Renita Johnson spends part of her Friday shopping at Linda's Produce in East Ridge, hoping for a good weekend crowd at her and her husband's Chattanooga restaurant, LeMont's. It had been around for more than three decades before recent rising food costs forced them to close for two years in late 2011.
"The restaurant just wasn't doing well," recalls Johnson. "We were struggling. Trying to keep employees, trying to keep [down] the food costs, and it wasn't working."
Droughts in the western U.S. have caused the prices of some vegetables to increase nearly 7% from this time last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Too much rain in Florida has ruined citrus crops, forcing orange prices higher.
Johnson and her husband, LaMont, tried to keep the catering side of their business open in order to stay afloat, but that nearly fell flat.
"Corporate businesses decided to cut way back. So that affected our bottom line tremendously," explains Johnson.
At Linda's a basket of apples used to go for around five dollars--now it's eight. You could squeeze four lemons into your shopping bag for a dollar--now a buck only gets you two.
The price of meats have also taken a hit because of the droughts. There are fewer animals on the market, causing an increase in some beef prices of more than 5% in the past year.
Randy Parnell, father of a growing teenage boy, has definitely noticed.
"The steak prices have probably doubled, that I've noticed, and I've been buying steaks for 25 years," says Parnell.
He's also noticed that even lower cuts are running high on price. To save money Parnell and his family have been grilling a lot less, on the verge of becoming vegetarians. He says even with the rising produce costs it's cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables to replace some of the meats.
"We're even having the spinach smoothies in the morning instead of eggs and bacon," Parnell adds. He says they're getting used to it.
Local butcher Dan Key, co-owner of Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, says he's doing all he can to charge the fairest prices. But it's tough.
"We're buying all locally and there's a lot of pressure on those local growers to sell their animals at a higher price or to other sources where they can get more for them," explains Key.
His store is USDA certified, so he says he can cut back prices to his customers by offering special cuts to them and local restaurants. He uses the entire animals from head to tail, getting the most bang for his buck at the same time.
Key and the owner of Linda's both believe there's no relief in sight for the near future. They think prices will continue to rise.