The poor economy has been particularly tough on restaurants in Boston, and some produce distributors say they don’t yet see many signs of recovery.
Frank Lisitano, president of Lisitano Produce Inc., Chelsea, Mass., said about 80% of his business is with restaurant purveyors and he’s seen quite a few restaurants go under because of the economy.
“My observation is restaurants are really only busy on weekends now,” said Richie Travers, partne in Mutual Produce Inc., Chelsea. “They’re trying to stay in business with weekend business.”
Some restaurants in Boston added fixed price menus to try to draw in customers on weekdays.
“Like $24.99 for a three-course meal,” said Steven Piazza, salesman, Community-Suffolk Inc., Everett, Mass. “It’s to cover that midweek slump.”
Piazza said it’s not just white tablecloth restaurants adding price-fixed menus anymore. Now all kinds of restaurants are using the strategy.
Travers said another indicator of the lack of business for restaurants is that reservations are no longer necessary at many places.
He said he has also noticed fewer cars on the roads in Boston, which may be a sign that people are staying home instead of going out to eat. Restaurateurs are cutting their margins to try to attract or keep customers, but Travers said they’re already suffering and can’t cut margins much more.
Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development, Miami-based Infinite Herbs & Specialties LLC, said Boston area restaurants have reduced their use of upscale items such as micro greens and edible flowers.
Because demand is down, Infinite Herbs has had to reduce the volumes it carries.
It may still be bad, but maybe it’s better than it was. Henry Wainer, president of Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., said he thinks the economy is improving.
While it looked dismal a couple years ago, Wainer said he thinks people are starting to dine away from home again.
He said some restaurants are thriving, and he thinks there have been fewer closures lately.
The Restaurant Depot recently moved from its Chelsea, location to a larger facility in nearby Everett, Mass., said Maurice Crafts, salesman for Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea.
Crafts said chefs who are shopping at Restaurant Depot often stumble upon the New England Produce Center, Chelsea, and the Boston Market Terminal, Everett.
In Coosemans, they’ll find a produce house that focuses on specialty items that might not find at Restaurant Depot.
Lisitano said he competes with Restaurant Depot by focusing on service and quality. Lisitano Produce will load or deliver fresh produce to restaurants, and Lisitano said he carries only top quality produce.
Ed Ring, co-owner of Ring Bros. Wholesale, South Dennis, Mass., said his company’s niche is personal service to its buyers. Ring Bros. has been on Cape Cod, Mass., just south of Boston, since 1970, when there were only a few produce wholesalers in the area, Ring said. Now he competes with larger foodservice wholesalers to sell in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
By carving out a niche based on individualized customer service, Ring Bros. hopes to create an advantage over the bigger operations.