founded this company. He started out selling knives and smallwares (spoons and specialty kitchen items) out of the back of his truck. Eventually, he moved into selling refrigeration equipment, and he also got into service. It went on to be called Hilton Refrigeration and Market Equipment, I believe. In the late 1970s, the second owner, Al DeLarue, decide to transition from focusing on service and refrigeration to kitchen smallwares. Now, we’re about 50/50. We do a bit of everything and we try to be a full-service shop.”
How did you and your wife become the owners?
“My wife, Valerie, worked for Al DeLarue. She started at the company in the 1990s and started off as a receptionist and worked her way through the ranks. When Al announced his retirement, Valerie and I made him an offer to buy out the business.
My wife and I owned a cabinet company together prior to this, but we shut that down to run Hilton’s. Coming to Hilton’s was a relatively easy transition for me. My background is in sales; I’ve been in sales since I was 22 years old.”
Can you talk more about your experience in sales and what you enjoy about selling?
“It sounds real cliche, but I like helping people solve their problems. I don’t see myself as a salesman as much as I see myself as a problem solver. People don’t come into the store because they feel like buying something. Typically, they have a problem or a need to be filled and I can do that. I like that challenge, and I can teach the heck out of kitchen equipment.”
What is your connection with local Acadiana restaurants?
“The locally-owned and operated restaurants are our bread and butter. We do work with a wide variety of industries– so hospitals, prisons, churches, and any industry that has a need for our items. But the restaurants are who we depend on.”
What other connections do you and your business have to the Acadiana community?
“We actively support an event called Eat Lafayette, where Hilton’s Restaurant Supply is the official supplier. It’s a campaign to promote the locally-owned restaurants. We’ve been doing that for about six years now. We love to sponsor a lot of local events. We also sponsor the Teurlings Catholic High School fishing team.
I mean, look, shopping local is a BIG deal for us. We live in the community, our tax dollars stay in the community, and honestly we’re our customers’ customers as well. I find it really important that if I’m going to encourage people to shop with my business and shop local, then I figure I should be shopping local, too. Local is extremely important to us.”
Have there been any interesting moments during your time working at Hilton’s?
“The one that comes to mind first and that makes me laugh is this situation that happens often. Our company has been around for almost 80 years now, and we still have people stop by and are shocked to find that we’re open to the public. These are people who were driving by our shop for 15 or 20 years. We literally have a sign outside that says ‘open to the public.’
It’s also fun watching people come in the store for the first time. We’re essentially a hardware store for cooks. People come in and their mouths drop. Hilton’s is really just a unique place. Everyone who comes in becomes like family and we do our best to know them on a first-name basis.”
In addition to being open to the public, is there anything else that you’d want people to know?
“Picture this: you go to a restaurant; you sit down and eat, and you’re mainly there for the food. You’re not noticing the chair you’re sitting in, the plate you’re eating from, or the forks or glasses. It’s just there, but you don’t think about where it comes from. Well, it comes from stores like mine. Sometimes people walk in and say ‘oh I recognize that glass or that silverware from my favorite restaurant.’ It’s just kind of funny to see the light go on as they realize the items from their favorite restaurants come from a local shop.”
What would you say is a benefit of shopping with Hilton’s Restaurant Supply VS. getting your kitchenware from a national chain?
“Most of our sales staff has experience in the foodservice industry. So they have first-hand knowledge of how our items work. This is a true profession, and we send our guys to training on a regular basis. Their training teaches them how to use certain equipment, techniques and new products that are coming out, and how those products can help our customers. You really do get expert service when you shop at Hilton’s. You’re less likely to get that at a big box store. I’m not saying that the workers at those places won’t do a good job, but being an expert on smallwares is not what they truly do.”
Where do you see the business going as you continue to grow?
“I feel that it’s our duty as local business owners to spread that local attitude and grow into other communities. For example, we opened our second location in Alexandria, Louisiana, and we plan on opening up more locations. Also, it’s our duty to help employ our neighbors. So, we are looking to grow and that means we have to keep more employees and support our local economy. Our dream ultimately is to grow and become the local restaurant supplier not only for Acadiana, but also all of Louisiana.”
‘Eat local. Shop local. Love local.’ These are the words Casey ended with and here at Towny, we TOTALLY agree. Hilton’s Restaurant Supply is a prime example of what it looks like to be a champion for your local community. Another way to champion your local biz community is downloading the Towny app – your FREE resource to perks AND local businesses in Acadiana. Whatcha waiting for?