Cafes find costs, shortages hard to digest
Beef, bacon, and fryer oil prices spiking over the past four months has forced Wagon Wheel Express and other independent area restaurants to increase menu prices.
“We try to stay in business and keep our customers happy,” owner Sherry Hess said. “But we have to pass some of that along.”
Other restaurants like Pueblo Viejo in Hillsboro and Coneburg Grill and Pub in Peabody also have experienced supply cost increases.
Coneburg has had to raise prices twice in the past two months.
Bacon alone has tripled in cost. Deep-fried favorites like onion rings, cauliflower buds, and corn nuggets have been unavailable or available only at a high price.
McCain Foods, which supplies Wagon Wheel along with many other smaller restaurants, is going through its stores quickly. Wagon Wheel can’t buy in bulk or rely on other stores’ profits as chain restaurants can.
“There’s nothing that we sell that hasn’t had a large increase in price,” Hess said. “It’s been rough. We absorbed a lot of that, but some of the time, some of the things we just aren’t selling because nobody would pay that much.”
Hess doesn’t want to resort to buying products like potato tots that fall apart in the fryer.
“Sometimes you can scrounge around for stores and find things,” she said, “but we’re more to opt for changing the menu.”
Hess has adjusted most of the in-store menus, but sometimes her waitresses have to explain higher-than-anticipated bills to customers who order from old menus at home.
“We have had people call back that have been really upset because they call in to get something to go, but their menu is from two years ago,” Hess said. “But I haven’t had anybody get ugly yet.”
The unpredictable state of the beef market is intimidating for a restaurant that mainly sells burgers. While most supply shortages should be ending in February, neither Hess nor her supplier knows what beef prices will do.
Hess described the situation as worse than when COVID first hit.
“Right after COVID hit last year, we had a real big spike in prices. I think that was a fear spike,” she said. “Now this is an availability spike.”
She is hopeful prices will drop.
“When the prices do come down a little bit on that stuff, we will adjust the menu prices,” she said. “We’ve had to do that quite a bit up and down. We’re not like other stores that will just leave them up there.”
Last modified Dec. 30, 2021