COLUMBIA — John and Suzanne Sullivan have been the Columbia Knights of Columbus’ fish fry chair people for 14 years now.
Suzanne Sullivan takes care of the organization and John Sullivan acts as the “ra-ra-ra” person, but the husband-and-wife duo are the first to admit they cannot do it alone.
For Friday’s fish fry, about 70 council members volunteered and assisted in preparing, thawing and frying the fish; making corn bread, mashed potatoes, applesauce, green beans and coleslaw; serving; working the drive-through line; washing dishes; and wiping down tables.
“The wonderful thing about all this is that everybody comes in and helps and we couldn’t do it without all their help,” Suzanne Sullivan said.
The council sold 1,183 tickets and served over 1,200 people, including volunteers, Friday night in their first of two fish fries held every year during Lent. The all-you-can-eat dinners have both sit-down and drive-through options and cost $8 for adults, $4 for children and are free for children ages 4 and younger. The next Knights of Columbus fish fry is on March 14 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2525 N. Stadium Drive.
In preparation for Friday’s fish fry, some volunteers arrived as early as 7:30 a.m. to thaw the fish and the last did not leave until 10:30 p.m., Suzanne Sullivan said.
To accommodate the 1,000 expected attendees, the council ordered 1,000 pounds of fish. They served about 850 pounds of fish total, 160 of which was baked, and have frozen the rest to be used again. Last year, they ordered 850 pounds and ran out.
“We typically don’t have any left over,” John Sullivan said.
They also went through 52 cans of green beans, 1700 pieces of corn bread and 120 pounds of coleslaw.
One thing that attracts people to the fish fry is the quality of the food, John Sullivan said. Adding some extra seasoning to just about everything they serve, they are very conscientious in putting out a good product and are very proud of their food.
“We do something more than just open up the can and serve it,” John Sullivan said.
For diners, the fish fry offers friendship, hospitality and “a really nice, wholesome atmosphere,” John Sullivan said.
Dan Kleiner, fish fry volunteer and a Knight of Columbus, said he enjoys seeing people he knows from church and those people he does not normally get to see. The good food also keeps people coming back, he said.
Antonio DeMarco, an MU veterinary student, has been coming to the fish fry for a couple of years. He said the good food, supporting a good cause and friends keep him coming back, but his favorite is the fish.
“We don’t get a good fish meal very often,” he said. “And it’s cheap.”
Beth Witte, a fish fry volunteer and Ladies Auxiliary member, said people come because of the good food and socialization opportunities.
“It’s kind of a family-type atmosphere,” she said.
Dave Davenport, a Columbia resident, attended the fish fry for his second year and said the ambience and noisiness remind him of home.
“It’s informal,” Davenport said. “It’s different than going out to a restaurant.”
The Knights of Columbus coordinates its fish fry schedule with the Newman Center Knights of Columbus fish fries and the Sacred Heart Parish salmon dinners, a more traditional restaurant-style dinner. The Newman Center council will offer a fish fry on Friday.
While providing a service to the community, the fish fry also serves as a fundraiser, John Sullivan said. This money becomes operating money for the council, which allows them to engage in other activities, such as giving money to charity.
The Knights of Columbus is an organization of Catholic gentlemen whose mission is to provide service to church, community, youth and families, which they do through a number of charitable programs, John Sullivan said. The Ladies Auxiliary is the ladies’ companion organization. The Columbia Council was chartered in 1911 and has been holding Lenten fish fries since the late ‘70s or early ‘80s.
And, on Friday night, the bustling line of customers wrapped around the room didn’t stop Martin Petty from having a great time. An MU alumnus who lives in Glenpool, Okla, Petty was visiting his daughter, a student at MU, and decided to give the fish a try. The line moved quickly and everyone was very friendly, he said.
As for the food, he said he was expecting fish and got excellent fish.
“It’s better than I’ve had in any restaurant,” he said.
First-time fish fry attendee, Kemi Gefu, an MU law student, said she expected to get in line and eat some fish. She was not expecting to wait in such a long line.
Her friend, Pat Gerke, a Columbia resident, has been attending the fish fry for many years. She said she enjoys the homemade desserts, good fish and seeing a lot of people she knows.
But her favorite part, “I don’t have to cook it.”