Local restaurants, bars squeezed by lime price increase

A taco entree at Sin Fronteras is not what it used to be.

Sure, there's still the fried tortillas, sour cream and choice of meat, but now it comes with one lime wedge instead of two. This is the Annapolis restaurant's way of handling the increased price of limes in recent weeks.

Limes sold at an average of 54 cents each on May 2, the latest figures available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is an 80-percent increase from last year's prices.

The spike has caused Sin Fronteras' staff to save where they can, sometimes asking customers if they want lime or lemon.

But that is difficult when 70 percent of the menu items, including margaritas, sangria and mojitos, depend on limes.

"It's affecting my business, big time," owner Walter Vasquez said. "We are struggling with that. We hope it goes back down again, but I don't know how long it will take."

Published reports link the shortage in Mexico to flooding from heavy rain.

For restaurant and bar owners, that has meant preparing limes to order, cutting them thinner and substituting lemon juices when possible.

"It's hard to deal with the companies because you don't have a choice. You've got to buy it," said Jose Aguirre, owner of El Toro Bravo. He estimates the restaurant uses about 450 limes weekly in meals and cocktails. "You've already got the prices on the menu. You can't raise the price one week to another, so it's hard to deal with that."

Jody Danek, who co-owns Annapolis restaurants Metropolitan, Lemongrass and Tsunami, can recall when a case of limes cost $50. Now it has risen to $140. To cope, they have been using lime juice for some sauces and substitute lemon juice in the pad thai and salad dressings.

One thing that has made them last longer is a thinner cut, and slicing them in circles instead of providing a quarter of lime.

"When there's a quarter of lime or a half of lime in a drink, that adds up," Danek said. "The price went up and the quality is worse. It's a lose lose all around, unfortunately."

Brian Bolter goes through about 300 limes a week at Red Red Wine Bar and DRY 85. Now, limes are cut as needed, instead of in advance of a busy shift.

"There's no substitute for lime," said Bolter, who runs the bars with his wife. "We just suck it up. Consistency is what we're all about. We don't want our flavors to change based on price fluctuations."