CHELSEA, Mass. — Most Boston produce distributors said they think the city’s foodservice industry is starting to bounce back from the recession, which took its toll on Beantown restaurants.
Foodservice makes up about 80% of total sales for Lisitano Produce Inc., said Frank Lisitano, the company’s president.
Fortunately, he said, the Boston restaurant business is weathering the economic downturn quite well. The industry has largely passed through the stage in which restau-rants went out of business because of the economy.
“They’re doing fine, these guys,” Lisitano said. “The guys who were just hanging on, and couldn’t stand the heat, are gone.”
Foodservice continues to make up a huge chunk of sales for Coosemans Boston Inc. — about 70%, estimated Kevin Maher, a salesman for the company.
Coosemans is able to get top dollar — $22, for instance, for its microgreens clamshells — for its specialty produce products, said Maurice Crafts, salesman.
While Boston-area restaurants are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn, things aren’t as bad as they were at the height of the recession, Crafts said.
“There aren’t as many opening up like there were a decade ago — it seemed like there was a new one every month — but the established ones are holding their own,” he said.
Maher sees a similar equilibrium.
“A couple closed last year, but a couple more opened up,” he said.
About 80% of the business at BC Produce Inc. is foodservice, said Sam Rocco, president.
He said the Boston restaurant industry looks to be on an upward trend again.
“It seems there was a cleaning out already and they’re building again,” he said.
While Yanni Alphas, president and chief executive officer of The Alphas Co., shares Crafts’ and Maher’s optimism about an improving economy, he said foodservice continues to lag behind.
“The restaurant business is still decimated,” he said.
“I think retail is starting to pick up, but foodservice is still struggling. Massachusetts has been hit hard by unemployment. It’s 10%. The last thing people do if they don’t have a job is go out for dinner.”
That said, Alphas is looking on the bright side.
“I’m hoping it comes back this summer,” he said. “All the signs show that it should come back.”
Ken Cavallaro, treasurer for John Cerasuolo Inc., is more measured in his take on the Boston foodservice industry.
“It’s a little better than last year, but retail is doing better than foodservice,” he said.