'It's a ghost town': With no business crawfish hot spot turns off burners, finding creative fix
BATON ROUGE - Tables are empty, and burners are off. Elvondae Raybon owner of Pit-n-Peel, on Government St. admitted crawfish season could put him out of business if the Louisiana staple remains unavailable.
Other seafood businesses are facing a similar harsh reality, adapting their restaurants to the uncertainty.
After a harsh drought in the summer of 2023, crawfish farmers say the mudbugs didn't survive when the water dried up. It means the crawfish businesses can sell are small, yet expensive for the consumer.
"Based on the availability of crawfish, I have yet to be able to buy a sack of crawfish," the Pit-n-Peel owner said.
During previous seasons, Raybon says he would purchase 500 sacks of crawfish. The average sack of crawfish weighs about 33 pounds. So far in the 2024 season, Raybon hasn't bought any.
While it's early in the crawfish season, Raybon says he's not optimistic, adding that the outcome of the crawfish season is out of his hands.
"The industry is out of everyone's control," he said. "You know when we have an oil spill, and it's affecting the oysters, there's a two-year wait before they even consider allowing you to buy a harvest. Well, this is a similar situation."
Across town, Brad Zito at Drusilla Seafood says he's facing another set of challenges, like not having crawfish for the start of one of the busiest seafood seasons.
"We're anticipating possibly not being able to start for the first Friday of Lent, probably for the first time ever," Zito said.
Zito says for his catering business, buying a lot of crawfish at once could cut into the quality. One of his biggest concerns is providing customers with a product worth the price. Early-season crawfish tend to be smaller, but the prices remain expensive.
"If the price is ridiculously expensive, I don't want to ask our customers to pay that high price," he said.
Instead of crawfish, both business owners are encouraging customers to pick other more cost-effective options like shrimp, crab, and fried catfish. The average cost of crawfish per person for five pounds is about $70. On the other hand, two pounds of shrimp on average is $20.
Zito who already has catering orders for large crawfish boils is suggesting customers consider other items, in case crawfish is hard to come by.
"I've already reached out to those guys and talked to them about possibly doing shrimp, fried catfish, jambalaya, something different," Zito said.
So while the mudbugs recover, even the experts say it's best to fill your plate with other hot, boiled Louisiana classics.
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