Seafood businesses weather gulf oil spill

OIL SPILL'S EFFECTS RECEDING

It has been one year since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and some local businesses are just now recovering from the effects of that disaster.

"It was so painful," said Amy Bailey, co-owner of Rhinehart's Oyster Bar. "We were out of oysters so often."

Although oysters were the most directly affected seafood for her business, Bailey said she saw prices rise on other foods, too. Prawns, shrimp and crab legs all became more expensive through last summer -- and seafood is still at a higher price than before the oil spill.

There's no way of knowing whether it is directly because of the spill or just a chance for seafood sellers to make more money, Bailey said.

"People will take any opportunity to have a price-gouge party," she said.

She's thankful, however, because the disaster forced her and her staffers to sit down to analyze every corner of their business to plug their own financial leaks.

"The economic effects were really devastating," Bailey said. "We reorganized how we did business."

Rhinehart's went from having an oyster roast every night to only once a week; certain oyster dinners were taken off of special menus; and there was a slight price increase almost six months after the oil spill. Labor-intensive entrees such as shrimp cakes had to be taken off of the menu because they weren't viable anymore.

"We loved these things, but we had to say, where can we trim?" Bailey said. "We can't be losing money."

Island Seafood on Lumpkin Road had to raise its shrimp prices $2 a pound after the oil spill last year; they now sell for $10.99 a pound.

Assistant Manager Sam Bryant said that although the restaurant did not have any suppliers in Louisiana near the oil spill, many restaurants accustomed to getting seafood from the Gulf had to look to the east coast. Island Seafood's suppliers, in Beaufort, S.C., had a large influx of Louisiana restaurant business that drove up their prices and cleaned out their stock.

"It's a supply-and-demand thing," Bryant said. "They had to buy from somewhere."

There is enough shrimp for everyone now, but Bryant said prices never fell back.

"I guess nobody ever complained, so we kept the prices," he said with a laugh.