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Crab lovers not crabby about inflation

High crab prices expected this season
crab cake.jpg
Posted at 7:19 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 07:54:07-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — Inflation has some people changing their eating habits, whether it's at the grocery store or their favorite restaurant.

Restaurant owners have to adapt not only to their customers tighter budgets but the rising costs of doing business.

Just as many people are making adjustments in their budgets and spending, the people at Jimmy's Famous Seafood look for deals with their vendors to save money and make changes to the menu to offer their customers a variety of things to chose from despite the market price of crab.

Eating at Jimmy's Famous Seafood is a tradition for many families, whether they come from Dundalk, Baltimore City or even San Diego, California like Gary Allen.

“Every time we come out here, we make it a point to come down here and eat,” Allen said.

In Maryland, whether it's crab cakes or crab legs, many people love to eat crab however they can get it.

However, the wholesale price of crab is expected to go up for restaurant owners like Jimmy's Famous Seafood's John Minadakis.

Unlike other products impacted directly by inflation, there are additional factors which could affect the cost of crab.

“From Russia, to people not being willing to work, I am to not having a great catch out on the water, to not having visas. We've heard every excuse, but nobody really seems to be able to answer it directly. We just have to pay what they tell us to pay and I’m making adjustments,” Minadakis said.

The Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association blames a labor shortage of about 500 to 600 crab pickers because of a limit on H-2B visas.

Experts warn that without those workers, it could cause a 90 percent drop in production and a big jump in price this crab season.

Governor Larry Hogan has urged Maryland's congressional delegation to raise the cap on H-2B guest worker visas.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association said it's too difficult to tell how high prices could go this year, but believes buyers will pay a premium for Maryland blue crab. If they can get it.

“It’s just part of the game, you know. Today it’s crab meat, next week it will be lobster. The week after that it will be beer bottles. You never know but you just got to survive and adapt,” Minadakis said.

Restaurant owners will be forced to make adjustments because in Maryland, people still want their crab.

“So, if you only have 20 bucks to spend on lunch, you know we make a crab cakes slider for example instead of the full crab cake. We lower prices of certain alcohols so you’re still…if you have 30 bucks for lunch, you’re still going to be able to have what you want to have,” Minadakis said.

Minadakis recognizes his customers might be making some adjustments of their own as the market price of crab goes up.

“Very fortunate to have a very passionate loyal fan base and you know maybe sometimes instead of coming here four times a month, they're coming three times a month, but they're still making a point to support small businesses throughout the state,” Minadakis said.

Fran Mastin, a healthcare worker enjoying lunch at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood said she isn't bothered by the threat of rising prices.

“I don’t have time to wait till I get home to grab a sandwich in the car so when we’re going from facility to facility and making sure patients are getting coordinated for home. This is the last thing I’m worried about is that cost,” Mastin said.

“What I do like is that I can crab in the Severn rRver with a chicken neck and a string and get my own crabs if I need to,” Mastin added.

Experts expect the demand for crab to be high this year. Economics 101 tells us high demand but low supply means higher prices for restaurants and their customers.