Sourcing, staffing issues plague Baton Rouge restaurants after Ida

A burger from Curbside Burgers (File photo)

Hurricane Ida and its aftermath have layered new problems on top of the challenges the Baton Rouge restaurants were already facing. 

Nick Hufft, owner of Curbside Burgers and Overpass Merchant, says neither restaurant lost power and both were able to open after the storm. Asked about how business was over the long weekend, he said it was “about the same as it’s been for the past 18 months,” which is to say not great when compared to the prior year. 

He says food vendors are facing difficulties that his managers are adapting to.

“It’s been a challenge to manipulate the menus to see what we can use and how we can use it,” Hufft says. 

Stephen Hightower, managing partner of the City Group Hospitality family of restaurants, says Saturday was fairly slow but Sunday was busy. He also points to food sourcing as a major challenge. 

“Everybody in our city, pretty much, gets food out of New Orleans,” he says. “You’re starting to see more food come out of there, but it’s been very, very slow.”

Mitch Rotolo, founder of the Rotolo’s Pizzeria chain, says eight of his 29 locations remain closed. His restaurants in the Baton Rouge area are back open, though some close on certain days because of staffing issues, he says. However, some locations such as in Houma, Thibodaux and Destrehan could remain closed for weeks. 

As with other businesses that are struggling to hire enough people, the storm has intensified the challenge. Hurricane Ida, coming on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has been demoralizing for some workers, and employees of restaurants that might have to close for a month or more may not return, Rotolo says. 

“It’s just difficult to function in this environment,” he says.