Albany restaurants may feel impact of Gulf spill

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY,Ga. -- While Southwest Georgia, for the most part, has been spared from a direct impact by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, some restaurants in the area are not happy about what the incident has done to their business.

Karen Cook, manager of A.J's Seafood and Oyster Bar on North Slappey Boulevard, has been told by her vendors that some of her products, namely oysters, will not be available three weeks from now and that prices of some products may rise.

To date, the impact has been minimal.

"We're still getting all of our oysters and seafood," she said. "Oysters and shrimp may go up (in price).

"There hasn't been an impact yet, but the vendors are telling us that the harbors may soon be closed."

Cook also said she has gotten a lot of feedback from concerned patrons about the availability or quality of some of the restaurant's usual items.

There have also been others opting to get what seafood they can before it is too late.

"A lot of folks come in because they think they won't get it for a while, and we've been getting calls (inquiring) as to whether our products are good," she said.

"Business is just a little bit slow, but we're not sure if it's the economy or the oil spill. When the oysters go down, business will really go down."

Austin Newman, owner of Austin's Barbecue and Oyster Bar, said that while he is in good shape in terms of supply, the disaster has scared away some of his customers.

"Everything is pretty flat right now," he said. "We're having no trouble getting oysters, but people aren't eating them."

Newman said most of his oyster supply comes from the area near Apalachicola, Fla. As far as the future of his supply goes, he was hesitant to say.

"Who knows now?" he said. "I don't want to speculate."

Newman did note that while people do tend to eat oysters less in the summer, the demand has been noticeably less this year.

"I hate what has happened," he said. "It is really screwing us up."

The oyster supply for Austin's Barbecue generally costs about $27 a bushel, Newman added.

David Ratcliff, beverage and hospitality manager at Red Lobster's North Slappey Boulevard location, said there has been no impact on the restaurant whatsoever.

Much of what has saved the chain is the fact that there are multiple places they can get their supply from.

"We get our seafood from 30 countries, and we will not fish in the affected areas," Ratcliff said. "It won't affect us."

Rich Jeffers, spokesman for Darden Restaurants, the owner of Red Lobster, also said that there has not been much of an impact in terms of prices and demand.

"We've locked in our prices over an extended period of time," he said. "We do continue to source product from other areas."

Shrimp, oysters and snapper are among the items the chain usually get from the Gulf. They are receiving their product west of the affected area, Jeffers said.

Gulf snapper is an item that has been available at the Albany location, but the establishment is not currently ordering it, Ratcliff said.

The explosion in April, which occurred off the coast of Louisiana and killed 11 people, has prompted a clean-up effort involving thousands of people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.