Baton Rouge restaurants, grocers deal with food shortages, price hikes

As restaurants struggle to stay afloat amid the pandemic, juggling workforce shortages, health concerns and restrictions that limit the number of customers they can serve indoors, they’re also facing another challenge: rising food costs.

Due to supply chain issues, restaurant owners say they’re experiencing shortages and, in some cases, double-digit price increases.

“The supply chain problems are real,” says Brad Watts, who owns Kalurah Street Grill and Cecilia. “Our food costs are up 25 to 30 percent across the board.”

That’s one reason K Street didn’t reopen in late May, after offering takeout service in the early weeks of the pandemic shutdown.

Mestizo’s owner Jim Urdiales hasn’t seen his prices jump that much, but he estimates they’re up between 10% and 15% on average.

“Every week we have to make adjustments,” Urdiales says. “Skirt steak, for instance, is an item that’s really an important ingredient for us and we were having trouble getting it. That can throw my entire food cost out of whack by $500 or $600 a week.”

Adding to the challenge: There’s no way to predict what item may not show up on a delivery truck. Earlier this week, the restaurant’s liquor distributor was out of a tequila Mestizo’s stocks and also one of its most popular wines.

“Every week we’re like, OK, what’s not coming today?’” Urdiales says.

Local supermarkets have also experienced price hikes, though grocers say they don’t see increases across the board. Rather, it depends on the item and the day.

“The only thing that was really bad was ground beef,” says Hadrian Givens, assistant manager at Bet R Supermarket. “For a while, it went from like $4.99 a pound to $7.99 a pound but it’s coming back down now.”

Other items, though, like certain canned goods and cleaning supplies, continue to be hard to come by.

“We order them every week,” he says. “Every once in a while a case will come in.”

Officials at Associated Grocers, which supplies dozens of independent supermarkets across the state, cannot say by how much prices have gone up. President Manard Lagasse acknowledges there are supply chain issues and that they will likely continue, but he says customers should not expect them to be widespread.

“The supply chain is good but it could be better,” he says. “Meat is hit and miss right now but it’s better than it was a few weeks ago. Cleaning supplies continue to be tough to get but we’re doing the best we can to get it to store shelves as quickly as possible.”

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