This should have been a summer of eagerly anticipated New York City celebrations, the return of a packed calendar of birthday dinners and happy hours. But New Yorkers face sticker shock everywhere they look, whether they’re buying barbecue gear at the grocery store, ordering a beer after work, or grabbing a pizza late at night.
While the rent and cost of Uber rides have reached dazzling levels, rising food prices are among the most painful effects of inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices in the New York City area rose in May at the fastest annual rate since 1981. The effects are particularly evident across the city — everyone needs to eat.
The rise slowed in June, the most recent inflation report found, but food prices were still 9.1 percent higher than a year earlier in New York and 10.4 percent higher nationwide.
Prices are rising for beloved New York staples like the ice cream cones at Mister Softee trucks and the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches at bodegas. And they’ve exacerbated the city’s hunger crisis; the number of children visiting food pantries earlier this year was 55 percent higher than before the pandemic, according to City Harvest, the largest food rescue organization in New York City.
Many restaurants and bars that survived the pandemic resisted price hikes last year, fearing to scare off customers amid a fragile recovery. As companies have raised wages to attract workers in a competitive job market, while faced with rising food and energy costs, higher prices are appearing on menus across the city.
We followed five New Yorkers last month on their weekly eating routines to document where they saw the effects of inflation.
$3.50 for a Bagel
On a recent Monday morning, shortly after arriving at work, Mamadu paid Jalloh $3.50 for a plain cream cheese bagel and $1.50 for a hot coffee at a street cart near his job in Queens, where he works at a non-profit organization that serves formerly homeless adults.
The owner of the cart, Ali Apdelwyhap, had just raised the coffee price by 50 cents. Almost every item in his cart had become more expensive, even the bags of ice he uses to store drinks. He was hesitant to go beyond 50 cents, fearing that his regular customers—including a large number of construction workers—wouldn’t come. “It’s too much for people,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Apdelwyhap parked in Midtown to serve lawyers and bankers who seemed less sensitive to price increases. With most office workers no longer commuting five days a week, he said he can’t continue his business there. He settled on this new corner along the northeast waterfront in Queens after noticing construction sites nearby, hoping it would be a place for workers to appear in person.
Frequently asked questions about inflation
What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar won’t go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is usually expressed as the annual price change for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, clothing, transportation, and toys.
Mr. Jalloh, 28, is one of them, who drives from his home in the South Bronx five days a week. Because high food and gas prices have strained his budget, he sometimes skips breakfast or lunch to earn his $700 monthly rent, or shops at 99-cent stores.
His hourly wage recently increased 5.4 percent from $24.62 to $25.95, as part of a citywide adjustment to the cost of living for certain nonprofit workers. But, said Mr Jalloh, it has done little to cover the impact of inflation. “It helps, but it’s not For real help,” he said.
$3.75 for ice cream
Patrick Dunne, a sophomore medical student, stopped by Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffe, a bakery in Manhattan’s East Village, for an afternoon snack. It cost him $3.75 for a scoop of strawberry ice cream, an order that rose 25 cents this summer. He also bought a box of pastries, including a $7 serving of tiramisu, which increased by 50 cents.
Mr. Dunne, 25, returned the pastries to his family in the Bronx. He moved in with them after leaving his Manhattan apartment early in the pandemic, and now, with rents rising, he can’t afford his own house.
Mr. Dunne was excited about a summer dining out with friends, but on days when he’s on hospital shifts, he’s more likely to bring granola bars from home or eat off the dollar menu at McDonald’s.
“You almost don’t want to get too angry because you know the restaurant owners pay a hefty price too,” he said. “So you feel empathy, but you’re upset about the price hikes.”
At Veniero, staff juggled an onslaught of pandemic disruptions. It took over a year for a new refrigerator to arrive. Butter prices have risen, partly due to the high costs of animal feed, exacerbated by the drought in parts of the United States. A waitress who stopped because she was not vaccinated has not yet been replaced.
Fourth-generation owner Robert Zerilli said he had “no choice” but to raise prices last month. “We have to make a profit,” he said.
$18 for a sandwich
During his lunch break on a work-from-home day, Mychal Lopez, 32, walked to Win Son Bakery, a Taiwanese cafe near his apartment in the East Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. He spent $30.48 – a cold brew coffee for $4, a shrimp shallot cake sandwich for $18 and a berry rice cake for $6.
Win Son’s owners said they’ve raised prices to cope with rising food and labor costs, but declined to say by how much. The price of eggs, an ingredient in several Win Son products, is set to rise 78 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture after a major outbreak of bird flu decimated chicken flocks and lowered egg production.
Mr. Lopez said the coffee at Win Son was still cheaper than the regular fare in Midtown, where he commutes four days a week to work at a fashion store. The average price of a 16-ounce cold brew is $4.88, according to the prices listed at 13 coffee shops.
Mr. Lopez said he was bringing lunch to the office more often after recently paying $6 for a matcha latte in Midtown. “It’s symptomatic of New York,” he said with a sigh. “You’re like, this is what I need to do to live in the city and get through the day.”
$8 for blueberries
For years, Margaret Rodgers, a retiree living in Astoria, Queens, has bought fruits and vegetables at the Union Square farmers’ market in Manhattan. She keeps track of her food budget by filling a bag with $80 in cash. But lately the pouch is empty after only two trips to the market. She was shocked to find that a pint of berries now cost at least $8.
“For the first time in my life, I’m really feeling the effects of rising food prices,” said Ms. Rodgers, 79.
Ken Migliorelli, who markets produce from his family farm in Dutchess County, said he needed to raise prices across the board. As the war in Ukraine limited oil supplies, high gas prices made it more expensive for Mr. Migliorelli to drive 100 miles from the Hudson Valley to the city. The price of fertilizers has skyrocketed, exacerbated by the war’s supply chain disruptions and exports.
This year, Mr. Migliorelli increased the price of blueberries by $2 to $3; they are now $8 a pint. A pound of peaches rose to $5, from $3.50 last year.
Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Meadow Farms, another seller in the Union Square market, said he is trying to minimize price hikes for commodities like zucchini and carrots, but plans to raise prices as much as 30 percent for items. which is in high demand. end restaurants, such as baby pumpkin. A pound of cherry tomatoes on his stand now costs $12, compared to $10 last year.
“I can’t keep up with expenses at the moment,” said Mr. Kurdieh. “I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”
$15 for French fries
After a day’s work, Kathy Li met a colleague at the Skylark, a cocktail bar near Times Square. She ordered a neon blue gin and vodka cocktail for $20, then split $15 chips and $19 chips with guacamole — a price she described as “ridiculous.”
Ms. Li, 30, said the financial company she works for offers free breakfast, lunch and snacks, freeing up her budget to go out regularly for drinks or dinner.
This summer, the Skylark increased French fries and guacamole prices by $1.25 after avocado prices skyrocketed. (The United States has temporarily suspended imports of avocados from the Mexican state of Michoacan after a US inspector there identified a security risk.)
Due to the pandemic, the bar remained closed until October 2021, when the Omicron variant led to widespread holiday party cancellations in December, usually the bar’s most lucrative month, according to David Rabin, a Skylark co-owner.
Mr Rabin has tried to recover from those losses, while also dealing with high staff turnover. He raised the wages of some managers and spent more on training new hires for positions as security guards.
Mr. Rabin and the bar’s managers had a months-long discussion about whether or not to raise the alcohol price by $1 and ask for $20 per cocktail, a threshold Mr. Rabin had long resisted.
“We’re not trying to make anyone feel like we’re fooling them,” Mr. Rabin said. But after noticing similar bars in the area charging at least $20, the bar owners decided to switch. “It has unfortunately become the norm,” he said.