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Chicken restaurant forced to close for lack of fresh poultry

Fresh chicken in short supply because flooding in Fraser Valley has shut down chicken farms, destroyed transport routes
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Deep fried battered chicken from Chicken 649 in Victoria. TIMES COLONIST

It has been surviving the pandemic by switching to just takeout and delivery, but when the centrepiece of its menu became impossible to find, even Chicken 649 was forced to take a break.

The four-year-old Korean fried chicken restaurant on Quadra Street was closed on Monday — and may stay closed for the next week. It’s been unable to source enough fresh chicken to keep its fryers busy, as a result of flooding in the Fraser Valley that shut down production at several chicken farms.

Owner Heejin Kim said Costco, the restaurant’s usual supplier, didn’t have chicken on Friday, and on Saturday, it could only provide about a third of what they would normally order in a day.

“We opened Saturday until [we] sold out, and now we don’t have chicken at the restaurant,” she said.

“One supplier said their chicken supplier is trying to find a new route to deliver to the Island via the U.S. and it will take a while. Another supplier said their chicken comes from Abbotsford and the chicken farm is flooded and it will take a few weeks to get back to normal.”

Island grocery stores that rely on Fraser Valley producers for chickens and other products have been bracing for a shortage of poultry products in particular since catastrophic floods destroyed transportation infrastructure and disrupted supply chains.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada said last week 61 poultry farms were evacuated, 22 of which are broiler farms, where chickens are raised for meat.

Kim said they have contacted several food suppliers and other restaurants, only to find they are all having the same problem. While some have offered chicken, it’s often not the part Chicken 649 needs, or it’s frozen.

“We might open with frozen chicken or use other parts as a substitute, but we don’t want to do that,” she said.

“We have asked some chicken suppliers to keep chicken for us, no matter how small the amount, when they get delivered. We have a plan to gather chicken every day and maybe we could open once or twice a week.”

Kim said they are concerned the shortage could last beyond a week, a blow to a restaurant that has stayed open throughout the pandemic, continuing to fill takeout and delivery orders.

Chicken 649 also weathered a shortage in the summer, after the chicken farm used by their main supplier was burned in a wildfire.

“At that time, we could buy chicken from other groceries and it just lasted only a couple of days. But this time is different,” Kim said.

Local restaurant owners who source as much of their food locally as possible have said they are still getting poultry deliveries from smaller poultry farms on the Island, but they are concerned there will be increased demand for the small number of available birds.

The Island’s chicken producers have dwindled to just a handful since poultry processor Lilydale closed its plant in 1999.

Other restaurants have been busy stocking up on what they can and freezing any extra chicken they can get their hands on.

Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole, has been packing food of all kinds away for the festive season.

He said some smaller restaurants that rely on fresh deliveries because they have limited storage, or don’t have the ready cash to stockpile, could face shortages into December.

aduffy@timescolonist.com