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Local breakfast spots scramble to cope with egg costs and shortages

The now-precious crucial ingredient is causing restaurants to raise prices and find ways to be creative with their menus.

Kevin Santamaria prepared a dish with eggs at Cafe Luna in Cambridge.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Teri Haymer, the owner and chef at Café Luna in Cambridge, buys about 300 dozen eggs a week. They make up about 95 percent of the breakfast menu at her restaurant, so Haymer can’t just drop them. That’s left her with one unsavory option: charging more. But she knows even loyal customers might reach a breaking point.

“[Eggs] touch almost every single dish, if not all,” Haymer said.

Egg prices were up by nearly 60 percent in December from the prior year, according to consumer price index data released in January. The average price of a dozen eggs was $4.25 as of December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Lately, prices have begun to ease a bit, but ― for a number of reasons ― the days of relatively cheap eggs are not returning anytime soon.

First, there is the ongoing threat of avian flu. By the end of December, more than 43 million egg-laying hens were lost to the avian flu or to depopulation since the outbreak began in February 2022 — causing egg prices to reach a record high. According to the Department of Agriculture, 58.2 million birds had been affected by the avian flu as of Jan. 31.

In Massachusetts, the increased prices can also be partly attributed to the state’s cage-free hen policy. Voters approved a referendum in 2016 to mandate that all pork, veal, and eggs farmed and sold in the state must come from livestock that was not confined to tight spaces and were cage-free. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2022, requires one square foot per bird in a “multi-tier aviary,” allowing hens room to move vertically.

Inflation and ongoing transportation issues also have contributed to higher costs.

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Omelets at Café Luna have gone up by $2 and having eggs as a side went from $3 to $5. Haymer said she is spending between $54 to $70 for a case of 15 dozen eggs. This time last year, it was about $30 to $36 a case, she said.

“We’ve been doing this for 16 years, and eggs were once $15 a case,” Haymer said. “You go from $15 to $50 — it’s very dramatic.”

She also worries about the supply of eggs ― once in awhile she is unable to receive her usual shipment.

Other than increasing the prices on items, Haymer has also removed some ingredients that have gotten too expensive, including some garnishes.

“I’m trying to find other things that affect the bottom line that I can get rid of without really hurting our menu per se,” she said.

Sol Sidell, the owner of South Street Diner, buys 400 dozen eggs a week. He says his prices have increased between 20 and 40 percent over the last year.

While Sidell has not removed anything from the menu, he has made some adjustments. For example, steak and eggs has lost its prominent place on the menu in favor of pancakes, which he hopes will be more profitable.

Sidell has also looked into expanding the restaurant’s delivery services by adding UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash, Grubhub, and Caviar to the kitchen screens for “efficient and accurate ordering.”

Karla Chacon prepared an egg dish at Cafe Luna in Cambridge. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

To ensure that consistency in recipes, Sidell bought a scrambled egg machine in 2020, before COVID. It provides a 97 percent yield on scrambled eggs compared with cracking eggs by hand, which would give 80 percent, he said.

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“When we make an omelet or scramble eggs, we want our employees to use the same amount every time,” Sidell said. “[We make sure] they don’t put an extra egg in it [because] even though it might look better, the cost is financially prohibitive.”

Beyond menu items, Sidell said, egg prices have affected products it doesn’t charge customers for.

“[People] forget that eggs are in other products. What used to cost $15 for mayonnaise is now $50,” he said.

Lisa Kaloostian, who owns Uncommon Grounds in Watertown with her husband, Peter Kaloostian, said the restaurant has only modestly increased prices. Omelets, for instance, went from $10 to $11. But she’s also cut her own pay in half to absorb some of the added costs.

For her, eggs are just another in a long list of economic issues the restaurant is dealing with, including labor shortages, increased utility bills, and higher food prices in general because of inflation.

Her husband is still trying to look on the sunny side when it comes to the cost of eggs.

“I think we could increase our prices more, and people would understand, but I am an optimist, thinking that next week or next month, [we] will see some movement in a downward trend,” Peter Kaloostian said. “If I wasn’t an optimist, I would not be a restaurant owner.”

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Hannah Nguyen can be reached at hannah.nguyen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannahcnguyen.