June 4 was a rarity for Fly’n Roosters, the beloved chicken wing sports bar at 200 Grand Ave. It had to close for the day because of a national chicken shortage.
The product is harder to get, may take longer to arrive and has more than doubled in price in a year. “Wing shortage” is a term showing up on restaurant doors and cable news chyrons alike and the national chain Wingstop has temporarily rebranded as Thighstop.
For Roosters, the chicken shortage has put a massive strain on business.
“It’s an unprecedented crisis,’’ owner Jason Steed said. “We’re looking at adding other menu items. Chicken is what we do, it’s our thing and it’s one of the reasons why people come here. The good news is that we have good and reliable vendors.”
Roosters will order 80-100 40-pound cases of chicken wings — which now cost double over one year ago. Since Roosters doesn’t serve frozen chicken, those orders can only be stored for 11 days. So if the supply chain tightens, Roosters can’t stash a reserve of chicken.
WHY THE CRUNCH?
The recent strain on national chicken supplies, much like supply issues for other products from computer chips to bicycles, is a result of multiple factors.
For one, everyone wants a piece of chicken — wing, breast or whatever else they can nab. Wings were in high demand during the pandemic because it’s a comfort food, National Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super told USA Today in May. At the same time, the massive freeze that hit Texas earlier this year took a bite out of the supply line.
Fast food restaurants are also vying for the hearts and wallets of Americans by creating the ultimate chicken sandwich which has further strained supply, Super said.
In light of all that, the number of birds moving through the processing system has slowed to a trickle.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the number of chickens slaughtered (also called broilers) in May was 748,170. That was almost 30,000 fewer than the previous month.
The total chickens slaughtered through the first five months of 2021 was down 2% year to year.
Steed also theorizes that chicken farms are low on water because of drought conditions, and that there’s a low work force nationally because of the payments unemployment benefits offer.
Liz Sinclair is the owner of Charlie Dwellington’s, 103 N. 1st St. Chicken wings are Charlie’s most popular menu item, she said.
But if you’re heading there hoping to grab a beer and a basket of wings rolled in their homemade buffalo sauce, you might be disappointed. Charlie Dwellington’s orders a varying number of 40-pound cases of wings every two weeks.
Well, they did before it got to be too much and too unpredictable. The prices jumped 20% and they haven’t ordered in a bit. The last time their kitchen manager checked, a single case was $180.
“Restaurants are in a tight bind right now because of the pandemic. Many of us are hurting economically,” Sinclair said. “But we’ve been able to roll chicken tenders in our sauce as a substitute, and we have a wide menu. It’s not a crisis for us, but it is for places like Roosters.
“The last thing we need is another local business to close.
“CHICKEN IS OUR THING”Steed moved to the Grand Valley from Colorado Springs in the early 2000s.
The first place he ever went to for food as a newly minted restaurant was Roosters.
“My brother and I met the managers and they were amazing people. They took us here to welcome us. I loved the food and the atmosphere. It was inviting and I felt welcomed in this new city,” Steed said. “Now, 20-something years later and I own it. It’s pretty fortuitous.”
Unlike places like Charlie Dwellington’s, Steed has few options when poultry prices peak.
“Other places can simply not serve chicken and be fine but we don’t have that luxury. Chicken is our thing. It’s one of the reasons people know us and come to us,” he said. “We’re looking at moving to boneless wings and adding other menu options.”
All Steed can do now is wait and do his best to keep supply stocked.
If this continues, he doesn’t think it will force the Grand Junction location, or the Fruita and Montrose locations to close.
“The best thing people can do, obviously, is to support local businesses. We’ve been watching and fighting this for a year so hopefully the market evens out soon,” Steed said. “We’re still here to feed the community, and hopefully we’ll be able to survive.”