Not playing chicken: What the wing shortage means for Buffalo, and what happens next
June 10, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
Compression ratio: 42.2%. 2 min read.
While they may be an afterthought for restaurants elsewhere in the country, chicken wings are a must-have in the Buffalo Niagara region.
Already strained by the tight labor market, the higher costs are a blow to their crimped budgets – even as mandates loosen up and patrons are more willing to dine out. "It's making business more difficult now than it was at the height of Covid," said Greg Stennis, owner of Dwyer's Irish Pub in North Tonawanda. Dwyer's did well last year, Stennis said, because the facility has a large outdoor area, and because the restaurant was already used to takeout. Indeed, with so many customers turning to food delivery last year, wing sales from places such as pizzerias were up 7% in 2020 compared to 2019, even though overall restaurant visits dropped by 11% nationally, according to the National Chicken council. Now, as things slowly get closer to normal, navigating the higher prices is a new challenge. "Costs go up, menu prices follow close behind," he said.
That's when an oversupply in production started to nudge the supply chain out of whack. Production slowed to balance out the excessive supply, but then came the pandemic with its shortage of meat processing workers and a burst in demand from homebound consumers. February's ice storm in Texas further exacerbated supply chain issues, prompting farmers to euthanize hundreds of thousands of chicks and destroy hundreds of thousands of eggs. As a result, costs have soared to an average 55 to 60 cents per wing – even before they're cooked and paired with celery and bleu cheese. At that cost, it's "not even worth selling wings right now," said Mike Wylke, owner of Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub on Grand Island.
His chicken wing costs have tripled in the past 14 months, he said. "We're just kind of biting the bullet right now," he said. The Brick Oven's menu – with Italian dinners, wraps, burgers, tacos – is large and diverse enough that the restaurant doesn't have to rely solely on pizza and wing sales. Still, there's no way to avoid the local consumer demand for wings.
While they may be an afterthought for restaurants elsewhere in the country, wings are a must-have in the Buffalo Niagara region. In business for 30 years, Wylke is used to price fluctuations tied to supply and demand – especially with chicken wings. "It goes up and down.
Increased home shipping is pushing up the price of cardboard boxes – an increase likely to affect just about anything that gets delivered to a restaurant. Wylke said his costs have gone up 10% to 20% across the board and, especially with regard to chicken wings, relief doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon. "Suppliers say there's not an end in sight," Wylke said.