Filet-o-Fish invented in Cincinnati - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Filet-o-Fish invented in Cincinnati

By Stefano DiPietrantonio – bio |email|Facebook

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Today was the first "fish-fry" Friday of the Lenten season. Many people give up eating red meat on Fridays and instead eat only fish or no meat at all.

Lent is a 40 day span of reflection and sacrifice for Christians around the world as we move toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

One of the most popular places to find fish sandwiches during Lent is McDonald's. Did you know that a piece of pop-culture history was invented right here in Cincinnati?

We got to the bottom of this fish tale. Reporter Stefano DiPietrantonio had a little divine help Friday morning.

"Gimme that filet-o-fish, gimme that fish," sings the mounted fish on the wall in a super-popular McDonald's commercial.

That jingle has elevated their fish sandwich to cult status, but this fish tale started with Lou Groen's simple goal, to serve a meatless sandwich during Lent.

"It's a steamed bun, and we have a shot of tartar sauce, we actually have the Filet-o-Fish, then the cheese on the bottom bun," said Jennifer Brown, who works at the family's McDonald's on Buttermilk Pike.

The one she showed us, is the cod sandwich we know today. But it used to be halibut.

"He was later forced to change it to a cod fish because the price of the halibut was 30 cents and McDonald's wanted to sell the fish sandwich at 25 cents,"

We got a quick history lesson with grandson, Grant Groen, at his father Paul's McDonald's on Buttermilk Pike.

He said his grandparents were looking through a restaurant trade magazine.

"My grandfather asked my grandmother to pick between two restaurants," Groen said.

It was a choice between a chicken franchise or McDonald's.

Grandma chose McDonald's.

And from there they built their own burger empire, with 42 restaurants.

Then, in 1962, Groen went to McDonalds legend Ray Kroc, with his Filet-o-Fish idea.

But Kroc wanted to push his own meatless sandwich, called the hula burger.

"It was a cold bun with a piece of pineapple and cheese," Groen said. "And a slice of cheese in the middle."

Groen and Kroc competed on a Lenten Friday in 1962, to see whose sandwich would sell more. Kroc's hula burger bombed, reportedly selling only six sandwiches.

"Even though he lost the meatless sandwich battle," Groen said. "He's won so many other battles, without him, our McDonald's brand wouldn't exist today."

Groen sold 350 Filet-o-Fish that day.

"He really cared about his people and McDonalds," Groen said. "I have some big shoes to fill, not only him, but my dad as well, who's very successful and a great operator in his own right."

(rick reaume Canada)

"I've been eating Filet-o-Fish for about 40 years," said Rick Reaume, from Canada, who was on his way south to Florida. He and his family always make it a point to stop at McDonald's. "Ever since it's been on the menu," he laughed. We pointed out, that this Groen's grandfather developed the Filet-o-Fish right here in Cincinnati.

'Well, he did a good job!," Reaume said.

"Thank you," Groen said appreciatively.

"God rest her soul," Groen said referring to his grandmother, who's since passed-away. "I think she was very happy with the choice she made."

"McDonald's has just been a blessing for our family and it really was the right choice, no question," he laughed. "If they chose the chicken restaurant, I don't know where we'd be today."

His grandfather Lou is doing well and still lives here in the western hills.

Grant and his grandfather are close. And by the way, it took a year after that competition to get the Filet-o-Fish to the national menu.

On fish-fry Fridays during Lent, just that one McDonald's has been known to move about a thousand sandwiches a day. They first retailed for 25 cents. 

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