Berkeley restaurants

SF restaurants and markets brace for Thanksgiving turkey shortage

Turkey lovers might be in for a Thanksgiving shock. With bird flu killing at least 3.6% of the nation’s turkeys this year — coupled with supply shortages and drought in the farming industry, according to the New York Times — it will be harder and more expensive than ever to get your hands on one.

But it’s not just the Thanksgiving bird that’s in danger, it’s also your lunchtime turkey sandwich. Delicatessens and butchers in San Francisco are already feeling the effects of the shortage.

“It’s like pulling teeth trying to get turkeys from companies,” said Sal Qaqundah, owner of Arguello Market, a San Francisco cult cult for its “world famous” turkey sandwich.

He said that while the Arguello Market has been able to maintain its turkey supply so far, thanks to booking well in advance, he doesn’t know what will happen closer to Thanksgiving.

An employee cuts pieces of turkey to make a hot roast turkey sandwich at Arguello Market in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2022. The market is the self-proclaimed home of the ‘World Famous Turkey Sandwich’.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“I always use multiple suppliers because I don’t want to depend on just one,” Qaqundah said. “…One of the suppliers – I also have a plan B and a plan C – promised me that he would have turkeys soon, but he delayed three times.”

Marina Meats, a butcher shop in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood, is also bracing for what could happen to its entire turkey supply later this month.

“We could expect a 50% shortage on everything we did last year,” manager Guillermo Pescador said. “So it’s going to be a tough time, trying to fill all the orders. If we have to do that, we might have to bring things out of state, even though we’re trying to source from small local farms.

Deli Board owner Adam Mesnick said he had been aware of the impending turkey shortage since late July, when he warned his Instagram followers: “It’s going to be a poultry show for the rest of This year. Hide a bird in the freezer for Thanksgiving, don’t tell me I didn’t tell you.



“Really since that time I’ve had to manage my turkey stock pretty tightly,” Mesnick said. “I have turkey right now, but there have been times over the last two months where I’ve had to ration or haven’t had a turkey.”

Turkey is Deli Board’s most popular lunch meat, he said, so it’s very hard to live without. Mesnick has generally only been able to access about two-thirds of his needed turkey supply over the past five months, so he has occasionally had to substitute ham in some sandwiches.

“I try to do my best to find a product to replace it, but there really is no replacement for turkey,” Mesnick said. “It’s a huge problem.”

With the decrease in supply, turkey prices have also increased. In grocery stores, fresh, skinless turkey breasts cost up to 112% more than last year, according to Wisconsin State Farmer. As of this week, frozen turkey is selling for an average of $1.99 per pound, which is a 73% increase over last year, the USDA reported.

Roast turkeys for sandwiches at Arguello Market in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2022. The market is the self-proclaimed home of the 'World Famous Turkey Sandwich'.

Roast turkeys for sandwiches at Arguello Market in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2022. The market is the self-proclaimed home of the ‘World Famous Turkey Sandwich’.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

In delicatessens and restaurants, this price increase is also passed on to customers.

“We didn’t raise the price much, but we had to because the price of turkey went up 15 to 20 percent,” Qaqundah said. “I don’t like doing that. It’s our signature, everyone loves turkey [sandwich].”

Augie’s Montreal Deli, which closed its Berkeley store last month due to soaring meat prices, still sells smoked turkey and other wholesale products in the Bay Area.

“Getting turkey was very difficult,” said owner Lex Gopnik-Lewinski. “Ours costs almost $2 more per pound than our beef. I was told this was the first time in forever that turkey was more expensive than beef.

Mesnick also said the price of turkey sandwiches at Deli Board had caught up with the price of corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. Pescador said they are seeing up to a 25% price increase for whole turkeys.

A customer holds a hot roast turkey sandwich at the Arguello Market in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2022. The market is the self-proclaimed home of the 'World Famous Turkey Sandwich'.

A customer holds a hot roast turkey sandwich at the Arguello Market in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2022. The market is the self-proclaimed home of the ‘World Famous Turkey Sandwich’.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

For those worried about getting the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving table, however, experts aren’t saying it’ll be impossible. Shoppers may not have as wide a variety of choices as they usually do, The New York Times reported.

Best advice for turkey seekers? Order your Thanksgiving bird early this year.

“We’re taking orders for Thanksgiving, but I’m asking people to confirm us before the 15th,” said Qaqundah, who also sells whole turkeys at Arguello Market for the holidays. “We put people on the waiting list, and of course we give priority to our regular customers.”

Pescador said Marina Meats posted signs in the store telling customers about bird flu and encouraging them to order early. It’s up in the air if the store will be able to accommodate last-minute turkey orders.

“We should be able to do quotas, but it depends,” he said. “We still have time until Thanksgiving. We’ll cut it close.