Due to COVID-19 and inflation rates, Black-owned restaurants such as Capital Lounge and Refocused Vegan, have had to shift operations to keep up with supply chain issues. (Photos by Refocused Vegan and Capital Lounge/Facebook)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,

If you’ve noticed missing menu items or higher prices at your favorite local restaurant lately, you’re not alone. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arose, lockdowns, labor shortages and increased consumer demand have resulted in a global supply chain crisis of shortages and increased prices.

The recent rising inflation rates and ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine have only exacerbated the disruptions to the supply network. 

According to Abi Radhakrishan, a supply chain management professor at Morgan State University, the central contributor to the shortages that people across the nation are facing is the United State’s overdependence on low-cost manufacturing countries, like China and India, to outsource products and services. 

Logistics bottlenecks have left goods stranded on ships and at ports, while gas and diesel shortages have prevented trucks from transporting goods to the Midwest and East Coast, according to Radhakrishan. 

“We will have to somehow bring in more and more manufacturing back into the United States, and the more in-sourcing we do, the better,” said Radhakrishan. 

Baltimore’s Black restaurants have been no stranger to the scarcities and delays. 

Baltimore chef Jerel Jefferies opened Refocused Vegan in 2019 to serve plant-based comfort food. Although the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, forced him to rely on takeout orders and online delivery services, the restaurant tripled its business that year. 

But, a little over halfway through the year, Refocused Vegan was met with longer lead times because of trucking issues and shipping delays. The price of goods also began to slowly increase, and eventually, Jefferies said he was paying double and triple for consumables. 

In turn, Refocused Vegan raised its prices, but Jefferies tried to offset the extra costs his customers incurred by offering additional combo meals and deals, like two drinks for the price of one. 

Recently, Jefferies made the decision to temporarily close the restaurant for a mental health sabbatical, but he plans to return in the new year. 

Situated in the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District, Capital Lounge and Restaurant (Capital Lounge) has also had to shift its operations to cope with supply chain problems. 

The restaurant switched from fresh to frozen for certain foods and discontinued certain menu items for the time being, like its parmesan salmon and lamb chops, because of higher food costs and challenges to sourcing certain ingredients. 

According to managing partner Katie-Marie Fickling, Capital Lounge was also forced to increase its prices—sometimes, more than she would like to, and it reduced the portion size for some meals, particularly those including crab meat. 

The impact even spread to the restaurant’s staff. Some days they work with a skeleton crew to offset the higher expenses that the business is incurring. 

“Because this is our only income, we do what we need to do so we can not only keep the business open but continue to feed our families and take care of our own personal needs,” said Fickling. “It’s been a journey, but we just don’t complain. When we don’t find [items] at Restaurant Depot, we’ll go to a meat market, or we’ll go to Sam’s Club, or we’ll find farmers that we can buy things from.” 

Fickling said Black-owned restaurants across Baltimore have banded together for mutual support one another during this unprecedented time. Several are part of an Instagram group message where they offer to pick up grocery items for one another and share advice to tackle operational challenges. 

When Capital Lounge was short-staffed or low on supplies, restaurants, like Kora Lee’s Cafe, stepped up to help fulfill catering orders. Fickling has also seen other restaurants, like Cakes by Cynthia, share their kitchen and freezer with restaurant owners who have had to shut down their brick-and-mortar locations. 

“People don’t know that there’s a whole inside world of us working together, and it’s incredible,” said Fickling.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member –subscribers are now members!  Join here!