Salad Chains Dealt Rough Hand With Romaine Lettuce Recall, Again

(Bloomberg) -- While the biggest U.S. restaurant chains are likely to shrug off the latest lettuce scare, salad-focused ones are ripping up their menus and making impromptu substitutions.

Jaime Mitrani, who owns five Giardino Gourmet Salads locations in Miami, said sales were down after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told American consumers Tuesday to avoid romaine because it might be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria.

“Last night we did notice a slower than normal night,” Mitrani said in an interview. “It might be even slower” today, he said. “People are definitely aware.”

In response, the 17-location salad chain is trying to sell quinoa-and-rice bowls made with baby leaf and spinach in lieu of romaine-based options. And Mitrani says he’s removed the extra $1.50 he usually charges for more premium greens including arugula and kale.

Sweetgreen, a Culver City, California-based chain, said it’s pulled all romaine and spring mix that has baby romaine until further notice from the CDC about the growing regions that are affected. The company has about 90 locations and says it frequently sources ingredients from local farmers.

Sales of romaine in the U.S. were already down, totaling $47 million in the four weeks that ended Nov. 3, according to Nielsen. That’s almost 12 percent lower than a year earlier.

‘Romaine Calm’

On Wednesday, a Freshii location in Chicago had posted a “Romaine Calm” sign near its register. When customers order a romaine-based item, like the buffalo salad, they’ll be offered kale or spinach, said manager Arnulfo Castillo, who noted people are likely to “shy away” from salads because of the latest scare.

Salad Chains Dealt Rough Hand With Romaine Lettuce Recall, Again