COLLIER COUNTY — Even in the capital of tomatoes, a shortage of the delectable vegetable is affecting restaurants.
For the past week, Wendy’s in Immokalee has had a sign on the door that says that due to the recent weather freeze customers have to ask for tomatoes.
Prices for a case of regular tomatoes has skyrocketed from $5 under normal conditions to the current high of more than $30 a case. This is the largest price increase and worst freeze in 20 years. An agricultural expert estimated that 70 percent of the crop was lost due to this year's freeze.
After a 1989 freeze, the prices of tomatoes increased to $40 a case, said Cecil Howell, a tomato grower and co-owner of H&R Farms, about 20 miles east of Immokalee.
Last year, a 25-pound case of H&R Farms tomatoes sold for $3, and until the recent freeze a box sold for $10, Howell said.
"They might as well be $100 because we don’t have them," he added.
H&R Farms is completely shut down in tomato growing.
"This freeze has really hurt everybody," Howell said.
If Wendy’s customers request tomatoes on their hamburger, store manager Aisha Hammonds said it wouldn't cost more. Since the sign went up, Hammonds said the fast food restaurant clients in Immokalee haven’t really been asking for tomatoes.
She added that Immokalee clients usually ask for no tomatoes and onions on their meal.
Nearby, at Lozano’s Mexican Restaurant, customers are getting fewer tomatoes on their plates and wait staff is asking customers if they even want tomatoes.
"I hope the market goes down because of course it’s a bigger expense for us when we have to buy tomatoes at a higher price," manager Sandy Gonzalez said
Gonzalez said it started about a week and a half ago.
"Since we are a Mexican restaurant, we have to have tomatoes on our plates," Gonzalez said.