Lime shortage hits Atlanta restaurants

Tin Lizzy’s, Alma Cocina, and others feel the pinch
Classic frozen margarita at the Original El Taco

Photograph courtesy of Fifth Group Restaurants

If your guacamole tastes funny or your Cinco de Mayo Corona doesn’t come with a lime today, there’s a reason.

Heavy rains and disease in Mexico’s lime fields have caused a serious lime shortage. Mexican drug cartels hijacking lime trucks and blackmailing farmers are not helping either. Exports are down, and prices have skyrocketed.

“Limes have more than quadrupled in price,” says Heather Stennis, Tin Lizzy’s marketing and events director. “We used to get cases for $30 to $40. Now they cost over $140, and the limes are much smaller.”

Even grocery stores like Publix have had to raise its prices from three for $1.50 to $0.79 each, on average.

To make up for the price hike and conserve limes, restaurants are taking a variety of precautions. Tin Lizzy’s serves limes only on request. “We’ve [also] changed our cutting procedure. It used to be a wedge, now it’s more of a piece,” Stennis says.

At Alma Cocina, the lobster taco no longer comes with lime wedges, unless specifically requested by the customer. The same goes for margaritas and beers at all Fifth Group restaurants. “The lime wheel is for aesthetics,” says Vajra Stratigos, Fifth Group Restaurants director of operations and beverage standards. “Ninety percent of the margarita glasses [used to] come back with the lime still on it, anyway.”

At JCT Kitchen, bartender Eduardo Guzman says they’ve started serving two-piece lime garnishes instead of four. He also took the lime shortage into account when designing the spring cocktail menus for JCT and the Optimist. “I prefer to use lemon juice anyway,” he says. “The classic cocktails that need lime, I use it. I change the ratios—add a different spirit or syrup or even bitters to promote that flavor.”

In JCT’s Little Havana cocktail—a take on the daiquiri—Guzman cuts the lime juice from one ounce to half an ounce, cuts the simple syrup to balance the flavor, and adds a second strawberry to create more volume. “There are small tricks you can do,” he says.

Other restaurants, like Taqueria Del Sol, have not made any changes to their offerings and continue to use limes where necessary. “We’re just going to bite the bullet,” executive chef Eddie Hernandez says. “When you make changes, you change your product, and we pride ourselves on being consistent.”

Kenny’s Great Pies, a national company based in Smyrna and known for its key lime pies, is relying on its emergency supply of frozen lime juice, stocked for occasions like this. “Our current cost is nearly three times what it was this time last year,” says COO Gary Muter. “Our reserves have allowed us to maintain a constant price for all of our clients. However, if this crisis continues, we may be forced to raise our prices.”