Restaurants raise prices as coronavirus forces meat shortage

Move comes as hundreds of employees at meat processing plants have tested positive for COVID-19

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As the coronavirus pandemic has led to meat shortages across the country in recent weeks, some restaurants are raising their meat prices to prevent shutting down for good.

"Due to the shortage and the more than doubled price of meat, once again we are having to make another difficult decision. Do we close or raise our prices," Brooks Sandwich House, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote in a Facebook post. "The only way we can afford to stay open and stay BROOKS STRONG is by raising our prices until the meat prices drop. We simply can’t afford to open with price of goods continuing to rise."

The restaurant said finding affordable meat has been "hit or miss each day." In one week, Brooks' meat prices went from $2.40 to $5.50 per pound.

"We want to stay open to serve our awesome customers but if we don’t make a change we are not able to break even," the company added. "We hope you will understand our reasons for going up on our prices."

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Some restaurants have opted to absorb the losses rather than raise their own prices in hopes they will eventually drop back down, like Center Lounge & Restaurant in Whiting, Indiana. The restaurant has been paying 30 percent more for meat at a time when it's trying to survive on takeout and delivery orders.

"It’s going to hurt our bottom line," owner Karen Oakes Holmes told the Northwest Indiana Times. "We haven’t raised our prices."

Others, like Doc's Smokehouse and Craft Bar, which has locations in Dyer, Indiana, Mokena, Illinois, and Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin, had no choice but to charge customers more to make up the losses.

"We would lose money on every order going out the door," Co-founder and Chief BBQ Officer Brent Brashier said. "Our supplier has plenty of cattle but no way to turn it into beef."

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Restaurants are also moving the financial burden to customers because they can't find readily available meat at all, like Lincoln, Nebraska-based restaurant Honeycreek.

"The last couple of times I've been to my supplier, he hadn't even had any [ground beef]," Honeycreek owner Jim Wilkinson said to 1011 Now Nebraska. "They have none and they went from $3.50 to over $7 a pound."

As a result, Wilkinson raised the prices of his chicken wings and hamburgers to make up for the limited supply.

"I'm just trying to add on that extra cost to not hurt anybody." Wilkinson added, "At least to keep myself above water."

Honeycreek will open its dining area Tuesday at 50 percent capacity, but Wilkinson said it'll even be hard to break even once it is open. The restaurant will drop the price of its burgers and chicken wings once suppliers lower their prices.

But some restaurant owners like Pat Carver of Pat's Beef Jerky in Liebenthal, Kansas, told the Hays Post that the increases may be here to stay for the foreseeable future, warning meat suppliers and restaurants will have no incentive to lower prices back down once the pandemic ends.

"I can see the price of the meat staying higher," he said. "Once everyone has the price where they want it, I think they are going to keep that. It is my feeling that is the way it works. If they are selling with bigger margins, why drop the price? I hope that I am wrong for my sake and everyone else’s sake — for consumers."

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The price hikes caused by meat shortages come as hundreds of employees at meat processing plants across the country have tested positive for the coronavirus. At a Tyson plant in Perry, Iowa, nearly 60 percent of employees tested positive for the virus. 

In this April 2020, photo provided by Tyson Foods, workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at the company's Camilla, Georgia poultry processing plant. (Tyson Foods via AP)

There are more than 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 90,000 deaths in the United States, according to the latest update from the Johns Hopkins University.

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