Colorado eggs shortage: Denver restaurants struggling as prices rise

The new year isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for restaurants with menus that rely heavily on eggs.

In the last few weeks, eggs have quickly disappeared from Colorado grocery store shelves and prices have skyrocketed. The egg shortage is a result of a nationwide avian flu outbreak infecting poultry farms, increased consumer demand during the holidays, plus a new state law requiring that all eggs sold in grocery stores and produced on Colorado farms be cage-free, which took effect on Jan. 1.

But it’s not just grocery shoppers who are scrambling to buy eggs: breakfast spots, ramen joints and bakeries around town are facing a steep increase in their weekly orders. Some of them are absorbing the cost, while others are raising menu prices.

The egg shortage was poor timing for Noisette, which just started its Sunday brunch service last week on Jan. 8. Lillian Cho, co-owner of the French restaurant and bakery in LoHi, said they were paying around $60 for a case of 15 dozen eggs, but that has since gone up to $100. Cho and her husband, Tim, don’t have a short-term solution for the price spike, so they’ve just been eating the cost themselves. Noisette has three egg dishes on its brunch menu, one on the dinner menu and a quiche offered at the bakery.

“This just kind of came as a shock a week and a half ago when we saw prices increase that much,” Lillian said. “ I’m not sure how much consumers know what’s going on, so it’s difficult for us to raise prices because we’re already perceived as an expensive restaurant, and if we raise prices it could deter guests from coming in and trying our food.”

Osaka Ramen has been absorbing the cost as well, but owner Jeff Osaka said he’s getting ready to raise menu prices by a dollar this weekend. The local restaurateur used to pay around $15 for a 15-dozen case of eggs, but that has since gone up to $80 per case, which is about 45 cents per egg compared to his usual 8 cents. Each of Osaka Ramen’s ramen dishes come with a soft egg and use egg in the batter, plus each of the fried rice dishes use egg.

“Once it levels back off again, we will probably drop our prices again,” Osaka said. “We don’t want to gouge our customers, but it’s hard for us to take that hit without it reflecting in end-user cost.”

Lucile’s Creole Cafe has also raised prices at all seven locations due to rising supply costs, particularly eggs. Owner Fletcher Richards said the cost of eggs has gone up 50% for the New Orleans-inspired breakfast joint.

“It’s just another spike in the costs, and another dagger in the heart of people trying to run their small businesses,” Richards said. “We’re not a big-shot outfit; we’re homegrown and have had the same egg supplier for the whole 40 years we’ve been open. It’s just been one guy, whose family used to have an egg farm, but he’s getting priced out of business, so we have to shop around a lot for our prices just to break even.”

In the meantime, American Elm has decided to replace some more egg-forward dishes on its Saturday and Sunday brunch menu with some alternatives. Chef Daniel Mangin said that the restaurant usually buys two to three cases of 15-dozen eggs for weekend brunch service, which cost around $50 each, but has since gone up to around $80. Mangin wants to get ahead of the problem before it becomes long-term.

“For anywhere that serves brunch, it’s a pretty severe impact on how you function,” Mangin said. “Because there’s limited availability, myself, and I’m sure other restaurants, are stocking up, which only perpetuates that cycle. We just want to make it through brunch, but there’s not even the option to run and grab a few dozen from the grocery store anymore.”

The West Highlands restaurant will be introducing more loaded tater tots dishes, breakfast sandwiches without eggs, vegan egg alternatives, and promoting more items that don’t require as much eggs, like French toast. The bar will have to cut back on its use of egg whites, and Mangin said he won’t be suggesting someone add an egg to their burger, which used to be $1 and could go up to $3.50, anytime soon.

“It doesn’t seem like in the next six months to a year that the price of eggs is going to go down a significant percentage,” Mangin said. “Chickens are going through their own version of COVID right now, and in the same way COVID has affected restaurants the past two to three years, I think we’re going to see people using less eggs in the future because of that cost.”

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