By Erica Thomas, Managing Editor

Supply chain shortages and border issues are causing challenges for some Mexican restaurants across the state. Along with higher prices, merchants of Mexican products are facing quality concerns.

Maria Greguol, the owner of La Calle Tacos & Snacks, in Trussville, said imported goods are taking longer to get to her restaurant.

“I can’t find things with my regular providers,” Greguol said. “Sometimes I have to drive to different places, causing me to lose time and money, and in some cases, I don’t find what I need. We’ve been told by our providers that it is because of the cargo shipments that are stuck because of the lack of truck drivers.”

The problem for Mexican restaurants is two-fold. One, cargo ships are waiting in ports due to a lack of truck drivers to distribute the goods and because of COVID-19 restrictions on seafarers. Two, products coming straight from Mexico are taking longer to arrive due to COVID-19 protocols at the border.

In Gulf Shores, product availability issues are causing problems for Cactus Cantina as well. The store has seven locations and floor manager Matt Claxton said they had to change prices and reprint menus at all of those locations.

“Prices of everything has gone up,” Claxton said. “The quality of everything has gone down. You order 10 things, you might only get four.”

Fortunately for Cactus Cantina, management is able to get multiple deliveries weekly, so they haven’t been out of any products.

“We’ve had to get multiple drops, whereas before, we only got two drops,” Claxton explained. “We have had to switch our brand of nacho chips to different chips and switch cheese to a different cheese.”

Greguol has also had to reprint menus due to increased prices. Because of problems getting imports from Mexico, Greguol has been forced to remove some items from her menu.

“I am currently out of hominy, so I can’t make pozole,” Greguol said. “I was out of nacho chips for over a month. The tongue meat I was getting was not the usual brand, so I had to stop carrying it for a couple of weeks. The usual tortillas, we get them one week and then we don’t get enough, which pushes me to buy less quality tortillas.”

The impact on consumers is higher prices and lower quality. Still, Greguol and Claxton are thankful for customers who understand their situation.

“You try to work with what you have, but it is hard ... having to tell your customers you don’t have what they came for,” said Greguol. “Some people understand the situation, while others get very upset, causing us, sometimes to lose that customer. When you add the employee shortage, it makes it harder … to cover a shift.”

“I would say we’ve gotten complaints but once you explain what (the problem) is, they understand,” Claxton said. “They’re not complaining about us, they’re complaining to us.”

Greguol said paper products are also difficult to get. She said her husband, who owns Garcia’s Grill and Grocery in a nearby city, has been facing the same issues.

“He has been forced to change prices on products constantly because of the (higher) prices every time he gets a shipment in,” Greguol said.

While fighting to stay in business, Greguol said she is doing all she can for her customers and her employees.

One food distributor that Cactus Cantina uses, Sysco, is one of the largest distributors in the nation. After facing employee shortages this year, the company has gone into overdrive trying to hire drivers, produce inspectors, supervisors, and warehouse selectors. The company is hosting hiring events nationwide on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13, as part of National Hiring Week. The events in Alabama will be in Calera and Geneva. The company is offering sign-on bonuses as well as competitive salaries.