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Pandemic upends restaurant industry, now comes inflation

The pandemic disrupted the entire food industry, and now it’s struggling with inflated food prices.

Specialty Produce is one of the largest foodservice and fresh produce suppliers in San Diego. Bob Harrington is its owner and has been adapting business practices, like only accepting food orders from restaurants until noon.

“Prices are always going to go up," he said. "We have to find innovative ways to be more productive, increase productivity of people working for you, better cooperation with your vendors and your customers. We always do work as a team in this industry.”

Specialty Produce sign o.png
Nicholas McVicker
Specialty Produce sign displayed above fresh produce at their warehouse near downtown San Diego on Nov. 9, 2021.

The fuel to run his fleet of over 70 distribution trucks is one of his biggest expenses, along with the price of getting the products to his actual warehouse, Harrington said.

“The cost of that truck for that four or five-day period has gone up pretty dramatically, 30 to 40%,” he said. “So it adds a lot of costs to the product itself.”

The Specialty Produce owner is used to inflation.

“I’ve never seen a time in the 40 years I’ve done this that there hasn’t been inflation," he said. "I’m going to be honest with you, I used to sell in 1977, I sold avocados for 11 cents each. So, I think since 1977, how many times have avocados gone up in price."

Specialty Produce sells and distributes supplies to over a thousand restaurants each week, including those that are a part of the Trust Restaurant Group.


“Figuring out ways to make money off of the things that you may not have made money on before,” said Brad Wise, chef-owner of Trust Restaurant Group.

Besides operating five restaurants throughout San Diego, the group also owns a butcher shop and catering company. Rising food prices have forced Wise and his team to get creative.

“Zero waste goes into it too. We make sure that every piece of every item is being used. If it’s the fat trim on this steak or at the butcher shop, it’s being rendered down, put into butter that is for sale,” he said. “So, when your back is up against a wall, that’s usually when you’re the most creative.”

Wise said he tried to make sure the higher food costs do not significantly increase prices for his guests.

“Go to a product that’s maybe a little bit smarter, buy in bulk and things like that,” Wise said, “Although I’ve been extremely hit by this kind of trend that is happening now, we’re just trying to be as agile as we can on everything.”

Wise said customers have been understanding of higher food bills and inflation is not going to stop his restaurants from providing a place for the community to gather and eat.

“This industry can’t go anywhere, especially in San Diego, so let’s just keep pushing forward one foot in front of the next and keep rolling. It’ll get better, hopefully," he said.