Both Lou Bustamante and I reached out to Julio Bermejo for a comment on the lime shortage that is causing great calamity in the cocktail world. Bermejo's world-famous tequila bar, Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, goes through a heck of a lot of limes each week.
Additionally, Bermejo has family and many contacts in Mexico to fill him/us in on what's really happening with the Mexican limes so often used here. He says:
In the last three weeks, limes have gone from $23 / case to $110 per case. In my 29 years behind the bar I have never seen it this bad for so long. Once maybe 10 or 12 years ago I saw lime prices hit $80 dollars but it was a 2 week phenomenon and prices normalized.All of our limes come from the packing houses in Martinez de la Torre, Veracruz. My family is from Oxkutzcab, Yucatan, the so called "Orchard of the state of Yucatan," and the second largest citrus producing center in southern Mexico.So basically there are about 4 times during the year when limes get expensive. (Mind you even though Tommy's buys a lot of limes , we do not have contracts with anyone to "lock in" prices for most of the year as say a Costco or a big casino in Las Vegas could. I feel I am much safer buying at market prices.) Anyway, during the Superbowl , lime prices seem to rise; likewise during national Margarita Day, National Tequila Day and Cinco de Mayo. Many times I feel those price increases are artificial, because in the Yucatan lime prices remain low, as I check the prices there.This time we are experiencing a perfect storm: The following was obtained form sources in the Yucatan: A plague called "Yellow Dragon or Dragon Amarillo" or Huang Long Bing has infected lime trees; extreme rains at the end of 2013 damaged lime buds so they could not produce limes in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Colima (the big one); the fact that right now or during this time of the year it is low production season in Veracruz and the Yucatan; and finally the state of Michoacan which has huge supplies of green lemons (what we call limes) has narco blockades (narco bloqueos) so truck drivers are extorted or must take alternate routes.
Segarpa, Mexico's agricultural arm says this may last a month. This would be the longest enduring lime problem in the history of Mexico and with prices like this a case of limes is more expensive than a barrel of oil!!!!!What is Tommy's doing about this? We have no option but to continue to buy. However I have my kitchen using only lemon juice. Some of my colleagues are buying yellow lemons because they squeeze juice before hand. We can't do that. We squeeze in front of guests at the bar.We are also cutting lime wedges for beers smaller and only offering lime wedges on Coronas as opposed to everything like we used to do. We have not raised prices though if lime prices stay high for 2 more weeks we may have to. We are pushing Batangas and Palomas which take less juice, though still use it. Unbelievable.I asked (a restaurant industry friend) if a protein on the menu went up 5 times in price what they would do. He said obviously, they would take it off the menu. I wish it were that simple for us.
Thank you for the information Julio!