Katrina takes bite out of eateries | PostIndependent.com

Katrina takes bite out of eateries

An “imperfect storm” of rising gasoline and dairy prices, now topped off by food shortages thanks to Hurricane Katrina, is threatening to wreak some havoc on local restaurants.Steve Beham, owner of The Bayou Restaurant in Glenwood Springs, said Wednesday he is being forced to tack a $1 temporary surcharge on entrees thanks to a recent triple-whammy of increasing costs.Those include continually rising dairy costs, already-high gas prices that then topped $3 a gallon thanks to Katrina, and the hurricane’s crippling of seafood and poultry industries in the Southeast, Beham said.”This is just what I’m calling an imperfect storm, this storm on top of what is already happening with dairy and fuel,” Beham said.David Zumwinkle, owner of Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse in Glenwood Springs, also said he’s expecting to see rises in costs from his food suppliers due to the storm.”It will definitely trickle down, and it won’t even trickle, it will come flooding down upon us in increasing food prices,” he said.Not all local eateries are noticing any storm-related impacts – at least yet.”We’re not really feeling it,” said Lorenzo Suazo, a sous chef at Brickyard Square in Rifle.He said he doesn’t expect to have to hike menu prices because of gasoline costs either. He said he believes food suppliers already had been tacking on a surcharge for years because of higher gas prices.Also a question mark is the degree to which the storm will translate into higher prices and limited availability of some items in grocery stores. Jeff Stroh, a spokesman for Safeway, said he hasn’t seen any immediate impacts on seafood or poultry because of the storm.”Obviously fuel prices have gone up, but our fuel costs tend to be only a portion of the overall cost of warehousing, product and delivery,” he said.He said Safeway’s size usually enables it to absorb fuel price increases by being more efficient.”We really don’t think at this point that would have a big effect on anything,” he said.Beham said the hurricane hit oysters and other seafood hard.”The shrimping boats were all just tossed. … The ports are out of service for a long time.”The crawfish season was ending anyway, but the future crop may be hurt because eggs were washed out to sea, Beham said.Meanwhile, poultry operations were devastated, and fresh chicken can’t be found.”If you’ve seen the news there’s acres and acres of dead chickens lying around,” Beham said.He said his cost for chicken breasts jumped 150 percent in one day. Beham said he and other restaurant owners have been ordering what seafood and poultry they can in an effort to stock up.Said Zumwinkle, “I know there is going to be an issue regarding fresh chickens. It’s going to affect the entire chicken market because a lot of chickens are processed in that area.”He said he prefers to serve fresh chicken but instead will have to offer a product that has been frozen.Beham said dairy prices have been high for some time, thanks to factors such as mad cow disease and drought.”They killed so much cattle when we couldn’t import that Canadian beef,” he said.Meanwhile, rising energy prices affect not only food delivery costs, but food production costs, from the farm to the kitchen. The cost of natural gas used in cooking also has been skyrocketing.Zumwinkle said he’s willing to absorb higher costs of doing business without adjusting his menu prices, up to a point.”If it looks like it’s going to affect me for the long run, then I’m going to have to pass that on,” he said.Hurricane Katrina has had not just a business impact at the Bayou, but a personal one. Beham said his minority partner, chef Michael Balsley, has 22 family members living in Gulfport, Miss., and only recently found out they are safe.”He’s been a wreck for five days now,” Beham said.Beham plans to donate 25 cents from the price of every entree to help the American Red Cross respond to hurricane victims. He hopes to help organize a fund-raiser for the Red Cross later.”They need the help down there, bad,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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