Romaine lettuce is slowly making its way back to the salad bar, but that doesn’t mean business is back to normal quite yet for Twin Cities salad restaurants and grocers.
Nearly two weeks after a nationwide recall of romaine lettuce due to an E. coli outbreak, the FDA says most romaine is safe to eat, as long as it’s not from California’s central coast. However, businesses now must regain consumer trust and make up for financial losses.
“As soon as that warning is issued, things kind of come to a standstill,” says Stephanie Kerkinni, owner of The Salad Bar in City Center. “Our entire business revolves around lettuce… so [when] you remove it, people get worried, they don’t want to eat any lettuce, or they just don’t really know what to do.”
One of the other down-town Minneapolis salad spots that also took a hit was Greenfield Natural Kitchen. Supervisor Beth Gregor says overall sales were down, though not all customers walked away entirely – instead they switched their orders to, for example, a grain bowl, to avoid any lettuce.
At Good to Go, the superfood mix of kale, arugula and spinach became the customer-favorite replacement for romaine. At The Salad Bar, people have been mixing iceberg and spinach, because, as Kerkinni notes, together those greens provide the dark leafy green-with-a-crunch feeling of romaine.
But alternative greens are often more expensive, says Kenneth Cole, manager of Good to Go and Atlas Grill. And right now, lettuce prices are surging.
According to a tcbmag.com article, a carton of iceberg lettuce fetched $60 wholesale last week, up from $24 on Nov. 19.