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Bay Area restaurants are paying double for eggs due to avian flu supply shortages


If you want to put an egg on it at Bay Area restaurants, whether it’s hard-boiled, scrambled or fried, it’s going to cost you a little more.

An avian flu outbreak that has choked egg supply and faced grocery store shoppers in California and across the country with empty shelves and high prices has also hit restaurants.  Wholesale cases of 15-dozen eggs — a typical increment — more than doubled in price compared to the middle months of 2022, say some Bay Area restaurant operators who now pay more than $100 per case. Producer prices for eggs were up more than 280% year-over-year as of November, the most recent month for which Bureau of Labor Statistics were available 

Morning Wood in San Bruno features eggs prominently across its Hawaiian-Japanese-Korean, breakfast and brunch menu. Chef and co-owner Chad Kaneshiro uses them in kimchi omurice (an oozing egg omelet over rice), over rice bowls in the “Hapanese” breakfast meal and in classic plates with sausage, Spam and eggs.

In a restaurant that has eggs in nearly everything, Kaneshiro is always looking at the price of the ingredient. The restaurant goes through 10 to 12 cases of eggs on a weekly basis — spending over $1,000 on eggs per week.

“When we first opened like five years ago, eggs were $19 or $20 a case,” Kaneshiro recalled. Now, he said, “we’re looking at $112 per case at Costco.”

Kaneshiro estimates the cost of eggs for a prep batch of matcha mochi pancakes, which require a fair amount of eggs, has gone up by 500% since the restaurant originally opened. With each batch making about 20 orders, the margins on this staple have gotten thinner than they are.

The issue isn’t just affecting your favorite breakfast and brunch spots. At West Berkeley Spanish restaurant La Marcha Tapas Bar, the tortilla — a frittata with potatoes, onions and duck fat topped with preserved lemon aioli — ranks among the most popular orders on the tapas menu. It also requires a few eggs per serving. Chef and owner Sergio Monleon also uses eggs for egg washing croquettes stuffed with shiitakes, chicken or ham, garnishing his mixed salad and for whipping with oil into aioli. 

Monleon has seen similar jumps in prices per case of eggs, from $20 a case last year to over $110 in recent days. The restaurant uses between three to five cases per week.

“(Egg) was such an inexpensive item before. Now we’re having to rethink increasing our prices,” Monleon said.

The La Marcha chef is looking at increasing the price of the add-on egg option on some dishes. He also considered charging for egg-based sauces like aioli that were once complimentary. 

“It’s something to consider until prices come back down,” Monleon said. 

Six months ago, Altovino chef and owner Nick Kelly was purchasing a case of eggs, a key component of the restaurant’s housemade pasta dishes, for $56. His final orders in December came out to $106 per case.

The San Francisco restaurant’s kitchen goes through several cases of eggs per week to create its pastas, said Kelly: The bright yellow pappardelle, made with egg yolks instead of whole eggs, requires more eggs than other shapes. Kelly estimates preparing a batch of servings currently costs $34 worth of eggs alone.

To keep up, Kelly is considering a small adjustment for his restaurant’s prices when it reopens in the coming weeks. (The restaurant closed for the end of the year so staff could go on a research trip to Italy).

At Morning Wood, Kaneshiro, is holding off on increasing prices during this surge. However, Morning Wood did adjust prices after relocating to San Mateo from San Bruno, accounting for different taxes and new rent rates. 

“We’re holding back and hoping this calms down a little. But if this keeps up we’ll have to increase some prices here and there,” Kaneshiro said.

The issue is not just limited to eggs. Last year saw chicken prices reach more than double of pre-pandemic prices, and cooking oil became scarce. All of this on top of increasing inflation, and overarching supply chain issues driving prices upward. 

“Eggs are just next in an increasingly long list of price increases,” said Monleon of La Marcha. “It’s always something.”

While retail eggs are seeing a supply crunch leading to empty egg display cases at local grocers, Monleon and Kelly note their suppliers have been able to keep eggs coming into their kitchens without much of a hassle. Monleon sources his eggs from a nationwide distributor, while Kelly has tapped San Francisco-based Arcadios Produce for his restaurant’s eggs.

It’s hard to predict when the egg supply crunch will end, said Maurice Petesky, associate professor at the UC Davis school of veterinary medicine, who notes that the current outbreak has already gone on longer than usual. When avian flu is detected in a flock, Petesky explained, chickens are culled to stop the spread of the virus. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 49 million birds in 46 states had died as a result of the virus or of culling since early 2022). Replenishing a farm’s stock of egg-laying hens can be a lengthy process: A typical commercial hen will be laying acceptable grade eggs starting at around 25 weeks of age, and these are needed in…

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2023-01-10 12:03:14

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