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How Restaurants Are Dealing With the National Egg Shortage

Brace for reduced breakfast hours, tofu scrambles, and egg substitutes.

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Restaurants are turning to a variety of strategies to deal with the massive egg shortage that has hit the country. According to the Los Angeles Times, an incredible number of egg-producing chickens have died since December thanks to three deadly strains of avian influenza. Across the nation, nearly 43 million birds in 15 states either died or got so sick they had to be euthanized. Chad Gregory — the chief executive of trade group United Egg Producers — notes that "this is a devastation unlike any other in the history of our industry." With prices high and supplies low, restaurants are no longer able to serve egg dishes as usual.

Whataburger limited its breakfast hours in response to the egg shortage.

San Antonio, Texas-based Whataburger took drastic steps to combat the shortage. WFAA writes that the chain has temporarily reduced its breakfast hours due to the low supply of eggs. Starting today, Whataburger will only serve breakfast for four hours on the weekdays, and six hours on the weekend (while supplies last), instead of offering the menu items from 11 p.m. until 11 a.m. The chain adds, "We know this is no fun for anyone and hope this doesn't last long, and we apologize the supply of eggs cannot currently meet demand." However, other chains like Starbucks have yet to be affected. A spokesperson tells Eater, "We work with key suppliers across the country to manage our supply of core ingredients and at this time, we are not seeing an impact."

Other restaurants are turning to alternative egg sources and substitutes. Texas restaurant Monterrey Café tells KRGV that they had to stop using their normal egg distributor because prices have increased drastically. Instead they are buying eggs from bulk store Sam's Club. Hampton Creek — a San Francisco company that manufactures plant-based egg substitutes — tells the San Francisco Business Times that demand for its product has drastically gone up. CEO Josh Tetrick says that in the past few days, Hampton Creek has received "more than 20 calls from food companies." The company recently shipped "thousands of pounds" of its powdered egg substitute to General Mills so that food manufacturer could use it in its bakery mixes. Restaurant management company Bon Appetit — which operates cafeterias at universities and cafes at places like Disneylandsays it is now incorporating an eggless mayo alternative by Just Mayo into its dishes.

Would you eat a tofu scramble instead of scrambled eggs?

A spokesperson for the restaurant management company tells the New York Times that they are working with their chefs to "change recipes to eliminate eggs." At the Dominican University of California, executive chef Joe Debono is now making egg dishes to order — instead of serving them buffet style — to eliminate waste. When making fried chicken, Debono skips the egg wash in favor of just buttermilk. Some Bon Appetit chefs are using silken tofu instead of eggs in dishes like scrambles and omlettes, while others are turning to more "European" breakfast fare like sliced ham and smoked salmon.

The Los Angeles Times writes that the avian flu mainly affected hens that produce eggs that are "sold in liquid form" to restaurants and manufacturers of items like ice cream and salad dressing. This means the epidemic hasn't affected everyone yet. A few restaurant owners in Minnesota tell Kare 11 that the shortage hasn't been a problem for them so far. They attribute this to the fact that they use whole eggs that they buy from "local, small, organic farmers that have yet to have an issue." Mashall Paulsen, the head chef of the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis, notes, "[The farmers] don't keep their chickens in too tight of spaces so I don't feel that disease has been a major problem for them yet, if at all they seem pretty relaxed about it."

Eater has reached out to major chains and restaurants in the Midwest for comment.

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