Hurricane Harvey will disrupt Gulf seafood delivery to Central Texas restaurants and markets

Hurricane Harvey and the flooding left in its wake will have a major impact on the restaurant and fishing industries across Texas, as the work of fishermen and farmers is interrupted and distribution lines are severed.

Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths only serves seafood from the Gulf of Mexico at his restaurant on Manor Road and doesn’t plan to change the way he operates.

“We’re not going to have any seafood for a while, which is something we’ll just deal with,” said Griffiths, who sources through two small distributors. “I’m not going to start sourcing from somewhere else.”

Gulf oysters at Salt Traders Coastal Kitchen. (Nicole Barrios)

The restaurant always has a fish item on the menu and runs its seafood supper club on Fridays. That weekly special will likely be halted soon.

“We’re probably going to have to get really clever,” Griffiths said of this Friday.

With major distribution networks out of Freeport, Galveston and Aransas Pass hampered by the catastrophic storm, Griffiths worries that smaller restaurants are going to suffer from the lack of product, and many of the restaurants in the hardest-hit areas will be closed for weeks, if not longer.

“This is going to hurt a lot of restaurants everywhere. This last week was deadly slow,” Griffiths said. “This might be a final straw for some. Small restaurants can’t afford to be slow, much less for a couple of weeks, so I feel for them.”

While Griffiths attempts to get in touch with his providers and chart a course forward, he said the most important thing is that restaurants be prepared to support the fishing industry once it is stabilized in the coming weeks.

“If they need help in the meantime, we’ll try and work something out,” Griffiths said. “It’s just important that as soon as they are functional again to give them as much money as you can.”

Quality Seafood Market owner Carol Huntsberger prepared for the storm by ordering extra black drum, which is popular among her restaurant clients, out of Baffin Bay last week. While she receives some of her seafood from the East Coast, Huntsberger expects delivery of a significant portion of her Gulf seafood inventory to be delayed, with the warehouse that stores her shrimp in Houston under water.

The devastated Texas area isn’t Huntsberger’s only concern. With the storm spinning out and up toward Louisiana, she worries that Gulf seafood delivered from that state, including snapper and flounder, will be temporarily cut off. And, if Louisiana is hit hard, Huntsberger said she thinks Gulf oysters may not be available until November.

In the meantime, Huntsberger says she placed an order for mahi mahi, snapper and swordfish from Costa Rica to supplement her stocks while the industry along the Gulf Coast rebuilds and reorganizes.

Salt Traders Coastal Kitchen owner Jack Gilmore says that not only will the procurement of seafood slow in the coming weeks but that Texas produce farms have also been hit hard by the storms. And catching seafood and harvesting fruit isn’t the only part of the equation. Even if the food is available, getting it to Central Texas will be hard, so Gilmore says customers can expect to see changes on menus at his restaurants over the coming days and weeks.

“It will be a hard time getting here to Austin/Round Rock to deliver the product because of gas, traffic and other things going on,” Gilmore said. “Our backup plan is using a bunch of East Coast items that we always have rotating on the menu. The hurricane is going to affect both Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking. I feel bad for my chef brothers in Houston that are dealing with the aftermath and will continue to have to … the Gulf went through a lot of turmoil, and we’ll always support it. So whenever they’re ready, we’re here for them.”

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