Meat shortages put strain on North Houston meat shops, restaurants

For Spring-area barbecue joint CorkScrew BBQ, owner and pitmaster WIll Buckman said steep price hikes in meat products have added to the challenge of operating a restaurant amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)
For Spring-area barbecue joint CorkScrew BBQ, owner and pitmaster WIll Buckman said steep price hikes in meat products have added to the challenge of operating a restaurant amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

For Spring-area barbecue joint CorkScrew BBQ, owner and pitmaster WIll Buckman said steep price hikes in meat products have added to the challenge of operating a restaurant amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

While some North Houston-area meat suppliers and eateries have experienced an increase in consumer demand for meat products during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, business owners said product shortages and frequent price changes from meat processing plants across the country remain a challenge.

Raymond Skelton, owner of Ainsworth Meats on FM 2978 in Magnolia, said his store saw a large increase in customer demand after grocery stores were hit with meat shortages at the pandemic’s onset in mid-March.

“[There's] panic on the brain so [customers] buy in excess,” Skelton said. “Eventually,it will settle down, but it will be more than what I was running before.”

While Ainsworth Meats acts as a secondary supplier to some restaurants, Skelton said the meat shop mainly caters to individual consumers. According to Skelton, increased demand has even allowed the store to hire a couple of new employees to keep up with the increase in business.

“Since this started two and a half months ago, there has only been one day where I had to close early because I only had $200 worth of meat [left],” he said.

Similarly, Mike Majkszak, owner of Majkszak's Meat Market on Davis Street in Conroe, said his business has received an estimated 800 new customers since the pandemic started.

“I just hope and pray that when this is all over with, the people don't forget about the little man and go back to the big-box stores to find their meat,” Majkszak said. “We’ve strived very hard to keep this place very clean, very functional and full of product.”

However, Majkszak said the price he pays for red meat has doubled in recent weeks, causing his business to raise the price of certain products.

“Our ground beef ... Traditionally, I sell it for $4.99 a pound. [Now], I have it on the shelf at $8.99,” he said. “An invoice that I paid $10,560 for last Friday—if I would have gotten that truck in on March 1, ... it would have cost me roughly $6,800.”

Large-scale grocery retailers, such as H-E-B, have also experienced a disruption in supply for certain meat products. According to Lisa Helfman, H-E-B public affairs director in Houston, said this is a result of issues in the meat supply industry nationwide.

“We have product limits in place to protect product availability for all our customers, and currently, we have a strong supply of meat in our stores, which we replenish daily,” Helfman said in a statement. “While customers could see a temporary rise in meat prices for some products, H-E-B will continue to act aggressively to bring Texans some of the lowest meat prices in the nation.”

Following an outbreak of 700 positive coronavirus cases in Amarillo earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement May 16 identifying meat processing plants as an at-risk area for increased coronavirus cases.

According to the statement, processing plants with outbreaks, such as those in Amarillo, experienced temporary shutdowns to allow for proper disinfection protocols.

"As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meat packing plants and jails," Abbott said in the statement.

Down the supply chain, local barbecue joints, such as Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue on Elm Street in Tomball, have also had to adapt to changes in supply and pricing. According to co-owner Scott Moore, the eatery has had to take on more product than usual to cushion supply shortages from meat processors.

“We bought some frozen [meat] product when normally we'd buy only fresh,” Moore said. “I actually bought a 30-day inventory of brisket to protect ourselves a little bit. ... It extended our cash flow problem a little bit to carry that extra inventory.”

Moore said that so far, the eatery has been able to absorb the price hikes in order to avoid major changes to the menu. However, he said that decision may be re-evaluated should prices remain high in the coming weeks.

“We're dealing with lower revenue, and then, it's kind of a punch in the gut to turn around and be faced with supply problems and [price] increases in your supply,” Moore said. “We sold brisket today for $25 a pound. If I had to apply the cost model to today's brisket price, I should be selling brisket for $41 a pound.”

Will Buckman, owner and pitmaster at CorkScrew BBQ on Keith Street in Spring, said barbecue items, such as brisket, can be difficult to turn a profit after fat and cook time reduce the amount of meat actually given to customers. Buckman said the recent price hikes further add to the barbecue industry’s challenges.

“We're losing 50%-60% ... of that brisket before it hits the customer's plate,” Buckman said. “So already, at $8 a pound, we're $16 into it just in loss and cost. Then, you add in the wood, [and] you add in the employees [and] everything else [that goes into] the restaurant's cost. ... It's hard to break even on that product sometimes.”

As the price for meat has increased, restaurant owners said they worry about transferring that cost to their customers.

Curtis Morris, co-owner of Bonfire Grill on Main Street in Tomball, said his concern behind the issue of meat supply for his restaurant is the price.

“The reason behind [the increase in price] is that the manufacturing facilities themselves have been closed down [due] to possible infections from COVID-19,” he said.

Morris said he does not want to raise the price of all his dishes because it would not be fair to the community during these unprecedented times.

“Our community has also been impacted by this, and a lot of people have lost their jobs, and [they] don’t have a huge bank account to come out and spend a lot of money on that,” he said.

Bonfire Grill does have a seasonal menu, and Morris said he is looking to reduce the amount of meat—specifically, beef—featured on that menu.

“I have had to look at a lot of things because I do flex my menu seasonally,” he said. “So if beef is going to be a little higher, I limit the amount of beef that is going to be on the menu.”

Morris added that he expects this situation to last a couple more months before prices start to drop.

Adriana Rezal - Dylan Sherman


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