CLEVELAND — More than a year into the pandemic, toilet paper and hand sanitizer are back on store shelves, but there's one thing that's getting harder to find: packets of ketchup. The CDC has warned against bottles of ketchup on tables, and more people are taking their meals to go, leading to the shortage.
Welcome to Tackle Box 2, a fixture in Fremont, Ohio and just miles from the Heinz Ketchup plant.
"You don't smell it as much anymore this time of year but there's days that it's very, very strong. It's a very strong smell," said Sereta Stephens, the manager of Tackle Box 2.
It's an eclectic spot run by a father and daughter duo known as much for what they call their "Kitchy decor" as for their food. You can have your picture taken with the Simpsons or "Howdy Doody" while you grab a burger, perch or fried bologna. And nearly everything comes with a side of fries.
"We have frog legs. Our cheeseburgers are amazing. We have fresh cut, hand-cut fries."
The lunch hour rush is busy but there is still plenty of ketchup to go around.
"We ask them if they want ketchup, vinegar, salt, and pepper and then that's how we would put them on the table."
Heinz said that while restaurant demand for bottled ketchup plunged at the start of the pandemic they saw a surge in demand for ketchup packets. So they quickly shifted production.
"My son-in-law works for Heinz as a matter of fact and he said that it's crazy there right now. Like a month ago, we couldn't get vinegar."
But places like Tackle Box 2 also came up with their own ways to make sure they never run out of their No. 1 condiment. They dole out ketchup in small containers and order it by the gallon. So they still have ketchup for their customers. A lot of ketchup.
"The community has been amazing through this whole pandemic. They supported us for the to-go's when we were doing all the to-go orders they supported us. It's just been amazing."
Heinz said their production upgrades should let them produce 12 billion ketchup packets this year alone.