Meat is piling up at Chicago restaurants as customers worried about COVID cancel reservations

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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the omicron variant are impacting the restaurant industry – and in the steak world, it has apparently led to a backlog of meat as steakhouses cancel orders.

Andrew Neva, owner and vice president of operations for the Northwest Meat Company in Chicago, has seen this impact firsthand.

In a recent interview with FOX Business Network’s Grady Trimble, Neva shared the news that he had purchased around $25,000-$30,000 worth of meat to prepare for restaurant demand – but the pandemic presented unexpected challenges for his business.

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“Before omicron, I bought all these products because, as we know, everyone wanted to go out. So, I bought all these products in October, I had to pay in November,” Neva explained.

Racks of meat displayed in a butcher’s window. (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“Then when omicron came along…all of my high end steakhouses canceled their reservations. So as a result now I’m sitting on all these products that I still haven’t been paid for.”

These unsold premium cuts now sit in the wholesale meat distributor’s freezer as the company waits for a change in demand.

In a phone interview with FOX Business Digital on Sunday, Neva said the current spike in COVID-19 infections has led to more consumers sheltering in place rather than dining out.

As of January 23, 2022, data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard shows more than 283,890 people have been infected with the respiratory virus over a 28-day period in Cook County – home to Chicago, the third largest city ​​in the United States

The state of Illinois as a whole recorded 752,060 infections during the same period, according to the online tracker.

“With the omicron variant in Chicago and the large number of people getting sick, and then obviously the fear of congregating in large groups, especially indoors, you’ve had a lot of cancellations,” Neva said. “The part of the business that was affected was kind of your high-end steakhouses. You know, it’s for your holiday parties, your once-a-year get-togethers, your special events.”

He continued, “Well, they’ll be the first to go and they were the first to go. So, therefore, all of the products I’ve purchased for that high-end market are still on my shelf.”

Restaurants that haven’t canceled bulk orders are also sitting on cuts of meat and likely storing them in their coolers until regular restaurants eat it all up, Neva added.

While Neva expects to see a modest rebound in the industry around Valentine’s Day, other factors that may be playing a role in defrosted meat demand include rising prices and severe winter storms.

“It’s a lot more expensive to go out. Inflation is rampant in our industry. Our food inflation hovers around 20%. So if you go out, it’s going to cost you a lot more,” Neva said.

“In addition to the weather, we had a big snowstorm. If you have a huge snowstorm, then forget about it.”

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Neva continued: “My clients are considering [on] special places and all that. But what people will do will remain to be seen.”

He also said, “I’m going to plan it, but at the end of the day, that’s what it’s going to be, and I’m just going to roll with it.”

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