Crawfish

This time of year normally starts the peak of crawfish season as large groups of people prepare for boils. Instead, local dine-in restaurants, suppliers and crawfish farmers are being hurt by the widespread impact of coronavirus.

"We're just trying to survive," said Chad Pousson, co-owner of Mr. Bill's Seafood Express on East McNeese Street.

Jason Guillory, co-owner at Mr. Bill's, said prices for boiled crawfish were cut from $5.99 per pound two weeks ago to $3.99 per pound in an attempt to get more customers to use their drive-thru service. Sales are down anywhere from 40-60 percent, he said.

"You can only have so many cars through the drive-thru," Guillory said. "It's not like the restaurant, where you have tables."

Steven Gauthreaux, manager at JT's Seafood on Lake Street, said crawfish sales are down, especially on weekdays. The store is currently selling medium to large live crawfish at $1.99 per pound. He said the market price per pound dropped $1 since last week.

"It's just different," Gauthreaux said. "The weekends are still busy and steady. Thankfully, we have other products to keep us busy."

Todd Armentor owns BeauxDine's Restaurant on Ryan Street, which opened Feb. 5. He said restaurant sales are down about 80 percent, with the business also relying on drive-thru customers.

"We've laid off about 25 people in this last week since all this took effect," Armentor said. "We've tried to keep everybody on as long as possible because we didn't know what sales were going to do, but sales are just so bad."

Armentor said he gets crawfish directly from the farmers and supplies them to local retailers. As a wholesaler, he said sales are down around 70 percent.

"The supply is there, but the demand is so down," he said. "Crawfish prices have just bottomed out to where the farmers are really struggling on moving the products, and then also the price they're getting for the products are killing the farmers."

Kurt Guidry, an economist and director of the LSU Ag Center's Southwest region, said the coronavirus-related downturn is happening at "the worst possible time" for crawfish producers. Many producers also rely on revenue collected during crawfish season to supplement rice operations.

The catering company at Mr. Bill's has seen a complete drop in activity ever since state and local officials warned against large gatherings. Scheduled boils in Louisiana and Texas are "getting canceled left and right," Guillory said.

Armentor said a recently opened meat market has boosted sales.

"There's been a demand for it," he said. "If it wouldn't have been for that, we probably would have shut the doors already and waited for all this to pass over and see what happens."

Easter weekend

Easter is the busiest holiday of the year for crawfish farmers, Gauthreaux said. However, the restrictions on large gatherings may mean crawfish collections are cut to five days a week instead of seven.

"Good Friday is normally crazy, but it may not be as crazy this year," he said.

Guillory said they typically sell 300 to 500 sacks of crawfish over the holiday weekend. Pousson said customers normally provide deposits that guarantee them crawfish during Easter weekend.

"Personally, I don't want to take a deposit because I don't know if those farmers are going to keep fishing or not," Pousson said. "The unknown is the problem."

Despite the downturn, Gauthreaux said they are taking reservations for those wanting to enjoy boiled crawfish during the Easter holiday.

"We plan on being here and having crawfish for everybody," he said. "We aren't going to shut down."

Community Support

Despite the struggle, restaurant owners have said support from the community is keeping them afloat.

"We're blessed; we're doing a lot better than a lot of restaurants right now," Guillory said. "I'm not saying we're doing good. It's just truly amazing to see the community support local businesses like they are."

"It's been amazing that a lot of people are coming because they just tell us they want to shop local," Armentor said. "The support from the community has been just awesome."

Pousson said local restaurant owners are showing more support for each other.

"People genuinely give a darn about each other," he said. "We're not worried about trying to make a bunch of money."

Guillory said they are sourcing more products locally, including meat from local markets.

"It's not something you think about on a day-to-day basis, but now you're like, ‘Who can I support,' " he said. "We're seeing that in return with other businesses calling in and checking on each other every day."

Pousson said Mr. Bill's plans to stay open and retain employees as long as possible.

"If I have to use personal money, I'll do whatever to try to help," he said. "These people are like family to us."

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