Tri-tip torment: shortage, high prices hit Siskiyou restaurants
Tri-tip is one of the most popular cuts to order at North State restaurants, but don’t look for it on your backyard barbecue anytime soon — or other popular cuts.
Restaurant owners and their distributors, most of whom took a serious financial hit during the coronavirus shutdown, face scarcities of tri-tip and prime cuts of meat. When those meats do show up on store shelves, prices are higher than before the shutdown.
One of the restaurants that's had trouble keeping tri-tip on its menu is Jeff's California Cattle Company in Redding. The Cypress Avenue restaurant uses the bottom sirloin cut for several menu items, including its “gunslinger” and French dip sandwiches.
Tri-tip is very popular with customers, manager Trevor Lemire said. “Normally we can order (from a distributor easily),” he said. Now we have to shop around to find it.
It's the same scenario for Doug Hamblin, owner of the grocery store Shasta Valley Meats and Deli in Montague.
Ball tip steaks, special trims and other special cuts of meat are usually on the menu at Poncho and Lefkowitz restaurant in Mount Shasta. Those items are removed regularly as the restaurant runs out of them, owner Chuck Mahan said. For the most part, customers have been understanding.
“Beef in general has been my issue,” said Mahan, who comes to Redding to shop for supplies.
Both Lemire and Mahan go to retail grocery stores to supplement supplies, but tri-tip is seldom on the shelves. When grocers do get it in stock, it disappears fast, he said.
Organic beef also is in high demand. Prather Ranch has orders lined up for the next three months, owner Mary Rickert said.
Pricing is also hurting restaurants.
When available, tri-tip is up from $7 a pound to $10 in most stores, Mahan said. When he can get it, his restaurant goes through 15-20 pounds of tri-tip daily, so $3 more per pound makes a difference, particularly for small businesses.
Meat prices are starting to come down, but not for prime cuts of beef like filet mignon, New York, top sirloin and ribeye, said Kent Pfrimmer owner of Kent’s Meats and Grocery in Redding.
While he doesn’t consider tri-tip to be a prime cut, tri-tip is one of the most popular meats there is, he said.
Locally, wholesale demand for meat plummeted when restaurants closed during the shutdown, but food-scarcity fears pushed up retail demand.
Meat packing plants, including Tyson and Smithfield, closed facilities throughout the United States after more than 4,400 meatpacking workers at 80 plants tested positive for the coronavirus, USA Today reported in April.
The result was shortages of pork, beef and chicken on restaurant distributors’ and grocer’s shelves, according to Restaurant Business Online.
The effects of that shortage are still felt with popular meats, including chicken breasts — although whole chickens are available, Pfrimmer said.
Restaurant supply stores, like Cash & Carry Smart Foodservice Warehouse in Redding, run out of tri-tip fast, Lemire and Mahan said.
Staff at Smart Foodservice Warehouse in Redding declined to be interviewed, and calls to its corporate headquarters in Portland, Oregon were not returned Friday.
Restaurateurs who shopped local grocery stores, hoping to supplement stock, faced the same shortage and high prices as consumers. Some distributors ran out, too, after food-scarcity fears stoked buy-ups, restaurant owners and grocers said.
As of Tuesday morning, meat processing facilities were operating at 95% to 98% of their average capacity at this time in 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday afternoon.
Stock overall is more plentiful now “than it was when the virus first started,” Pfrimmer said. “We always had meat, but we had to work to find it.”
Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories, and weekly arts feature.