- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - Tom Jones is doing all he can to avoid raising the price of the eggs he serves his loyal customers at Tommy’s Cafe in Davenport.

Jones isn’t alone in his concern over rising prices. Consumers and restaurant owners alike are affected by the avian flu outbreak that has decimated poultry flocks across the nation and has hit especially hard in Iowa, the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1Qrojnf ) reported.

On May 8, he paid $16.39 for 16 cases of eggs, but on June 1 the price had jumped to $40.98 for 16 cases, or up almost 150 percent.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency May 1 in an effort to contain the disease’s spread in the state that leads the nation in egg production. Millions of chickens have been killed in an effort to eradicate the spread of the disease, and that is driving up the prices of eggs.

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council, said the outbreak has been a tragedy for many farmers.

“This has obvious emotional and financial impact on the farmer,” he said.

While farms with egg-laying chickens have been hit the hardest, turkey farmers also have been affected, though to a lesser degree.

“But no matter if an egg farm or turkey farm, if exposed to this disease, it is devastating,” Olson said.

No one knows when farmers can repopulate their flocks, but Olson said they hope it will be soon.

The speculation and the huge price jumps have restaurant owners such as Jones wondering what to do next.

“I am going to see if it tapers down or flattens out a bit to make adjustments in prices,” said Jones. “Our sales manager was told by our egg suppliers that it could be a year to a year-and-a-half before we get the number of chickens up to where it needs to be.”

Larry Selser has owned Maid-Rite restaurants in the Quad-Cities since 1965 and currently operates five. In addition to the signature loose-meat Maid-Rite sandwich, the restaurants are well-known for their hearty breakfast menus.

Like Jones, Selser said his purchase price for eggs has soared in recent weeks. But he vows not to pass the cost to his customers.

“We are going to try to hold as long as we can. I am not concerned,” he said. “It is costly, and I am not getting as many eggs for the money. But my bigger concern is not getting them on a regular basis.”

His most popular breakfast dish is two eggs, toast, hash browns and sausage or bacon for $4.29. For now, that price will not change, he said.

Dan and Rick Riefe have operated Riefe’s restaurant in Davenport for years. Dan Riefe said while they will not charge customers more for egg dishes, he is concerned about the availability of eggs and specialty egg-related products, such as liquid sugar yolk, to make their made-from-scratch puddings.

“That is our fear, the fear of not having enough of the specialty items like sugar yolk. The product is getting harder to get” Dan Riefe said.

Depending on how long it might take to return to normal supplies, Riefe said consumers could see items such as eggnog go up in price or be more scarce during the holidays.

Back at Tommy’s Café, Jones might raise the price 25 cents for his popular two-eggs-and-toast breakfast to $2.75.

But he also is thinking beyond two eggs over easy or scrambled. He needs the staple for his homemade breads and doughnuts. Soon, he may have to hike those prices, too.

“If I can just hold back one more week,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we can stay where it is at and not adjust prices.”

___

Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com


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