It’s been six months since the BP oil spill began and while it isn’t as heavily highlighted in the news, everyone and everything impacted is still feeling the effects, especially the restaurant business.
Prior to oil spill, Paul Rotner Sr., director of operations of Acme Management Group in Louisiana, described the area in general in good shape and hadn’t felt the effects of the economy as much as other places around the country.
But after the oil spill, everything changed and all five Acme Oyster House restaurants have been impacted.
Four of the locations are in Louisiana (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Metairie and Covington) and one in Sandestin, Florida.
“We started seeing monetary impact in June and it has been a struggle currently,” Rotner says. “Since the spill started, it’s an issue for us because we sell a lot of oysters. 20 percent of business and (with the) closures of oyster beds—most of them—and fisheries all shut down, it’s affected us quite a bit.”
Sandestin, Florida is a strong seasonal market and many people just didn’t travel to the area this year. Rotner says the area has four months of strong business throughout the summer and occupancy levels were 30 to 40 percent lower than normal.
For Louisiana, the downtown area (New Orleans) is a tourist area and had been doing very well. The restaurant took an eight percent hit just after trending upwards of about five percent (pre-Hurricane Katrina numbers).
“Then local markets, one in Metairie, then one on north shore, Covington and one in Baton Rouge took a huge hit,” Rotner says. “That’s as the press kept showing the spill, even though everything was being tested by five different agencies regularly, the fear got into the mind of the people and (business) dropped 18 percent—and will be rough for people to gain that back.”
Seafood in general has been severely affected from the oil spill and Rotner has a lot of product issues trying to get oysters. To keep oil out of marshes, the Mississippi River was opened to keep oil out but too much fresh water killed some of the product.
“A mini sack of oysters is 40 lbs. per sack and had 110 useable oysters,” Rotner explains. “We’re lucky to get 60 right now.”
And even out of the 60 they can use, the product is subpar.
While sales have showed a slight increase for the Acme Oyster House restaurants, sales still aren’t back to normal. When reflecting on everything, Rotner isn’t sure how long it will take for things to return to normal.
“We don’t know what the outcome of the oyster industry will be,” Rotner says. “Just from the fresh water impact—damage wise—for oyster beds, it could take 18 months to get it out of the water. (It) could be backed up for a year and a struggle next year. We just don’t know for sure.”
Rotner wants the people who aren’t coming out of fear to know the product is safe. He says Louisiana’s Departments of Health and Hospitals and Wild Life and Fisheries, the government, Centers for Disease Control and other groups have been testing the waters every day and haven’t found anything in oysters.
“I eat them every day and haven’t had a problem.”
What the Acme Oyster House restaurants (along with other restaurants affected) need most is people to help get back to normal.
“It’s in the back of their mind,” Rotner says about people not coming to their restaurants. “Hopefully BP and the government will get us the money for the advertising to bring people back. It took about three years after Katrina; I hope it doesn’t take that long.”
To learn more about Acme Oyster House, visit their website here or visit acmeoyster.com.