Restaurants toughing out the economic storm - The Packer

Restaurants toughing out the economic storm

05/21/2010 03:07:13 PM
Ashley Bentley

The restaurant industry in Minnesota’s Twin Cities has taken its fair share of hits in recent years, but many of the city’s foodservice operations have pulled through.

Some have not.

Paul Piazza Sr., president of Minnesota Produce Inc., Minneapolis, said the number of restaurants in the Twin Cities has fluctuated pretty wildly.

“A lot of restaurants have not survived,” Piazza said.

Jim Lemke, senior vice president of sourcing for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., said despite the buzz in the industry saying that restaurant traffic is on its way back up, it may actually take a long while before the industry sees growth like it did before the recession.

While C.H. Robinson’s business in the foodservice sector is growing, it’s difficult for the company to differentiate whether that is due to growth in the industry or because companies are looking for help.

“In my opinion, I feel that obviously a lot of places have really crunched, but I haven’t seen a lot of closings,” said Mike McLeod, produce manager for Upper Lakes Foods, Cloquet, Minn. “They’re been making it through.”

Foodservice operators have been asking for and looking for alternatives, and in some cases have switched to fresh-cut produce to save on labor costs, McLeod said.

The biggest change in how operators purchase, though, is that they’re doing more planning and buying only for what they’ve planned for.

“It used to be these big bulk orders, but now everything that goes out of here has a specific purpose,” McLeod said.

As the weather continues to warm up, Upper Lakes Foods prepares to supply more fresh-cut fruit and other produce items to restaurants on the North and South shores of Lake Superior, where boating and fishing are popular leisure activities during the summer.

“I’ve heard a lot of restaurants and resorts are doing well with bookings this year,” McLeod said. “One of our customers is already completely full.”

The weather in Minnesota warmed up early this year, with snow melting by mid-April, but cooled off to the damp, rainy spring the state is used to the first few weeks of May.

Co-op Partners Warehouse, the distribution arm of Minneapolis organic market The Wedge Co-op, does limited foodservice business, but fills in when specialty products are needed.

Tom Rodmyre, warehouse manager, said wild morel mushrooms have been flying out the door as fast as he’s been able to get them in.



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