US (NY): Lettuce prices are skyrocketing. Local restaurant owners are eating the cost — for now

The owner of Voula’s on Monroe Avenue doesn’t want to charge you more for salad. But the skyrocketing prices of food — up 10.6% from last year at this time — are putting Voula Katsetos-Garwood, who started her namesake restaurant almost 11 years ago, on edge.

“We make about 15% less on each salad sale,” she says, “but we are hopeful that the price will come down again soon. If it stays high, then I’ll have to adjust accordingly.” One of the hardest-hit commodities in terms of price increases is lettuce; romaine hearts grown in California are, according to some sources, two to three times the cost from last year. But, unlike some other restaurant staples, the reason behind the lettuce increase is not just inflation: it’s also bugs.

Last fall, California’s Salinas Valley, an area dubbed the “Salad Bowl” because it grows half the country’s supply of lettuce, was infested by an insect-borne virus — impatiens necrotic spot virus, a disease caused by sucking insects known as thrips — that destroyed more than 80% of the crop. That resulted in the price of lettuce surging nationwide. Though the cost varies depending on location, a box of romaine — usually costing $25-$30 on the East Coast — is now setting many wholesale buyers back by up to $100.

So Katsetos-Garwood got creative, making a pivot in her lettuce purchasing. “The cost of the case at wholesale supplier Restaurant Depot went up from $40 a case to $85,” she says.


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