Tomato shortage driving prices high

FRESNO, Calif. It's costing local restaurants quite a bit.

In the fast food world, tomatoes are king. But lately this crown has come with a hefty price tag.

"We're just trying to ride it out," said Zahi Saleh. Saleh has owned the triangle drive-in for five years in west central Fresno.

He's managed to survive the recession but now he is up against another challenge more than 2,000 miles away. In January 70 percent of tomato farmer's crops in Florida were destroyed by record cold weather.

Florida is the main supplier this time of year.

The loss has forced restaurant owners like Saleh to pay an additional $25 or more per case to get their product.

Saleh: "It's a pretty big jump and we're expecting it to go back down but it's still high, high."

The tomato price hike has negatively impacted financial growth here at the Triangle Drive-In. However, that increase has not been passed on to the customer.

Customer Linda Enos said: "That makes me feel great. But even if they did I'd still come."

Many fast food companies are resorting to secondary sources like Mexico to get their tomatoes.

Some food managers question the quality and some restaurants like Wendy's have posted signs offering tomatoes only upon request.

Saleh said he is not worried. "The tomatoes are good, good quality, it's just the prices," he said.

This 26-year old entrepreneur wants to open a second drive-in burger store but those dreams are on hold for at least another three weeks. That's when Florida growers are expected to rebound from this misfortune and prices will drop.

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