Local restaurateurs are crying fowl over soaring chicken prices and they say it’s only a matter of time before diners are clucking mad, too.
Even worse, they say the Great Chicken Crisis of 2021 may hit only small local restaurants and not Big Chicken — the bird-hoarding corporate monoliths.
“It’s brutal. It’s been a tough few months,” lamented John Henninger, co-owner of Dan & John’s Wings in Murray Hill and the East Village, when asked about rising prices.
The wholesale price restaurants pay for chicken has more than doubled since the fall, according to invoices provided to The Post. The increase far outpaces the rapid inflation already being felt elsewhere in the economy,
Ken Halberg, the owner of Harding’s in the Flatiron District, paid $1.16 for a pound of chicken breast at the end of October. That price had spiked 117 percent to $2.52 at the end of June.
Henninger has watched the price of chicken wings grow more than 50 percent over the same period, from $2.39 per pound to $3.69 per pound, and expects it to climb further.
Patrick Hughes, owner of Hell’s Kitchen hot-wing hotspot Hellcat Annie’s, reported paying as much as $4.73 per pound for chicken wings last month – “and this is only the beginning.”
Yet while local restaurateurs are battling poultry sticker shock, fast-food giant Popeyes this week reported that it’s been stockpiling product for months to avoid the disruptions in the national chicken chain behind the soaring prices.
“Demand is very high right now, and consumer spending is surging” as the country emerges from the pandemic, Popeyes America president Sami Siddiqui told Bloomberg. “We’re planning appropriately.”
Chik-Fil-A offered a similar “no problem” this week.
“I can tell you that we have not been impacted (by rising prices) and that our supply is strong,” Chik-Fil-A spokesman Sean Ward told The Post.
Industry experts say rising meat prices are being caused by a shortage of people willing to work in processing plants in the free-money, post-pandemic world, as demand spikes as millions of Americans return to restaurants. Chicken, far and away America’s most popular protein, seems hardest hit.
“They can’t get drivers and they can’t get people to hack off chicken heads,” said Halberg. “The reality is that Biden has paid people to stay home.”
The local restaurateurs say so far they haven’t passed along the higher wholesale costs to customers, but don’t know how long they can hold out.
“Check back with me again once football season starts,” said Henninger.