NASHVILLE — The supply chain issues and rising prices that have snarled businesses across the country also have had an impact on the ever-popular Lenten fish fries in the Diocese of Nashville.
The Knights of Columbus Council 9132 at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville typically sponsors two fish fries on Fridays in Lent with each serving between 800 and 900 people.
But the council decided not to have fish fries this year because they couldn’t find a supplier that would guarantee they would have the types of fish they wanted to serve: American farm-raised catfish and cod.
“We do catfish,” said Randy Herron, the council’s chief cook for the fish fries. “We have an older crowd, they were born and raised with catfish, and they want catfish.”
“It was a real tough decision for us” to skip the fish fries this year, Herron told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.
Knights Council 9586 at St. Edward Church in Nashville had to give up its popular roadside sales of $5 fish and chips meals because fish price increases would have made the cost prohibitive.
“We usually did really well with that, but we would have lost money if we did it this year,” said Jason Farris, the council’s grand knight.
The council did have a fish fry dinner on March 25 that was successful.
At Holy Family Church in Brentwood, Knights Council 15234 and the parish Men’s Club were still able to put on their Lenten fish fries, but they had to raise the prices from $10 a plate to $15.
“Fish that we were paying a year ago $40 a box for, we’re now paying $53,” said Council 15234 Grand Knight George Baker. “Going from $40 to $53, that’s a 30 percent hike. That’s crazy, really crazy.”
“We hated to raise them, but we didn’t really feel we had a choice,” Baker said of the price increase.
Luckily, the price hike hasn’t hurt attendance. A March 11 fish “had a great turnout,” Baker said, with 400 meals served.
The availability of fish and rising prices are not just issues in Tennessee but have affected fish fries in other parts of the country as well, according to news reports.
Supply chain issues are hampering the providers of the fish, and the price of cod has gone up more than 50% in the last two years, according to reports.
In the past, Council 9132’s Herron said he paid $60 for a 15-pound box of catfish. “This year $130.50 was the last price I was told. For the same size box,” he said. “Cod went from $42 to $81 or $82.”
And it’s not just the price of fish. Prices for other items needed for the fish fries are also higher this year.
“We could do two fish and chips events for $550. I’m doing one fish dinner and I spent just slightly over $1,000” for all the food and supplies needed, Farris said. “It’s the prices of everything.”
The problems with fish fries created a difficult situation for the Our Lady of the Lake council, Herron said. Without a guarantee that the fish would be available when they needed it, they didn’t want to sell tickets and then have to cancel the dinner because they didn’t have enough fish, he explained.
Last year during the height of the pandemic, the Hendersonville council offered a dinner featuring shrimp and pasta instead of fish. “We got about 200 people,” well below the turnout for the fish fries, Herron said.
Instead of fish fries this year, Our Lady of the Lake was offering “Stations, Soups and Speaker” events every Friday evening during Lent. After Stations of the Cross, a soup dinner with a speaker followed.
The fish fries are more than a dinner, and rarely are they a significant fundraiser for the Knights’ councils or parishes.
“We don’t do it as a fundraiser,” said Grand Knight Jerry Taylor of Council 9132. “It’s always been looked at by the council as a payback for the parish’s support for everything we do.”
“We just don’t concentrate on the money part of it,” Farris said. “We want a really good event that people show up and get to know each other. … It’s just a really good community-building event.”
For the Knights at Our Lady of the Lake, the fish fries were the biggest event they sponsor during the year, Taylor said.
“It’s a huge event for us. … We have more fun than the people there to eat,” he added. “It’s just a great event for us. We work hard but we really enjoy that event.”
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Telli is managing editor of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.