Is Food Supply a Problem for Restaurants After Harvey?

With travel still tenuous, not every eatery is getting the food it needs.

By Alice Levitt September 1, 2017

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Deliveries aren't easy, even if much of the water has subsided.

Image: Shutterstock

In the early days after Harvey, as restaurants took their first steps in reopening, a pessimistic trend quickly took hold. After only two-and-a-half hours serving up pho on Monday, for example, Nam Eatery in the Heights was fresh out of food. Tracking who was open and who was still open was nearly impossible, because there was no knowing when another delivery, or another slap from Poseidon, was coming.

Seaside Poke was lucky when it came to flooding. A trickle of water damaged the specials board at the front of the restaurant and a bit more entered in the back, nothing else. Nonetheless, the poke restaurant in EaDo has been closed an entire week. It will reopen today with a full menu and regular schedule of service, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

But according to co-founder Kristy Nguyen, getting deliveries from their usual vendors is a challenge in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Chefs Tai Nguyen and Vuthy “Tee” Srey have to dispose of everything that was in the kitchen before hastily closing last week. Seaside gets its mostly local vegetables from Brothers Produce. The small business, owned and operated by the Erenwert family, is attending to relief efforts right now, as well as slowly stocking restaurants. But a temporary problem getting veggies will certainly have long legs—few, if any local crops have escaped the floodwaters. Expect produce to get to us from outside Texas for months, if not years, to come.

Nguyen says that Covey Rise Farms, another supplier, is in Louisiana, "They're just now feeling the brunt of the rain," she explains. But the primary reason the restaurant has stayed closed is that its fish comes from around the world, and with airports closed, it's been impossible to access. "Thankfully the airports are back in business. I don’t think we’ll skip too many beats," says Nguyen. Her only concern is that Seaside uses the same suppliers as MF Sushi and Uchi, which could create a mutual deficit. Uchi reopened yesterday with a limited menu, MF Sushi resumes regular business hours tonight.

But what about other sushi restaurants that have already reopened? A rep for Kata Robata, which began serving on Wednesday, says that it is offering an almost full menu, but that its usually impressive range of fish from Japan is still on order. It will likely arrive in time for service on Monday or Tuesday. Kenny & Ziggy's was among the first restaurants to take to Facebook with good news, announcing on Tuesday, August 29 that both its locations were open. According to the same rep, Brothers, Jake's Finer Foods, US Foods and Sysco are all delivering and keeping K&Z's extra-large menu stocked.

But not everyone is so lucky. Chef Jason Hill of the Del says that he reopened on Tuesday with eight dishes and two cooks. The next day, his sole delivery was of fish and meat. He headed to Restaurant Depot in the Heights for more, only to find it flooded. He says chores like finding produce from a local farmers market meant an additional three hours to a workday that already treads between 12 and 14. Thanks to those efforts, he's now serving about 80 percent of his menu. Sysco was out of service by the time it was the Del's turn last time, but Hill hopes that he'll be serving at full capacity soon.

The Del's neighbor, Killen's STQ, opens tonight, the final one of owner Ronnie Killen's four eateries to let in the public once more. Killen says that his restaurant was surrounded by water until yesterday and could not receive food deliveries. But his Pearland restaurants had the opposite problem. Remember that Coldplay concert that was supposed to take place at NRG Stadium last Friday? "The Coldplay concert was canceled so [our NRG location] had 80 briskets, a bunch of turkey, 2,000 buns and everything," Killen now recalls. "We had the product at the stadium, so we didn’t skip a beat."

And it was all free. Killen says that on Wednesday, he served 1,200 burgers at Killen's Burgers. Marble Ranch in College Station donated 1,000 pounds of wagyu beef, so the mix of first-responders and evacuees will be dining on the best burgers around (paired with fries and a drink, no less) for a few days at no charge. At Killen's Barbecue, the same cross-section of diners got a three-meat platter until the restaurant ran out. Upscale STQ and Killen's Steakhouse will have abbreviated menus at their regular prices, including all-day happy hour at the latter. However, Killen asserts, "Food cost stuff like that it’s not a driver right now. We’re just glad to be able to help." In fact, he's started a GoFundMe page to raise more money to feed those who need it. 

But another unforeseen issue looms. Now that restaurants are cooking again, for some, there's nowhere for trash to go. Paul Miller of Gr8 Plate Hospitality, which owns Union Kitchen and Jax Grill chains, says that his new rules are, "Compact as much as possible. Leave product in the original containers. Reduce paper supplies." He adds that delivery times are off, "but at least we are getting them." Having somewhere for garbage to go, however, could take days to resolve.

Other than a smelly few late August days, it looks like most restaurants are now out of the woods, as long as trucks and planes keep running smoothly to get ingredients from out of state. For now, it's the restaurants that haven't yet been able to reopen that we need to worry about.

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