Fruit farms to shellfish, industries across the state struggle with restaurant restrictions

COVID has forever changed the journey of your favorite restaurant dish.

It’s hit seafood providers like John Paul Davies’ Key City Fish market near the shore in Port Townsend:

“About 60 percent. It’s significantly down.”

And farmers who work the land like John Bellows’ Spring Rain farm in Chimicum:

“It’s taken a huge bite out of our annual sales and our cash flow. Most of my restaurant accounts have closed or reduced their purchasing to almost nothing.”

Even in Seattle, food distributor Todd Biesold has seen his customer base disappear:

“Where we used to send you know the equivalent of probably 10 runs a day in there multiple times a day - not 10 times, 10 total - we barely have half a truck.”

John, Todd and John Paul represent the businesses that keep restaurants alive. And now with restaurants moving from total shutdown to 50 percent capacity in the past year, will that alone repair the damage that’s already been done?

Surviving with seafood

“We are looking forward to stepping out of pandemic conditions,” says John Paul.

Opened in 1994, John Paul Davies’ Key City Fish provides seafood to more than 100 restaurants in the region. To survive, his business is now selling product directly to grocery stores and has moved to surf and turf - as he’s now selling beef from local ranchers.

“We’ve been able to adjust. to a sustainable model. So we’re very - knock on wood - we’re pleased that we were able to do that,” says Davies.

A farm finds a way

And for farmers, the hit is even harder.

John Bellows says he was selling cases of meat and boxes of produce weekly to restaurants around the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle.

“And about the end of March last year, that came to a halt. A few restaurants continued to purchase but basically only one or two out of maybe 20 restaurants are still purchasing on even a semi-regular basis from us,” says John.

He’s growing for a season that still hasn’t arrived. Like his produce, John’s farm in Chimacum is depending on its roots to stay alive.

“We’re a bit of a unique operation. We’re funded locally. All of our debts, all of our mortgages are all held by people in our community. Everybody has a vested interest in us surviving,” says John.

John, too, is going direct to consumers with his products through a farm stand.

But others don’t have that choice.

Distribution interrupted

“And I’ve got these folks that have always paid on time and they’re about in tears because they can’t. And they just don’t know what else to do,” says Todd Biesold.

Todd has spent his entire life working for Seattle-based distributor Merlino Foods.

He’s adjusting to double digit cuts to his fleet.

“That whole corridor from Pioneer Square to South Lake Union - the first strike was when most of the business sent their work from home people to work from home. It literally went and just dropped off the edge,” says Todd.

With the vaccine and Governor Inslee opening restaurants up to 50 percent capacity, Todd still worries about his customers.

“I’m deeply concerned that some of our places just aren’t coming back,” says Todd.

The fear is if Inslee takes a step back.

“And it just wreaks havoc on the whole chain. I mean, we drag it down where we have customers that have placed orders,” says Todd. “And then the commandment comes down that we’re shut down, they’re sent back, half of them are sent back. It’s just mayhem, it’s what it is.”

For now, many restaurants see a route to survival. The last few steps of any journey are always the hardest, be it from a fish shop by the sea, a farm, or a warehouse.

But the businesses can’t do it alone.

Getting to open depends on you - the customer. So bring your appetite because an entire industry is hungry for it.

“It’s hugely important,” says Todd. “I mean, because they’re the lifeblood. Because again, the whole chain doesn’t start if there’s not somebody taking food out the other end.”

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