IOP restaurant buys two tons of local shrimp for off-season

(Grace Beahm/Staff)

Local shrimp were in short supply this past fall, making it especially hard for restaurants to make good on their menu claims now that the commercial season is over.

“The biggest problem is we don’t have enough shrimp to really keep him busy,” Carolina Seafood’s Leland Rutledge says of Georgetown processor Johnny Roundtree, who’s equipped to freeze mass quantities of Carolina whites for Lowcountry restaurants.

Roundtree four years ago started freezing shrimp to carry buyers through the off-season, a time during which chefs are often forced to source their seafood from the Gulf. But because of the shrimp shortage, he’s working primarily on a contractual basis, and Rutledge says his services are financially out of reach for many restaurants.

For Acme Lowcountry Kitchen on Isle of Palms, the expense was worth it. Executive chef and managing partner Frank Kline recently arranged to have two tons of local shrimp frozen.

“We definitely don’t buy Asian shrimp, but we bought every American market we could,” Kline says of previous years. “It’s not what we wanted to do. Now we can guarantee local shrimp all of the time.”

In order to accommodate the shrimp shipment, Kline’s restaurant acquired a new 10-by-10 foot freezer.

“Basically, we bought a boatload,” Kline says.

At Acme, shrimp figures into dishes including eggs benedict; Lowcountry eggrolls; pasta, tacos and six kinds of shrimp-and-grits. Kline estimates his shrimp inventory will last until May.

While Acme may still have shrimp in its freezer when the spring season begins, Kline stresses that open waters aren’t a guarantee of shrimp availability. Shrimpers have struggled with significantly depleted crops in recent years.

Crosby’s Seafood sells frozen local shrimp, but wholesale manager Dan Long says his stock will probably sell out in the next two or three months. Kate Dittloff of the S.C. Aquarium’s Good Catch program, which promotes sustainability, isn’t aware of any other distributors freezing local shrimp on a large scale.

“If you get into Asian (shrimp), you can save a whole ton of money,” Kline says. “But a few years ago, we switched our theme to local: No disclaimers.”