Lately, buying meat has been like playing the stock market for Lake Burrito restaurant in North Forsyth.
Paris Retana, culinary director of the small, family-owned eatery off Keith Bridge Road, is used to getting meat priced by the week. But all that changed after the novel coronavirus infected hundreds of workers at production plants across the U.S. and threatened the country’s supply chain.
Now, meat prices change by the day, Retana said, and sometimes even the hour. Meats like pork or steak are seeing mark-ups anywhere from 60% to 90%.
“It’s just insane,” Retana said.
It’s been one more strain on a restaurant that had built something of a cult following in the local community.
Founded 10 years ago by Retana’s twin sisters, Paris joined the family business in 2016 after attending culinary school in New York. They rebranded the restaurant to Lake Burrito. “Good food, good vibes,” became their new tagline, a nod to the quality of ingredients they sourced from local farmers markets and purveyors and the welcoming spirit they created in their dining area.
“It’s all about getting really good ingredients,” Retana said, “and then just sharing them with the community.”
But all of the family’s work over the past four years has felt upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Presented with a drop in sales from having to temporarily close their dining area, Lake Burrito has furloughed their staff. Paris and his twin sisters have kept the service going but aren’t paying themselves, he said.
Even though Gov. Brian Kemp has eased restrictions on restaurants to allow for dine-in service, it’s still hard for small restaurants, like Lake Burrito, to realistically reopen their dining areas.
The restaurant did qualify for over $10,000 in loans through the federal government’s relief package, but Retana said they would have to bring their staff back onboard to have the loan forgiven.
Then came the troubles with food prices.
“Sometimes I don’t like to tell the story, because it sounds sad, right?” Retana said. “But that’s where we are.”
Lake Burrito has done its best to adapt. Like other restaurants, they started a curbside pick-up service. With meat prices skyrocketing and a shortage of supply -- Retana said it has been three weeks since they have been delivered a full order -- they started updating their menu items daily online to reflect what ingredients they have.
The restaurant is still ordering steak despite the hefty price because “we know a lot of our guests like it,” Retana said. But just this week they had to take their Pastors Pork item off the menu.
Lake Burrito could use cheaper ingredients to get by, Retana said, but the restaurant is not willing to compromise on its values.
“If we’re not going 100% as we used to, it's because the little that we’re doing we want it to be great for everyone,” Retana said. “We’re not going to compromise not doing the best for the community.”
But there was a sign of hope on Friday.
When Steven Hartsock, owner of Socks' Love Barbecue in Cumming, heard about Lake Burrito’s struggles, he posted a video on his restaurant’s social accounts Thursday calling on the community to support Retana and his family. Hartsock said he would donate all of Friday's proceeds at Socks' Love to Lake Burrito.
The next day, a rush of customers caused Lake Burrito -- and Socks' Love -- to sell out of food.
Retana and his family felt the good vibes.
“We just keep doing this every day because the community has been amazing,” Retana said. “The community’s just been unbelievable. Always super supportive. … You feel the love of the community.”
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