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National potato shortage causing price hikes, supply issues for local restaurants

Hamburger Mikey in Muskegon has had to take another look at their award-winning French fries. For the time being, they've taken away the large portion.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — There's a national potato shortage spiraling out of Idaho. Yes, you heard that right - a potato shortage - so if haven't noticed fewer potatoes in your grocery store yet, you probably will soon.

But that's not all, a lakeshore restaurant has had to cut down on their fresh-cut fries.

Hamburger Mikey in Muskegon has had to take another look at their award-winning French fries. For the time being, they've taken away the large portion, and are now just offering a half pound, which feeds one to three people.

The beloved burger joint gets their potatoes in 50 pound boxes from two distributors out of Idaho, totaling up to 800 pounds of potatoes every week.

"Potatoes are a huge portion of our sales," said Tim Taylor, the Managing Partner for Hamburger Mikey. "Since 2016 we've used 240,000 pounds of potatoes."

The shortage in Idaho is causing higher prices for Hamburger Mikey by up to 50%.

Fry prices also did have to go up a just a little bit at the popular burger joint, but Taylor said not by much. 

"We have families that come in that maybe can't afford a lot, and they do need those potatoes for their family, and we still want to be able to offer that," he said.

So how is there a potato shortage in Idaho of all places? According to the Idaho Potato Commission, the extremely hot temperatures last June really hurt their crop, so there was a significantly smaller yield.

Boise Public Radio also reported that "previous year's potato crop cycle is supposed to last through the following August, so even before the 2022 harvest comes into play, consumers are facing the shortage from last year's crop."

The recent shortage due to weather is also in addition to a downward trend in potato production altogether. According to the USDA, in 2021, production across the country was 7% lower than the average production in the preceding five years.

"I just keep trying to explain to my customers what's going on," Taylor said, "but not everyone is realizing there's a potato shortage, they're not understanding it."

Taylor said he and his staff are of course still doing their best to deliver their award-winning fries, but the process is labor intensive. 

"We hand-cut our potatoes, soak them overnight, and then we partially cook them everyday," he explained. "We partially cook them, cool them down, then cook them again."

The Idaho Potato Commission said harvest for this season is set to begin this week and be out to buyers within a week. 

"We're doing our best to make sure people are still going to be fed plenty of potatoes," said Taylor, "and hopefully we'll be back to normal soon."

On August 13th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Hamburger Mikey parking lot they will be hosting a pet adoption event with the Muskegon Humane Society. They will also have racecar driver Bailey Lynn #8 there with some mini wedge drivers for your family to check out. There are also several opportunities to win free French fries. You can learn more about the fundraising event by clicking here. 

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