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Restaurants contend with a doubling of egg costs

Tom Jones is doing all he can to avoid raising the price of the eggs he serves his loyal customers at Tommy's Cafe in Davenport. Jones isn't alone in his concern over rising prices. Consumers and restaurant owners alike are affected by the avian flu outbreak that has decimated poultry flocks across the nation and has hit especially hard in Iowa.

On May 8, he paid $16.39 for 16 cases of eggs, but on June 1 the price had jumped to $40.98 for 16 cases, or up almost 86 percent.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency May 1 in an effort to contain the disease's spread in the state that leads the nation in egg production. Millions of chickens have been killed in an effort to eradicate the spread of the disease, and that is driving up the prices of eggs.

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council, said the outbreak has been a tragedy for many farmers.

"This has obvious emotional and financial impact on the farmer," he said.

While farms with egg-laying chickens have been hit the hardest, turkey farmers also have been affected, though to a lesser degree.

"But no matter if an egg farm or turkey farm, if exposed to this disease, it is devastating," Olson said.

No one knows when farmers can repopulate their flocks, but Olson said they hope it will be soon.

The speculation and the huge price jumps have restaurant owners such as Jones wondering what to do next.

"I am going to see if it tapers down or flattens out a bit to make adjustments in prices,"  said Jones, whose cafe is at 916 W 3rd St. "Our sales manager was told by our egg suppliers that it could be a year to a year-and-a-half before we get the number of chickens up to where it needs to be."

Larry Selser has owned Maid-Rite restaurants in the Quad-Cities since 1965 and currently operates five. In addition to the signature loose-meat Maid-Rite sandwich, the restaurants are well-known for their hearty breakfast menus.

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