Labor and food shortages in the supply chain are wreaking havoc in restaurants

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For many restaurateurs across Connecticut, daily food deliveries have become irregular, later than usual, and sometimes canceled at the last minute. This puts stress on their reduced staff, leads to higher prices and sometimes sudden menu item deletions.

The problem is a staff shortage at food suppliers and trucking companies, as well as a food shortage as supply catches up after the pandemic slows.

In Hartford, Faye Higby visited Restaurant Depot on June 23 to purchase food for her Granby restaurant, Freshie’s Café. Usually Higby gets supplies delivered to Freshie, but it gets harder and harder.

“Currently, there are not enough products to meet the needs of restaurants. I have a hard time getting the simpler things like chicken breasts, ”Higby said.

Recently, one of its suppliers dropped Higby as a customer. She has other suppliers, but her dwindling supply of chicken has led her to Restaurant Depot. “In general, they have 100, 150 [40-pound] chicken boxes. Today they have had four, ”she said.

Restaurant owners say they have been told suppliers cannot find enough delivery drivers or warehouse workers to fill orders as consistently as they did before the pandemic. Representatives from some of the region’s largest food suppliers – Sysco, PFG, Sardilli’s – did not respond to requests for comment.

Performance Foods delivers to Wood N Tap restaurant in Southington, Connecticut (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant via Tribune Content Agency)

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said that in addition to labor shortages, supply and demand are also lagging. Most state-owned restaurants resumed full capacity on the same day, May 19, when they were allowed to do so by law – so demand suddenly increased.

“Everyone is trying to run to come back, trying to catch up, all at the same time,” he said.

Dolch added that foods imported from out of state, especially protein, exacerbate the supply problem.

“Connecticut was one of the first states to lift all trade restrictions. Some states are just doing it now, ”he said. “Some meat packing plants are not operating at full capacity, so they are not able to produce at full capacity. “

Gabriel Manuel Pacheco feels the pinch. Pacheco, head of Tap & Vine in Wallingford, said his delivery problems “were definitely getting worse”.

“Deliveries were arriving much later in the day, sometimes at night during dinner,” Pacheco said. “Then I got a phone call from a supplier stating that my Tuesday delivery that had been postponed to Wednesday was canceled again and hopefully would be scheduled for Thursday. “

Pacheco said all of its suppliers have increased their minimum ordering requirements.

“They can’t handle the workload, so to minimize the workload while maintaining an efficient business, they get rid of the small customers and favor the big customers who spend more money. They say if you can’t do the minimum, we can’t help you, ”he said.

“Small restaurants are put in a position where they have to play a dangerous game, ordering more volume, instead of basing themselves on need, to get the things they need. We run the risk of having too much stock and if it is perishable it will be wasted before it is used, ”he said.

No command at all

Robert Marcarelli, director of operations at Liv’s Oyster Bar in Old Saybrook, said they were sometimes unable to place orders. “In fact, catering companies have told us that if you really want to get the food in and want it on time, you better look elsewhere,” Marcarelli said. “Maybe our rep is just too honest. “

Restaurant Depot, where restaurateurs go when they need what their suppliers don’t provide, has been under attack lately. “It’s never been so busy,” said Frank Casale, Hartford store manager. But even he has problems keeping food in stock. “Our Sunday delivery never showed up.”

Helmar Wolf, whose Mill Restaurant Group operates restaurants in Simsbury, South Windsor, Hartford, Bloomfield and Manchester, said MRG is doing well by ordering 90% of the supplies from a single supplier.

“Catering companies look at their accounts, who buys the most,” Wolf said. “Some of the accounts that don’t buy much are probably delivered last or some may be abandoned.”

Higby experienced it. She no longer had her guests’ favorite pepper-encrusted salmon because the vendor who supplied it had abandoned her as a customer.

“It’s not because I’m not a good customer. I’m just not tall enough, ”she said. “Two days before I was supposed to be delivered, I was told that they only deliver to restaurants that generate so much business. Unfortunately, through their menu I was using products that I cannot get elsewhere.

Great restaurants too

Big customers also have problems. Hartford Restaurant Group, which operates Wood N Tap branches in Enfield, Vernon, Rocky Hill, Farmington, Newington, Southington, Wallingford and Hamden, and Que Whiskey Kitchen in Southington, has seen deliveries postponed by hours or days.

“We’ve had a busy Mother’s Day, and then the next day we’re told the truck will arrive on Tuesday. We were running out of products, ”said Phil Barnett, CEO of Hartford Restaurant Group.

Barnett said late deliveries or skipped days put staff under stress.

“On Friday, our deliveries arrived at 5 am. Now it is almost 4:30 p.m. prepared immediately for 5 pm service. It’s a challenge bottleneck, ”he said.

Rising price

When staff, supply and demand are down, prices go up or menu items disappear.

“Customers come in and want something that’s been on the menu for 18 years, but now it might not be available,” Barnett said.

Marcarelli said rising beef prices have been a problem at Liv’s. “We had to look at different cuts of meat to have a different offering,” he said. “Otherwise it’s a constant change in menu prices.

Some restaurants have ditched chicken wings, due to soaring costs. As a solution to the wing shortage, chicken wing chain Wingstop this week opened Thighstop, a take-out and delivery-only satellite that sells chicken thighs with its signature wing sauces, in 1,400 nationwide locations.

Dan Meiser, owner of the Oyster Club in Mystic, buys most of the food locally, so his supply is larger than in other places. Seafood is an exception.

“Our fish prices now compared to the pre-pandemic period… are dramatically increased. There are only a limited number of fishing boats. It is difficult for boats to find crew. It is difficult for the fish houses to find people to fillet and deliver the fish and put it in boxes on ice, ”Meiser said.

Barnett said lobster prices have delayed the introduction of its summer menu. “Our cost last year was around $ 20 a pound for the good stuff, the tongs and knuckles that we use to make our grilled lobster cheese,” he said. “Now it’s about $ 40 a pound. If the price drops, we will reprint the menu.

Dolch said restaurant diners should expect a slow recovery in availability and normal prices.

“I ask restaurants, if you had a crystal ball, how long do you think this thing is going to stabilize and come back?” They think about it all summer. It could take until September or October, ”he said.

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