As the owner of a chicken restaurant, a chicken meat shortage is Josh Smith’s worst nightmare.
Smith, who owns Dirty Bird Chicken Joint at 630 Plaza Drive Suite 5 in Sycamore with his wife Abby, has been dealing with rising prices of ingredients and supplies recently. He said since the start of the pandemic, he’s endured supply and worker shortages, too.
Due to the increased cost of ingredients and supplies, the restaurant announced Oct. 7 that prices would be raised on menu items.
“We’ve been dealing with shortages for the last six months, but it’s gotten significantly worse recently,” he said. “We put all our sides in styrofoam, and with the styrofoam shortage, we switched to paper. Now paper is out, and we’re buying whatever we can.”
Due to shortages of pre-made barbecue sauce and baked beans, Smith started making his own to sell.
Smith said that it’s not one or two items in particular that are more expensive: “It’s everything,” he said.
“I think it’s all due to a job shortage,” he said. “They can’t find people to work in warehouses to make the stuff. Since we opened the food truck a year and a half ago, the price of chicken has doubled. The cost of grease we put in our friers has doubled. Biodegradable containers went up $20 to $30 a box. We’ve had to pay our workers more to keep them. Everything has gone up.”
Jeff Dobie, the owner of Fatty’s Pub & Grille in DeKalb, also said that “everything has gone up in price.”
“We started using disposable paper menus during the pandemic, and now we’re keeping paper menus to be able to adjust the cost of menu items,” he said. “For us, chicken breasts are hard to come by and plastic to-go cups are projected to be out by November.”
Dobie also said that his restaurant is at 75% capacity, not due to the pandemic, but because of staffing shortages.
“We’ve had to limit our seating because there’s not enough people to do the jobs,” he said. “Nobody is there to serve or cook food. We’re hiring all the time, but nobody is applying. We receive 10 applications, then three agree to interviews, only one shows up, and then that person doesn’t show up for their first day of work. I think every restaurant is in the same boat.”
Dobie said that most restaurants sell hard-to-find high-end items, including crab and lobster, at “market price.”
“Lately, chicken wings are sold at market price,” he said. “Chicken sliders are rare and hard to get.”
Tom Inboden, owner of Inboden’s Meat Market in DeKalb, said that he hasn’t had shortages on meats, but instead had shortages on packaging.
“Wait times are way out, we have to wait more than normal because there are a lot of continual disruptions,” he said. “We can source products well, but the products are not available. For something that would take three weeks for delivery, it’s now two months, 10 weeks.”
However, Inboden said he’s not worried about the long-term effects of the supply chain shortages.
“It’ll all work out,” he said. “There’s still going to be turkeys and pigs. It’s just a little bit of a rough patch.”
Both Dobie and Smith thanked their customers for their understanding and patience during the supply shortages.
“Our customers are what kept us here, what kept us alive during the pandemic,” Dobie said. “Even if we don’t have an item in inventory, we are doing the best we can with limited resources.”
“I want to thank our loyal customers who have continued to support us,” Smith said. “They’re helping support local, they’re still coming in. It means a lot, and I want to thank them for understanding, even though they might not necessarily know what’s going on.”
‘Demands exceed supply’ chain
Carl Campbell, professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Northern Illinois University, said that in general, the chain supply shortages are because there are not enough workers.
“Demands exceed supply,” he said. “There is less supply of manufactured goods and more demand. Delivery delays are everywhere.”
According to Forbes, the average price for a Chinese-made standard 40-foot shipping container is approaching $6,000, more than double what it was in 2016. Raw materials prices are soaring. Oil prices are up 70% over the past year, and aluminum up 55%. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures shipping costs, has increased more than 700% since mid-May 2020.
“There aren’t enough shipping containers and ships are stuck in ports because there are not enough dock workers to unload ships and there’s a truck driver shortage to distribute the cargo,” Campbell said. “Everything is tied together and related.”
Campbell said that he believes that any supply chain issue will correct itself.
“Wages will have to increase and eventually there will be enough dock workers to unload and truck drivers to transport,” he said. “Eventually labor shortages will go away. It won’t be long-term. I’m expecting it to last another six months or so. However, it’s hard to predict what will happen and what an equilibrium market will look like in a year or so.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.