HARLINGEN— In the beginning of the pandemic, toilet paper was scarce. Now, another shortage is affecting restaurant owners.

Nationally, chicken wing processors are low in supply and because of the high demand, prices are rising.

On Monday, Wing Barn released a statement on how the shortage is affecting business.

Bobby Saenz, CEO and owner, said the shortage has been ongoing for two months. However, it has begun to be critical and becoming an issue for the restaurant chain.

“We move around 20,000 pounds of chicken wings a week and right now our current supplier stopped providing. We are having to outsource some of these wings and it is roughly around 500 cases,” Saenz said.

Not only are the wings hard to find but the quality and size Wing Barn needs is not available either.

“Wing Barn is known for jumbo wings and right now they are unavailable, we can’t find them,” Saenz said.

“We are taking risks of quality and reputation. We definitely built our foundation on what we serve,” he said.

At the moment, the chain is serving a smaller sized wing. Saenz said it is an issue because clients are unfamiliar with the size.

Saenz’s suppliers said to him it is unknown how long the shortage will continue. The global pandemic as well as the February Texas freeze affected poultry in general. According to restaurantbusinessonline.com, the current cold storage stock of chicken wings is at its lowest in a decade, said Isaac Olvera, a commodities and data analyst with supply chain firm ArrowStream, citing United States Department of Agriculture figures.

The site also added the shortage might force restaurants to explore other chicken options. Wingstop revealed in November that it is testing bone-in chicken thighs to insulate itself from the volatility of the wing market, part of a broader “whole-bird strategy” for the chain. Another chain named Wingers said it is promoting its Buffalo Cauliflower Wings as a plant-based alternative.

In usfoods.com an article said analysts expect the increases to continue through April, followed by a very tight supply situation in May and June.

Saenz said before the pandemic, one pound of chicken cost $1.90. Now, the prices have increased to $4 a pound.

“It is definitely a challenging situation but we want our customers to continue to come to Wing Barn and try the other things we do have on the menu,” he said.

In essence, customers have been understanding of the situation, Saenz said. However, for the restaurant, 2020 and 2021 have been the hardest years to sustain.

Monica Saenz-Vigil, Director of Marketing for Wing Barn, said the reason the chain made a statement was for the public to know the reasons behind the issue.

“This is a local family owned business bred in the RGV and we are just asking for the support. We need the community to understand,” Saenz-Vigil said.

Wing Barn is not the only local restaurant struggling. Toriz Wings, located in San Benito and Harlingen, is having trouble as well. Ventura Garcia, Assistant Manager, said a wing shortage is expected around Super Bowl season. However, there is no comparison with the limited amount of quantities there are now.

Ventura Garcia, Assistant Manager at Toriz Wings in Harlingen, shows a plate of the bone in wings they still have available although they have had difficulty purchasing wings from suppliers who say they are not available. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

“It is normal but not as bad as this time. Typically around Super Bowl time, prices go up and we would buy a box under a $100 and around those dates they would be $110 or $120 and now they are $140,” Garcia said.

The size issue is concurring for Toriz Wings too. No jumbo wings are available and the restaurant has had to pay the same prices for a smaller size.

“When the freeze happened we noticed the shortage. We were struggling to find a supplier who could find our wings,” she said.

“Usually we order and they bring the next day and we had to wait for about a week. I know a lot of other people struggling in the restaurant business,” Garcia said.

The increase in prices are what Garcia finds to be the biggest concern. Especially because the restaurant would not want to raise their prices as well. However, Garcia said clients have been understanding of the lack of wings and the changes in size.

“We had to up our price once but right now everyone is going through a hard time financially and we do not want to do that,” she said.

“I don’t know when things will get back to normal. I remember a few years back we had the same problem, poultry in general. It took a while for everything to go back to normal,” Garcia said.