By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Unlike the scene near Galilee some 2,000 years ago, it’s no miracle that fish are fed to thousands of people in Winsted each Lenten season.
“It takes quite a bit to put it all together we get a lot of help,” Winsted Knights of Columbus member Pat Schommer commented.
The Knights of Columbus began the fish fry in 1982, and it’s been a hit ever since.
This year, a total of 2,971 people attended 1,241 were served in the drive-thru, and 1,730 dined inside.
“The Blue Note is such a great place to have it because of the large ballroom,” Schommer said.
Having space to accommodate a sizable crowd is one reason Winsted’s fish fry has a high turnout. Another factor, according to Schommer, is the quality of the pollock served.
“I’ve talked to others in the area, and our fish are almost double the price,” he said.
Fish with friends
In addition to serving meals for four hours at the Blue Note, the Knights of Columbus also deliver to St. Mary’s Care Center.
“One of my favorite things about the fish fry is all the socialization that goes on,” Schommer noted. “If it is a success, we love to hear compliments and, of course, try to always improve our fish fry for the future.”
This year’s menu included potato salad, french fries, baked beans, cole slaw, coffee, chocolate and white milk, bread, homemade tartar sauce made with a secret recipe, and of course, lots of tasty breaded fish.
At the drive-thru, a small bag of chips is substituted for the fries to prevent sogginess and allow for a shorter wait time.
Knights members built a second trailer this year for frying, and organizer Roger Gueningsman said it worked well.
“We have 15 fryers on the main trailer to fry the fish, and four on the smaller one to fry the french fries,” he noted.
The week of the feast
Setup for the fish fry starts about five days before the event, when the fish arrive and are unloaded from a truck.
Thursday evening, volunteers form an assembly line at the Blue Note to put tartar sauce and potato salad in more than 1,000 small containers for the drive-thru.
The fryer trailer is brought in Friday morning, and tables and chairs are set up in the ballroom.
Customers start arriving early in the afternoon, and continue throughout the evening.
Cleanup starts at 7 p.m., and in two hours, the majority of the work is done.
“Some of us work later to get the trailers washed up and put back into storage,” Schommer said. “There is even some more work the day after; this year we had to sell 45 five-pound bags of breaded fish that was left over. They were pretty much sold out by noon on Sunday the 15th.”
The 2016 fish fry
The Winsted fish fry always takes place the second Friday of March.
“Some planning begins shortly after the current fish fry,” Gueningsman noted, adding that most preparations take place in the fall. Fish are ordered in early January.
“Looking ahead to the future, we are in the very early stages of planning for a possible pre-order delivery to some of our area businesses that might be interested,” Schommer noted. “This would only be during the lunch time, and no dine-in would be available. I have asked a few people who work in Winsted, and they are very receptive to the idea. As it gets closer to 2016, I will do some more surveys with the local community to find out how much interest there is.”