HAMPTON—Chicken wings. They’re tasty. They’re messy. They’re fun. And getting every delicious morsel off them is a challenge that many people readily accept. But now that a national shortage of the tempting appetizers is threatening the overall supply, people are starting to take notice. Especially the local restaurants that rely on them as a menu staple.
According to local restaurant owners, demand for chicken wings normally skyrockets around the timeframe leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, and stays high for the following two weeks. This year, the demand has continued—in fact, increased—and is depleting the available supply.
One theory as to why is that wings are a great comfort food that can be easily packaged and transported or delivered. Because of COVID-19 and the increase in ordering food for delivery, wings have become a natural addition to most orders. Another theory is that people are taking advantage of the fact that many COVID restrictions are finally starting to ease.
“I think people are starting to go out more and they probably haven’t had wings like they did before the pandemic,” says Randy Thomas, owner of The Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery in Hampton. “I’m assuming those people are just getting back into their pre-pandemic habits of going out and getting appetizers and drinks.”
Thomas says the shortage hasn’t impacted him heavily as of yet. But that could change today. “On Wednesdays, for more than a year or so now, we’ve had Wing Wednesday where we would sell our wings for 75 cents apiece, which is basically at cost,” he said. “The idea is to get people to come in and buy additional food and drinks to offset the profit loss. I have tried to power through that, but now that the wings are costing me more than $1 each, I can’t afford to do it anymore. So, we’re cancelling Wing Wednesday until further notice.”
According to his suppliers, Thomas believes the chicken wing shortage should be done and things will be back to normal as soon as May or June. Time will tell.
For Mo Khayat, Owner of the Hampton Gus’s NY Pizza on Towne Center Way, this is another hit that follows a long succession of setbacks caused by the pandemic. It started last year when COVID-19 shut down Italy for several months. Khayat’s distributor gets their pasta from Italy but suddenly couldn’t get spaghetti or penne from there. Then, restaurants could only provide pickup or curbside service. Now that dine-in service is opening back up, the chicken wing shortage is one more hurdle to conquer.
“There aren’t a lot of people that are aware of the wing shortage yet,” said Khayat. “I told my staff that prices are changing because there is a nationwide shortage, and everybody was kind of laughing about it. But it’s not a joke. It’s serious. I’m paying more than double for wings now and they’re not easy to get. I used to get five to seven boxes per week, but now I’m down to just a box or two, if I get lucky and can get them at all.”
Khayat is hoping the issue will resolve itself before he has to make a tough decision. “Prices change. You can’t really do anything about that,” he said. “Either you have to pass that cost on to customers or make the decision that chicken wings aren’t going to be profitable to the point where you can’t sell them anymore.”
Fortunately, Khayat reports that his customers have been very understanding about all of the issues the pandemic has brought with it. “Seventy to 80 percent of my customers order wings,” he said. “Even with the price increase we ran out of chicken wings twice last week, which is the first time that has ever happened to me. But customers have been great throughout the pandemic in trying to support local businesses, so we’re happy about that and very grateful for it. It definitely helped us not to close our doors.”