SAN ANTONIO – Except for face masks and an empty dining room, lunch time at The Barbecue Station seemed normal enough. A stream of customers walked in to grab take-out sandwiches and plates. But, make no mistake, the pandemic has butchered the barbecue business with low and slow revenue and beefed-up costs.
“Everything has gone up a little bit, but brisket has been outrageous, and brisket is half the meat we sell, ” said Stewart Peacock, whose family runs The Barbecue Station on Loop 410′s north side.
Two weeks ago, Peacock said he paid $3.60 for a pound of prime brisket. Last week, he paid $6.29.
“What a lot of people don’t understand -- you pay $6.29 for a pound of brisket, and by the time you trim and smoke it, your yield is half,” Peacock said.
Do the math and you can see brisket prices are eating their lunch.
At The Big Bib BBQ on Lanark Drive, operators have seen their brisket costs double, too.
“I’ve never seen it this high, and I’m the one who does the ordering,” said pit master Tamu Gonzales.
She said they last paid $8.06 per pound of prime brisket.
Restaurants can eat increased costs of goods for a while. But these spikes have become untenable for many that are trying to manage costs and payroll during an extended shutdown.
As a result, many restaurants are passing along at least some of their increase to customers by way of select upcharges or menu price changes.
“We went up a little on our brisket price, not a lot, because we understand we still have to be mindful of our customers,” Gonzales said.
It can be a balancing act, trying to bring in enough cash while not running off customers by charging unpalatable prices.
At Big Bib BBQ, the dining room remains closed, but curbside service continues. Gonzales said they are grateful for the customers that continue to come by.
Just last week, Peacock said he raised prices across the board by a bit, and brisket by a bit more -- from $15.99 to $20.99 per pound. It was the first price increase in two and a half years.
Until beef prices stabilize, higher menu prices may be a necessity for a growing number of restaurants that serve up the Texas tradition.
“I heard of places around the state may be taking brisket off the menu,” Peacock said. “But I don’t think we can do that."