seafood shortage haitian restaurants
Conch, a staple in the Haitian community, is scarcer this year and has increased in price, impacting some restaurants. (Photo by Sam Bojarski)

BROOKLYN — Haitian restaurants are feeling the impact of the worldwide supply chain disruptions in many ways, including rising costs and scarcity of staples, business owners say. A shortage of key seafood items is particularly endemic of the pain points.

Conch and red snapper are particularly hard to find for Robinson Joseph, owner of Kache Restaurant in Flatlands. 

“There’s a shortage, and also the price has increased tremendously,” said Joseph, about the two popular seafoods. “It’s a really high price for it, to keep it on the menu to serve the Haitian community, since they love conch and they love snapper.” 

Although he has kept items like lambi, or conch, on Kache’s menu, Joseph said he has made some adjustments. Brooklyn restaurateurs have reported changing ingredients on key menu items and limiting portion sizes, to adapt. 

Nationwide, restaurants have reported significant price increases for seafood amid an often challenging year for business. For king crab and conch, restaurants in Florida have reported cost increases of 75% and 100%, respectively this year, citing factors like supply-chain bottlenecks and high fuel prices. 

The increase wasn’t quite as stark at Casile Inc., a Manhattan-based primary importer of conch that sells to local distributors. But since the start of this year, the price of Caribbean conch alone has increased 50%, to about $15 per pound. Major export countries like Honduras and the Bahamas have endangered-species quotas that limit supply, said Jim Sidebotham, owner of Casile. 

Conch is also caught mostly by divers on boats, and COVID-19 has reduced staff sizes. “So the yield per boat is less,” Sidebotham said. “Then further down the line when they come in for processing, the plants are not operating at full capacity because of COVID. So this whole thing has a spiraling effect.”

Several blocks north, problems sourcing key seafoods have forced the owners of Zanmi restaurant, on Nostrand Avenue, to adjust menu offerings. Wesly Jean-Simon, a co-owner of Zanmi, said he has struggled to find conch and breaded calamari this year. 

“It’s actually more prep time, so I have to put more money into labor,” said Jean-Simon, about the impact on his business. “Besides the labor costs, I’ve had to change some stuff around on my menu too. You can’t close the doors, so you’ve got to go around it.” 

At Zanmi, grilled conch over mixed greens, for instance, has been substituted with grilled calamari, Jean-Simon said. He has also introduced jambalaya-style chickpeas to replace the grilled conch appetizer. 

At Kache, Joseph has kept red snapper and conch on the menu without raising prices. But with some dishes, he said, the restaurant decreased portion sizes. 

Between the supply chain woes, inflation and citywide COVID-19 regulations at restaurants, Joseph said he anticipates closing the year with about 10% less sales compared to 2020, a year filled with pandemic-induced disruption. Although lower than in years past, community support has helped keep the restaurant’s doors open. 

“Right now we are suffering, the price of the food went up and [fewer] people come in to sit down to dine,” Joseph said. “We are so grateful that we’re still [open], that we’re still here.

 “The door still opens,” he added, “And I think the Haitian community has always stayed so supportive.” 

This story is published in partnership with the URL Media Network and is produced with funding from the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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