Some local restaurant owners are practically walking on eggshells as they battle rising food costs while trying to maintain their prices so they don’t drive away customers.
The cost of eggs is especially troublesome for those restaurants that are favorite breakfast spots in town.
Terry Stevens, co-owner of the World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe, said his price for a case of eggs has gone from $42 to $177, an increase of 321 percent in just the past few months. And that is down from December’s price of $277 a case.
He said he has tried to work with multiple food suppliers to keep his costs down and has even driven to restaurant supply stores in Las Vegas several times just to get them.
Stevens said the restaurant goes through about 10 cases of eggs per week and there are 30 dozen eggs per case. They average using 1,800 eggs per week and can use as many as 1,600 during a busy weekend.
“Eggs would always go up around Easter or if there was a bird flu,” said Cindy Ford, owner of Southwest Diner, “but it has never been this bad. They have gone up four to five times what they were last year.”
But it is more than just eggs, according to Jill Bunch, owner of Chilly Jilly’z and The Patio at Chilly Jilly’z.
“Yes the price of eggs has skyrocketed, however the volatility is not just with eggs but across the board on almost every single product we purchase, prepare and sell,” she said. “Right now, the people in the restaurant industry are really taking a beating. The majority of customers have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to manage rising costs versus reasonable menu prices.”
Stevens agreed, noting it has been difficult for them to keep the prices low, maintaining the philosophy of his parents, Carri Stevens and the late Al Stevens, who opened the restaurant in 1994. He said they have revised their menu and adjusted their prices about four times in the past few years to deal with rising costs.
“I would like to put our old menus back out. If I could, I would,” Terry Stevens said. “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Cause for the shortage
The Consumer Price Index, released Jan. 12, showed inflation declined to 6.5 percent in December compared with a year earlier, and was down from 7.1 percent in November. But for necessities like food, the report showed a different story.
The government’s report showed egg prices increased 59.9 percent year over year, with food prices rising 10.4 percent. The average price of a dozen eggs in December was $4.25. In January 2022, the average price was $1.93, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Joe Tanaka, who had just finished grocery shopping at Smith’s on Rancho Drive in Las Vegas, said prices are up across the board and that he now budgets $6 for a dozen eggs, which he thinks is an “outrageous” price.
“(Eggs) six months ago were a lot cheaper,” he said.
Tanaka isn’t wrong. In June 2022, the average price for a dozen eggs was $2.71, according to the BLS.
The main cause for the sharp increase in egg prices stems from an outbreak of the highly contagious avian flu, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 57.8 million birds, 369 commercial flocks and 47 states, including Nevada, have been affected by the avian flu.
Stevens also attributed the higher cost to legislation passed in mid-2021 that requires all eggs or egg products in the state to be from hens in cage-free housing systems.
Buying eggs also isn’t as easy as it used to be. Those who are willing to pay the higher price may still have difficulty finding them.
Summerlin resident Susan Kuehl, who said she loves to bake and often makes treats for her neighbors but has been baking less because of the recent increase in egg prices, follows a simple strategy to make sure she gets a dozen each week.
“You’ve got to shop early and often,” Kuehl said.
But even then some local grocery stores had limited inventory or implemented purchase limits.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the 99 Cents Only store in Boulder City was completely out of dozen cartons of eggs, which were priced at $7, and had a small supply of packs of 18, priced at $10.
The same day, Albertsons in Boulder City had a limited supply of eggs, with the cheapest priced at $6 a dozen. According to store employees, the price had just been reduced $1 from Monday’s, Jan. 16, cost.
Neither of the Boulder City stores were putting restrictions on the number of dozens customers could purchase.
But, on Jan. 12, Whole Foods on Lake Mead Boulevard had no eggs for sale, and had signs limiting customers to purchasing two dozen eggs at a time. The Smith’s on the corner of Durango Drive and Sahara Avenue had a half-full section of eggs with no purchase restrictions.
Mariana’s Supermarket on Sahara Avenue had a full shelf with no purchase limit but its eggs were on the high-end at just over $9. Trader Joe’s in Downtown Summerlin was also well stocked but with a limit of two dozen eggs per customer, though earlier in the week an early evening visit found the egg section had been replaced with bottled drinks and canned beer and a sign reading “OUT OF EGGS. DUE TO A SHORTAGE, WE ARE OUT OF EGGS TODAY. We apologize for the inconvenience!”
Feeling the pinch
Increased prices are expected to continue this year. The USDA estimates egg prices could increase by 4 percent to 5 percent in 2023 while prices for all food could increase 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.
Island Sushi & Grill in Silverado Ranch has increased its prices for dishes using eggs, according to Chef Yoji Shimonishi.
“We used to get 30 dozen that would cost us roughly around $40. Now, we’re looking at $103 to $108,” Shimonishi said. “We have to raise prices and just be careful. It’s not much, we raised certain items 25 cents.”
Eggworks has tried to reduce costs for customers by buying in bulk and storing what it can at a warehouse, but prices keep rising.
“Everything that has to do with food has gone up,” said Daniel Rocha, corporate chef for Eggworks, which owns the Egg and I and six other restaurants in Las Vegas. “About a year ago, potatoes were cheap. It used to be, for a case, maybe $18 a case and now it’s more than double the price.”
He said last year Eggworks has raised prices by a total of about $4 for its bigger menu items.
Despite the challenges of rising costs and residual effects from COVID-19, Bunch said she is thankful and appreciative.
“ … (we) are still happy to be operating and celebrating 10 years at Chilly Jilly’z and eight years on The Patio this year.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal reporters Sean Hemmersmeier and Johnathan Wright contributed to this report.
Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.