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Let’s eat! To lettuce or not to lettuce?

With the price of lettuce skyrocketing, several local restaurants and big chains are dropping romaine lettuce

Throughout the pandemic, supply chain issues have crippled the hospitality industry for everything from ketchup to soya sauce. Now in the tail end of 2022, outrageously priced lettuce has become the new normal. 

Heat stress caused by extreme temperatures in California is making life hard for crops like lettuce and that is forcing local restaurants to make some big decisions.    

Jason Heaton, owner of JD Southern Smokehouse in the South End, has responded to the sticker shock by pulling all salads off his menu.

“This week, I went back on my app and a case of romaine is now costing $210,” he said. “Last week, it was less. Nobody can afford lettuce at these prices. It is more cost effective for me to offer two-for-one wings than offer a small caesar salad to customers.”

Sandra and Dale Bonnis at the Colonial Inn in Coniston have also removed salads.

“Not only have salads have come off the menu but also three wraps that require lettuce,” they told Sudbury.com. “It really is too bad as our caesar salad is very popular thanks to our homemade dressing.”

Heaton said he’s receiving word that many big restaurant franchises are considering pulling lettuce from their menus, too. Swiss Chalet headquarters informed customers by tweet last week that salads are off the menu.

A spokesperson for Pita Pit on the Kingsway indicated that romaine is no longer on the menu, but they are substituting that with iceberg lettuce and will continue with that for the short term.  

Others restaurateurs are monitoring the situation before making any big decisions.  

Matt Moutsatsos at The Kouzzina said salads will remain on the menu for now. Those salads are usually chock with other ingredients like roasted beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, pecans and goat cheese.

Local grocery retailer, Smith’s, had romaine hearts listed this past weekend for $12.99.

One local hydroponic grower is urging customers to look at the big green picture. She said it is time for consumers and retailers to shift their mindset and consider only local sources for their greens.

Erin Rowe is part owner of Truly Northern Farms with growing operations based in Blezard Valley and Opasatika, between Hearst and Kapuskasing.

They’re supplying greens all over the North through Your Independent Grocer stores, restaurants to market goers and farm visitors 12 months a year.

“In the short term, we don’t have enough lettuce to supply every consumer and retailer, but if all restaurants considered local farms first, we would not be facing a lettuce shortage in the first place,” she said. 

Rowe doesn’t see why Sudbury lettuce needs to come from Florida or California “where staff are getting paid pennies to work.”

As for Jason at JD’s, he said customers aren’t really upset with his substitution of salads to soups.

“People are fine with it. I am not getting an ounce of grief,” he said.  

He adds that he has been able to decrease overall menu prices by taking some of the produce out of the shopping cart.  

He urges customers to monitor the price of tomatoes next as the price per box increased by 20 dollars in the last week.  

Stay tuned next week when Let’s Eat takes a closer look at the Truly Northern Farms little hickory self-serve shack on Regional Road 15 in Blezard Valley.

Anastasia Rioux is a writer in Greater Sudbury. Let’s Eat! is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.