For the first time in a long time, there were no chicken wings on the menu of one of the Triangle’s most popular chicken wing joints.
Hillsborough’s Wooden Nickel Public House said there weren’t any chicken wings in the building. The price, owners told customers, had simply climbed too high.
“Hey y’all, if you hadn’t noticed already, the struggle in the food supply world is real right now,” owner Dean James wrote on the Wooden Nickel Facebook page this week. “And unfortunately it means that we’re starting this week off without any chicken wings.”
Instead they ran a fried chicken special, an item rarely on the Wooden Nickel menu, which customers could toss in a wing sauce, if they so desired.
“Due to national shortages and epic demand, both cost and product availability are all over the place right now,” James wrote. “And we’re not sure exactly when this will all level itself out. Rest assured that it will, and that chickens will always have wings (hopefully). They’ll be back on our menu as soon as possible, and we’re doing our best to deal with this hurdle. Wings are obviously pretty important to us, and to you too!!”
Chicken prices have been elevated for the past year, multiple restaurant owners said, but wholesale prices have doubled in the past two months, reaching $150 for 40 pound boxes.
The supply chain issues aren’t just affecting independent restaurants. Large chains like Bojangles and Chick-Fil-A have also reported some menu items being out of stock.
Chicken on the menu
Some restaurants, though, say they have to pay the high wholesale prices and hope for the best.
For Chicken Bee, a Korean fried chicken restaurant in Durham, the name says it all.
“Chicken is our main menu item, we cannot take it off the menu,” owner Ji Hoon Kim said.
Sometimes Chicken Bee’s supplier is out and Kim said he has to run to Restaurant Depot or the grocery store. Kim said that while prices may spike, he can’t move them on the menu, cutting profits or forcing the restaurant to take a loss.
“I know the customer doesn’t want to pay $30 for a 10 piece of chicken,” Kim said. “We’re just trying to hang in there. Hopefully sooner or late prices will be coming back down. We’re OK, it’s just not a lot of profit. Unfortunately we just have to take it.”
For Triangle sports bar Tobacco Road in Raleigh, wings may as well be chiseled into the menu. Owner Alex Amra said he doesn’t want diners to wonder what a sports bar would be without wings.
“You can’t take them off the menu, so right now it’s tough,” Amra said. “The beer helps. Most people, if they’re having chicken wings are also buying a beer, so hopefully we can make it back that way.”
Restaurant owners like Amra said explanations have been vague from suppliers, that there have been COVID issues and transportation disruptions along the supply chain.
Asking for public patience
At Boricua Soul in Durham, co-owner Serena Fredericks said chicken wings have to stay on the menu to help balance the multiple pork dishes, but that they have been buying fewer wings and selling out.
“When we have run out customers have been annoyed,” Fredericks said. “We try to explain there’s a nationwide chicken shortage. The public is just catching up.”
The Puerto Rican restaurant is popular for its slow-roasted pork, collard greens and trays of baked mac and cheese. It did have to increase prices for wings during the winter as chicken prices continued to climb. With increased vaccination, Fredericks said more people seem to be at the American Tobacco Campus, where the restaurant is located, and that the start of Durham Bulls games could bring in more diners.
“All of COVID has been extremely unpredictable,” Fredericks said. “We opened in 2019 so this is our first ball season. I don’t know what we’re going to face. ... I just ask the public to be patient as we work through it.”