I became a Catholic in 2010 and before I crossed the Tiber River, I was well aware of “Fish Friday” during Lent and how it was specific to the Catholics. I had heard how McDonald’s introduced the Filet-O-Fish to allow Catholics to abstain from meat and still indulge in some salty fast food goodness.
What is most fascinating to me is before the Filet-O-Fish, Catholics had another option to choose from at McDonald’s, a not so appetizing option, nor filling and it was the “Hula Burger”. It was two slices of cheese and the beef was replaced with a slice of grilled pineapple. Yummy or yucky? I will never know as it was discontinued in the mid 1960s before I was ever born let alone a thought.
The Hula Burger was McDonalds’ Founder & CEO, Ron Kroc’s invention to appease the hungry Catholics craving a meatless fast food option for Fridays during Lent. And to help keep sales up on those pesky meatless Fridays during Lent.
Lou Groen from Cincinnati was a McDonalds franchise owner and his sales were suffering greatly on Fridays during Lent. More than 80% of his customers were Catholics and it was reflective in the lack of sales during Lent. Burger sales were hurting. He knew he was losing customers to other restaurants who offered fish. This is when he came up with the Filet -O- Fish, which was fried fish, a slice of processed cheese and tartar sauce in a steamed bun, and it was a hit.
Shortly after the successful launch of his new fishy fast food option, Lou went to Chicago to see the CEO of McDonalds, but Ron Kroc was skeptical and thought it was a bunch of “carp”.
Ron was so convinced the fish would fail, he challenged Lou to a Lenten sales burger war would the Catholics choose Filet-O-Fish or Kroc’s Hula Burger. Offering both options at the McDonalds Restaurants, the sales numbers spoke for themselves, and the Filet-O-Fish won the battle of the burgers hands down and it was added to the menu of McDonalds and as a regular feature eventually. The Hula Burger was put to rest never to reappear on the menu again.
Another fun fact about this Lenten specialty was a mascot of sorts for the Filet-O-Fish it was Phil A. O’Fish a friendly looking carp who was a funny nod to the Irish Catholics with an Irish last name to boot – O’Fish.
Lots of fast food joints now offer a fish sandwich option year round, but it all started with good old Mc-Eee Ds!
Peace & Love – Rachel