In the past month, it's become common to encounter empty egg sections at grocery stores or suffer sticker shock if you are able to find eggs in stock — the result of a shortage driven by a recent avian flu outbreak.
But Alen Ramos and Carolyn Nugent, the co-owners of Poulette Bakeshop
in Parker, our 2022 pick for Best Bakery
, have been anxiously tracking the price of eggs since the pandemic started. “Back in December 2021, commercially we were paying $30 to $40 [per fifteen-dozen case] for organic brown eggs with Hickman Farms and from purveyors. Then they became unavailable all of a sudden, and we were told the avian flu meant the factory had to ‘reset their flock,’” Ramos explains.
When the bakery was offered only poor-quality alternatives (Poulette uses fresh eggs that have been hatched less than thirty days prior in their high-quality baked goods), the husband-and-wife team were forced to drive around town from Costco to Costco, paying $50 to $60 per case when they were able to find eggs at all. Fast-forward to this month: “I checked yesterday, because we’re getting ready to start placing orders, and it’s $130 [per case] with our purveyors,” Ramos says.
The bakery currently goes through about 8,000 eggs in a month — nearly everything on its menu uses the ingredient, including its popular brioche loaves, macarons, mousse pies and cakes, sponge cakes and custard pastries. Eggs have become the priciest component on its bottom line, even beating out the cost of importing Valrhona chocolate, a premium French chocolate many bakers consider to be the best in the world.
Almost everything on Poulette's menu uses eggs.
Uncertain about what to do, Poulette posted about its predicament
on Instagram on January 5, asking for input from its customers. “One hundred percent of the people who commented said, raise your prices and we’ll continue to support you,” Nugent notes. “So that was really great to see.”
With the current price of eggs, Ramos predicts that the bakery will need to increase the cost of its brioche loaves by $2, while all other products on the menu that use eggs will need to go up by 15 to 20 cents. However, it’s not as simple as updating menu prices if egg prices continue to increase unpredictably. “We just want a stable price, and just the ability to get a high-quality egg, even if it is $100 per case," Ramos explains. “We can’t plan our business if the prices keep rising. We can’t raise our prices every week, because then we’ll just be part of the problem [of inflation].”
Even if Poulette’s customer base seems ready and willing to accept price changes, other businesses walk a tightrope between increasing prices and not upsetting customers. Breakfast Queen
on South Broadway in Englewood is a beloved local diner that relies on its reputation as a cheap, tasty spot for locals to get their breakfast fix; about two-thirds of its menu includes eggs. “I already raised the prices once, right after the pandemic, and people were not happy at us when we did,” says co-owner George Vasilas. “There’s nothing I can do about it — eggs have more than tripled in price. But if restaurants were to triple their prices, no one would eat at them.” Instead, Vasilas notes that the restaurant is considering increasing menu prices by $1 to $2 to compensate for the increased cost of eggs and other ingredients.
Breakfast Queen in Englewood serves a lot of eggs.
Courtesy of the Breakfast Queen
While Vasilas acknowledges the impact of inflation and avian flu, which have caused egg prices to increase nationwide, he also points to the cage-free egg law that went into effect in Colorado on January 1
. “It’s already hard enough and tight enough to run a small business in this economy,” Vasilas says. “Look, I know the government’s not going to do anything for us. I’m not asking for help; they just shouldn’t make it harder to run a business.”
This business owner has become especially frustrated at some patrons' reaction to the high prices. While he’s quick to point out that the vast majority of Breakfast Queen’s clientele are extremely loyal and understanding, he’s seen several instances where patrons have stiffed waiters on tips. “People are shocked by the high prices, and then say it’s coming out of your tip. And that’s a really crusty thing to do,” Vasilas notes. “This is their livelihood, and they’re busting their hump. Look, if you can’t afford to tip your server, then don’t go out.”
Increasing menu prices is the only real option for most owners in this market, with most unwilling to switch to liquid egg or egg-substitute alternatives based on quality concerns, anticipated customer blowback or just sheer impossibility. “We make everything from scratch. I mean, a lot of our eggs are over easy or fried,” explains Mark Nery, owner of brunch favorite Onefold
. “There’s not much I can do. I can’t change the menu.”
Nery did consider reducing portion sizes, but Onefold’s reputation for large servings made him hesitant. “We’ll at least need to raise everything by $1 in the next few weeks, then hope to bring it back down if [costs] go down,” he notes. At one point, the hassle and cost of eggs were so great, he considered buying some land and starting his own chicken farm. Ultimately, though, he discarded the idea, thinking that by the time his Onefold chicken farm was up and running, the price of eggs would, with any luck, have come back down.
Bacon fried rice with duck fat-fried eggs from Onefold.
Andrea Gralow Media LLC
Although eggs have gotten a lot of attention recently, restaurant and bakery owners are seeing increases in the cost of everything, from butter, cream and produce to gas and labor. “In two and a half years, we’ve seen increases for every single item,” says Ismael De Sousa, owner and head baker at Reunion Bread Co
. in RiNo. “I did increase our bread from $9 to $9.50, but it doesn’t make up for the increase in cost. Labor, which was $12 minimum wage…this year it went up to $17. ... Our ovens operate on gas, which has gone up a crazy amount.”
De Sousa sees this as an American-centric phenomenon; he says that prices have not increased at the local bakeries and supermarkets in London and Paris, where he's currently visiting. In part, he credits that to the fact that European governments often regulate the price of bread as well as the upstream ingredients. And anecdotally, he says that eating out in London and Paris, two of the most expensive cities in the world, is now comparable to eating out in Denver, which is astonishing to him.
He sees America heading down a similar road as his former home country of Venezuela. “Two years ago, I told everyone and all my employees that inflation is going to go through the roof,” De Sousa recalls. “I lived in Venezuela, which had the biggest inflation on earth, like a million percent a year, where the price in the morning isn’t the same as the evening. I just see the exact same situation, where everything was cooking for this to happen.”
Bread from Reunion inside Zeppelin Station.
When he gets back to Reunion Bread, De Sousa anticipates that he’ll need to increase prices a little more to keep up with costs, but he is hesitant to do so at a rate proportional to the increase in the cost of his ingredients. He hopes to compensate by putting in more hours himself to reduce the cost of labor, being more efficient, and hoping that the business’s reputation for high-quality goods will keep his customers loyal.
That's a hope echoed by many owners. Pricey eggs are just the latest obstacle that has the food industry scrambling to stay profitable, and one more reason that dining out is more expensive than ever.