GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Fish is a staple for many during the Lenten season. And while the Filet-O-Fish sandwich is a staple at McDonald's today, it wasn't on the menu more than 60 years ago. In fact, it was a Cincinnati franchisee who invented it and got it added to the menu.
When Lou Groen opened the first McDonald's in Ohio in 1959, he noticed Fridays during Lent were a challenge for his restaurant with a Frisch's location down the street. McDonald's didn't serve any fish for the hundreds of thousands of Catholic residents in Greater Cincinnati.
"Not far down the road was a Frisch’s and during Lent, Frisch’s had great fish sandwiches and they were just kicking his butt in competition," said Erica Shadoin, Groen's granddaughter.
Groen wasn't going to let his business go belly up, so he got to work on what became the Filet-O-Fish. A big obstacle stood between its creation and its addition to the menu, though.
“He ended up going up to Chicago to meet with Ray Kroc," Shadoin said.
The McDonald's CEO had his own Lent-friendly sandwich idea.
"Ray Kroc’s sandwich was a Hula Burger and it was a slice of grilled pineapple and a piece of cheese on a bun," Shadoin said.
After a competition between the two sandwiches, the Filet-O-Fish was added to the menu, saving Groen's restaurant and cementing not only his legacy, but the Monfort Heights McDonald's legacy as the original home of the Filet-O-Fish.
On Ash Wednesday decades later, the location was still selling a lot of its signature item.
“We definitely sell it year-round, but it’s a lot more popular during Lent. This and Good Friday is our busiest days of the year,” said Emily Booth, a supervisor at the Monfort Heights McDonald's.
Shadoin said the location usually sells 200-300 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches a day outside of Lent.
“Last year, our record was just shy of 900, 872 on Good Friday,” said Shadoin.