Usually, San Francisco’s young people, artists, and hipsters start new food fads in the city. But now, restaurant owners in the Mission are the ones establishing a new trend: avocado-free dining.
A weather-shortened California avocado crop, a diminished supply, and increased global demand have put local restaurateurs and grocers in a pinch. This is currently the nadir of the Mexican growing cycle, so your “local” avocados may actually hail from as far off as Chile or Peru.
“The quality goes down because they have to pick it greener. So you are actually getting lesser quality for an inflated price,” says Fred Siri, the produce manager at Encinal Market in Alameda and a 40-year produce professional.
Palm-sized avocados that might normally go for $30 or $40 a case have hit as high as $115 in recent weeks. “You have to control what you buy,” Siri continues. “You don’t want to get hung with too much fruit when it’s that expensive. I tried buying smaller sizes at a lower price point, but that didn’t work out. The pit is the same size, so there’s less value.”
A number of eateries in the Mission and elsewhere have simply stopped stocking avocados until prices return to something closer than normal.
Ken Turner, who owns Turner’s Kitchen on Guerrero and 17th Streets, has taken a more middle-of-the-road approach. His restaurant has stopped using avocados in its special sandwiches, which change daily depending on the ingredients available in the kitchen. On regular menu items that include avocados, he said he was not planning to raise prices to adjust for the higher cost of avocados.
“It’s not the consumer’s fault. We just eat that cost ourselves,” said Turner.
Turner said that he and his customers share an understanding that they’ll get a certain quality of sandwich at a certain price and he wants to stay consistent to keep people coming back. “If I have to pay an extra 50 cents for an ingredient for a sandwich, I’ll do that,” he said.
Turner shops for the restaurant’s ingredients himself at farmer’s markets and always hunts for bargains. He says he can make up for some of the higher price of avocados by finding good deals on other items.
Mission Picnic, on Valencia and 21st Streets, has also held prices steady so far, but that may not be the case forever. When asked if any prices had changed, Brian Mardueno, who works in the front-of-the-house at the restaurant, said “Not yet.” He thinks that if avocado prices remain as high as they are, there may have to be changes in the future.
He says managers there have told staff not to let customers slide and get avocados added for free anymore. “If it’s a sandwich or salad that has avocado, they’re really strict on the portions we give out,” said Mardueno.
Like at Turner’s Kitchen, adding avocado at Mission Picnic comes with a $2 upcharge. That’s relatively affordable considering what an avocado costs at the grocery store. At Mi Rancho Market & Produce on Mission Street, a single large avocado costs $3.49. A smaller one runs $2.29. At City Discount Meat and Grocery Market on 19th and Mission, prices are a little cheaper, at $2.79 and $1.79 respectively.
Overall, business owners are trying to ride out the fluctuation in avocado prices until they return to their previous levels. “Hopefully it’s gonna be temporary,” said Turner.
Siri, the 40-year produce man, isn’t sure.
“It’s not a global warming thing. It’s a supply thing,” he says. “Other countries are now experiencing avocados and liking them. In the past they have not. So there’s an increased demand.”