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Restaurants scramble to keep up with egg costs

Cook Chela Gaytan breaks a pair of eggs on the griddle for a plate of huevos rancheros at Garcia’s Kitchen on Fourth Street. Egg costs have surged in recent weeks for restaurants like Garcia’s — which serves breakfast items all day long. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Cook Chela Gaytan breaks a pair of eggs on the griddle for a plate of huevos rancheros at Garcia’s Kitchen on Fourth Street. Egg costs have surged in recent weeks for restaurants like Garcia’s — which serves breakfast items all day long. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ever tried a breakfast burrito without eggs?

Shannon Rainosek of Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant said she actually favors eating one of New Mexico’s signature dishes without one of its signature ingredients. Keep the tortilla, cheese and hashbrowns, she said, but add bacon and replace the eggs with beans.

“Put green chile salsa on top, and it’s so good,” said Rainosek, whose family started Frontier in 1971.

While that version may not fit the purest definition of a breakfast burrito, it’s probably a cheaper variant these days.

Now that the avian flu has ravaged millions of birds in the heart of the country, egg prices have spiked.

About 37 percent of the U.S. egg-laying flock has been destroyed in Iowa alone, and prices have doubled on Midwest Grade A eggs since mid-April.

They reached a record $2.60 a dozen this week but were down to $2.38 on Friday, according to industry analyst group Urner Barry.

With no new cases reported in nearly a week in the hardest-hit area, the industry is hoping the outbreak is winding down.

Officials say it could take up to two years to return to normal production, and that prices will remain high this year and will fall in 2016, though possibly still remain above pre-bird flu prices.

While consumers may feel a pinch on their grocery bills, restaurants are getting a solid wallop.

Rainosek said she learned Thursday that Frontier would pay 64 percent more for its eggs next week. Coming on the heels of other recent increases, she said the restaurant is now paying about double what it did a month ago. Frontier goes through about 900 dozen eggs per week.

“We’re not anticipating a shortage yet, but Frontier will have a significant increase” in supply costs, she said.

Server Norma Olivas with a tray full of breakfast favorites at Garcia's Kitchen on Fourth Street NW. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Server Norma Olivas with a tray full of breakfast favorites at Garcia’s Kitchen on Fourth Street NW. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

At Garcia’s Kitchen – where breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros are considered perfectly appropriate dinner and lunch orders – annual egg costs soar by about $45,000 if current prices for whole eggs and liquid eggs hold.

Miia Hebert, who works in marketing and purchasing for Garcia’s, said the eight-location Albuquerque chain built a recent egg stockpile, knowing prices were heading up.

“We had one of our walk-in coolers at our commissary only filled with shell eggs, but that can only last so long,” she said. “It worked for a little while, but you can’t keep that up.”

The Range Cafe – which purchased 13,500 eggs last week for use in regular menu items and its extensive bakery lineup – reports that prices have more than doubled in the past month.

“We are treating eggs like gold in our kitchens … and ensure minimal waste,” Mike Perseo, executive culinary manager, told the Journal in an email.

If the trend continues, he said, The Range may consider looking at the organic egg market “which seems not to be (affected) at this time.”

But The Range, Frontier and Garcia’s say they have no plans to raise menu prices on egg-heavy items yet.

Cook Chela Gaytan pours a couple of ladles of liquid egg products for a breakfast Burrito at Garcia's Kitchen on 4th Street NW. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Cook Chela Gaytan pours a couple of ladles of liquid egg products for a breakfast Burrito at Garcia’s Kitchen on 4th Street NW. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Dan Garcia said his family’s company is in a financial position to weather the rising prices for now, having experienced rising sales for about five straight years.

“You’ve just got to take it,” said the Garcia’s co-owner and vice president for operations.

Rainosek said Frontier has had prices on other key ingredients – say, oranges – surge in the past and can absorb some of those added expenses when they’re temporary.

That’s the plan for now.

“But sometimes these can be longer-term and we do have to adjust our prices,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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