MILWAUKEE — Fish Fry Fridays in Wisconsin are a deeply loved tradition.
While they're not going away, there may be less of them for some in the short-term.
"We're okay right now, but once 2022 comes around, when the Lenten season comes around, our demand doubles, and their supply is expected to be cut in half," said Chris Wiken, general manager of The Packing House restaurant, a Milwaukee favorite that's been serving up fried Atlantic cod for nearly five decades.
He's talking about an inventory shortfall of his current supplier, Nordic Group, a Boston-bases seafood wholesaler.
"We're going to have a tight situation for the first half [of 2022]," said Frank Bodin, Nordic Group CFO.
Bodin said that while demand is high — especially in whitefish fry-crazy Wisconsin — supply has been slashed by a number of pandemic-related issues.
There's plenty of fish in the sea, Bodin said, but because of rising shipping container costs, shipping delays and labor shortages, his company is struggling to get seafood to distributors who then moved it along to restaurants, like The Packing House.
Wiken, who is the current board chairman of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said businesses across the state are facing the same problem he is — where are they going to get enough whitefish?
Wiken said Nordic Group flagged him that there would be supply issues, so he made a deal with a local distributor to buy up what it could from the Boston company and hold it for him. But at 800 to 900 Atlantic cod dinners a night, and around 1,500 during Lent, he eventually won't be able to keep up with demand.
Wiken, whose parents first opened The Packing House nearly 50 years ago, said he may have to serve smaller pieces or even use a different fish.
"Do we put out a product that just might not be the same and risk alienating our customer base? We have a lot of very loyal customers and that would be a really tough decision to make," said Wiken.