San Antonio’s taqueria owners are paying a lot more for eggs, but many say they want to avoid increasing the price of this city’s beloved morning staple.
“I can go up 10 cents [per breakfast taco] — that’s not a lot, right? But that’s not going to cover the cost,” said Helen Velesiotis, who has owned Taco Taco Cafe on Hildebrand Avenue for 24 years.
“How am I going to cover [that] with 10 cents? I’m debating what to do because I want to make sure I don’t close and I have enough to pay my bills, but at the same time, the customer doesn’t want to pay more,” she said.
Like Velesiotis, other San Antonio taqueria owners are feeling the pinch, but are hesitant to raise the menu prices. It would be a last resort, said Maria Beza, owner of Maria’s Cafe on Nogalitos Street, and Cynthia Apolinar, whose parents own The Little Taco Factory on McCullough Avenue.
Both said they would only increase prices if the cost of eggs rose above $100 for their weekly orders, which are usually 12 to 15 dozen eggs.
Last month, the Little Taco Factory paid $90 for 12 dozen eggs; this week, the price decreased to $54, Apolinar said, but that’s still far higher than what the restaurant is used to paying, which was less than $20 for that number of eggs.
Beza said she is currently paying $85 for her typical weekly order of 15 dozen eggs. Velesiotis said Taco Taco Cafe is spending $95 for eggs that used to cost about $20.
Velesiotis said she has turned to Restaurant Depot and Sysco, national restaurant supply companies, for cheaper eggs, recently paying about $65 for 150 eggs.
Beza said business remains steady, which has made up for the extra money she’s spending to cover the higher cost of eggs, but she doesn’t know how much longer she can hold out.
“We might increase the prices a little bit, but not too much,” said Beza. “I know people’s struggles, too, and they can’t afford it. We’re here to serve the community.”
A recent small drop in egg prices — Beza said paid about $5 less than last week — has her hoping that she can avoid an increase.
Why are eggs so expensive?
The wild fluctuation in egg prices is the result of a confluence of factors, say experts. Those include pandemic-related supply chain issues; rising diesel prices, which affect the cost of feed; and high demand for chicken and eggs during the holiday season.
Avian influenza, or bird flu, has been one of the most extreme stressors on the system. The disease first hit poultry farms back in March, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has labeled the virus strain extremely infectious and fatal to chickens, spreading rapidly from flock to flock. Egg-laying hens have been hit particularly hard, according to federal reports, making those that remain more expensive.
The outbreak has caused the deaths of nearly 58 million poultry, according to USDA data, far surpassing the 2015 outbreak.
Industry professionals, including veterinarians and farmers, told the Wall Street Journal recently there is no way to stop the spread, comparing it to how easily COVID-19 spread among humans. The virus must simply be allowed to run its course, they say.
That’s little comfort to local restaurant owners, whose profit margins are thin in the best of times.
Beza’s husband, Thomas Beza, said the higher prices the restaurant is paying for for many staple ingredients, not just eggs, is hurting his wife’s business.
“She’s trying to keep [costs] as low as she can in order for our people to continue to enjoy her food. To her, it does hurt her and affect where, if people don’t understand the prices of meat, the prices of eggs and everything that’s going up,” he said.
Taco Taco Cafe’s Velesiotis isn’t sure what she’ll do either. She said rising costs have been one of many hardships small businesses like hers are facing.
“It’s harder because you can’t find employees. I’m sure all the owners are working themselves right now,” adding that she has been working long hours, cleaning and cooking, filling in for employees she can’t hire at her restaurant.
When egg prices were at their peak last month, Apolinar asked her mother if she should raise breakfast taco prices.
Her mother insisted on leaving prices alone, hoping the increase in egg costs would be temporary. The Little Taco Factory plans on riding it out for at least another two months, Apolinar said — but she hopes customers will understand if they do have raise prices.
“A lot of times you don’t know what [small businesses are] going through,” she said. “Sometimes, yes, we do raise our prices, but it’s not because we want to get richer. It’s just to keep afloat.”