Pro cooks/chefs: Sharpening knives at work ?


A friend told me that in the US some metro areas have a knife service where a company gives a restaurant a sharp knife, then one week later they come back and replace the first knife with a new sharp one. They then take the first knife back to the shop, sharpen it, and return it the next week, yada yada ad infinitum.

Have you ever heard of this? Can you explain it further?

How does your work handle knife sharpening? How do you?

Does the kitchen provide knives or are they all owned by the chefs themselves?

Any other services provided along these lines? I am thinking about slicing machine servicing, etc as well.

One idea I had for the private knives would be to give a knife roll with 5 blades in it to the chef for a day while I would sharpen their knives at the shop. Opinions?

I ask because there is a seriously un-developed service industry here in the Czech Republic and this sounds like an idea I might be able to make work here in Prague. LOTS of hotels and restaurants and only a few places that offer knife sharpening (mainly as an aside- they are key cutters, etc. with a grinding stone). I need ideas and opinions on what does and doesn’t work. I can probably get this biz going for cheap and hire someone to do everything while I focus on sales.

Thanks for your help-

I’ve worked in a number of restaurants. All restaurants (at least around here) have “house knives” that are for the use of all of the cooks/chefs. House knives are usually inexpensive, standard knives - 2 or 3 chef’s knives, maybe a paring knife and a fillet knife. Some cooks do have their own knives, though it’s mostly the chefs that have their own. I’m not a chef - just a cook - and don’t have my own set of knives. I have my own chef’s knife, but it needs to be replaced and so I’ve retired it. But being mostly a breakfast cook, I really don’t need my own assortment of knives the house knives are usually sufficient.

Most chefs who own their own knives don’t like other people to handle their stuff. It’s kind of a universal rule of ettiquette in restaurant kitchens - never touch another cook’s/chef’s knives without permission. And so most chefs will sharpen their own knives. They’ll sharpen them with a stone every couple of months, and touch them up with a steel in between. I think most chef’s would be hesitant to let their knives get anywhere near a powered grinding wheel. See, a chef’s knives are very personal, and a chef or cook grows accustomed to his own knives. To send them out for sharpening would require him to use different knives while his were in the shop, and that would be awkward, unless the substitutes were very similar to his own. I’m the same way with my spatula (some call it a turner). I’ve used the same spat for almost ten years, and the handle is worn to fit my hand - there’s a worn spot where my thumb touches it, and other worn spots where my fingers grip it. I’m familiar with its balance. Using any other spat is uncomfortable. Knives are the same way.

Now, house knives are another story. I did work in one restaurant where the house knives were sent out for professional sharpening every couple weeks. That was nice - we always had sharp knives. Most restaurants, though, simply let the cooks take care of the sharpening. We’ll sharpen the knives when we think they need it.

Unless the situation is very different in Prague, I don’t think this is something you could make a living at. It would be more suitable as a “side business” to something else, like the keycutters you mentioned. Most professional knife sharpeners I’ve seen are guys who have regular full-time jobs and just do the sharpening on the side, or else they’re retired guys who sharpen knives to supplement their retirement checks.

Thanks for the information. I have been wondering just how far a chef will part with their knives…

Anyone else have an opinion?


This is pretty common at places like Pizza Hut, (or was-- I’m not sure how much food prep still goes on there now…).
The only knives around were house knives, and they’d go out one week, and come back the next with about 1 cm ground off the blade! (that’s half an inch to you yanks). It basically meant that a paring knife could be sharpened ONCE before needing replacement.

I have no idea why any restaurant would agree to this abuse, but it was very common.

The guy who runs the cafeteria at my workplace tells me that they have no knives of their own - they subscribe to a service which brings in a set of sharpened knives every week (or whatever), takes back the previous set, and so on. He told me that it was a fairly common practice.

So it sounds like I should focus on the fast-food/cafeteria types and offer a special service to chefs. Cool, thanks!

At many chain restaurants they use the knife sharpening service.
It saves money to have it done correctly, they don’t have to worry about people cutting themselves and the cooks don’t complain about dull knives. I always liked new knife day. Suddenly, my job became slightly easier. The only disadvantage I ever found of it was whatever way they sharpened the knives made them slightly more brittle. We had several spontanously shatter in use. It wasn’t a common occurance, but happened often enough that we always wondered. The few we kept
on-hand all the time never had a problem with breaking. And every knife was made
by the same company. shrug

At my brothers restaurant the service comes to his kitchen before opening and sharpens the knives on the spot. There are no exchanges.

House knives, sure, I can see this and the “annual service” part would appeal to a graft-minded manager (and which of them aren’t).

Chef’s knives? Prep chef knives? No way. Most of us have a knife roll or a special place they’re kept, and guard them like whatever.

Nella is an example of a knife rental company. They exchange knives every week so you have sharp knives in the kitchen. These are typically the plastic handled knives you find at a restaurant supply store and not the fine knives a cheff would keep in a roll for their own use (not letting others use them).

The concept seems to work well, in that the restaurants always have sharp knives available to them and they don’t have to worry about any damage to the knives. Just make sure you keep track of which establishment the knives come from when you pick them up so you can charge for excessive abuse.

You might want to Google “cutlery services” or Nella (seems there’s many)…

Thanks again. Love the info.