The phenomenon that we now refer to as “quick-serve” began with McDonald’s in 1955. As the fast food craze caught fire, competition became fierce, with players trying to one-up each other with new burger creations. It was an all-out burger battle. Fast forward to 2017, and we observe that many quick-serve chains have gone fishing, introducing well-thought-out options to their menus for the Lenten observance – taking consumer preferences and sustainability very seriously. It seems we now have an all-out fish sandwich battle during Lent – the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
It was McDonald’s who first introduced a fish sandwich to their menu. In 1962, Lou Groen, a Cincinnati franchise owner, debuted a fish sandwich to increase Friday night sales during Lent, when most Catholics forego meat. Ray Kroc was so impressed with the idea that a year later, the filet-o-fish sandwich was permanently added to outlets across the land. McDonald’s fish sandwich is still going strong. It’s made with wild-caught Alaskan Pollock.
Culver’s, which launched its prototype in 1984 in the founders’ home town of Sauk City, Wisconsin, now has 620 units in 24 states. Quinn Adkins joined the Culver’s Corporation two years ago as executive chef. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, Adkins is a 24-year industry veteran, working in fine dining at hotels and resorts. He has spent 14 years in a menu development role. Reinhart asked Chef Adkins what Culver’s does for Lent. “Our North Atlantic Cod Sandwich is always on the menu because it’s a big seller,” Adkins said. The fish is hand-cut, hand-battered and cooked to order. It’s served on a hoagie roll with tartar sauce, lettuce and Wisconsin Cheddar. According to Adkins, Culver’s Cod sales of total portions last year was 3.3 million pounds. Another seafood item Culver’s keeps on the menu all year is lightly breaded Butterfly Shrimp, served with cocktail sauce, lemon and one side. Adkins reports that the operation sells 600,000 pounds of high-quality 16/20-size shrimp each year.
“During Lent, we offer our customers an extra-special treat: Walleye,” Adkins said. “In 2017, we were allocated 264,000 pounds of Great Lakes and Canadian Walleye. Our customers really look forward to it. We always sell out, but understand the critical need for sustainability. We offer the Northwoods Walleye Sandwich and the Northwoods Walleye Dinner, which includes the choice of two sides and a warm roll.” According to Adkins, Culver’s is the largest domestic purchaser of Walleye. “Part of our mission at Culver’s is to ensure that we are good stewards of the environment and the world’s fish and seafood supply.”