A new drive-thru made its debut in Niagara-on-the-Lake last week, and it was so popular, it sold out 30 minutes early.
The long-awaited return of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 124 Thursday night fish fry saw scores of cars lined up on King Street waiting to pick up their dinner. Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it marked the first time since mid-March that NOTL families were able to enjoy the weekly tradition.
The pandemic also forced the Legion into a new way of doing things. Diners were limited to pickup orders only, and were asked to stay in their vehicles to be served.
It worked like a well-oiled machine. Visitors turned into the entrance, where they were greeted by a volunteer who took their order. Two order slips were prepared: one to be put under their windshield wiper, another to be taken up to the kitchen by another volunteer who collected their payment. A team of six volunteers was manning the deep fryers upstairs and packing the orders.
As the cars wound around the back of the building, another team of volunteers brought the orders to the back door near the exit. There, Richie Meyer removed the slip under the windshield in exchange for a yummy fish and chips dinner. Smiles abounded.
Caroline and Bruce Cochrane, an armed forces veteran from Nova Scotia, were in line at 4:30 p.m. and among the first to be served. “We couldn’t wait,” said Caroline. “We were waiting to hear the announcement and then we wanted to get down here.” They certainly felt the 10 minutes or so it took to get their fish and chips was worth it, and they were happy to support the Legion.
Maggie Griffiths was another who was overjoyed with the return of the weekly tradition. She told The Local that she never misses a Thursday at the Legion. Though she admitted that since March she may have satisfied her hankering for fish and chips through other avenues, she said, “you have to support locals. If you don’t support locals, they won’t be there.”
With more than 30 cars in line at any one time, Legion first vice-president Maurice Pam was elated with the turnout.
“We were hoping to get this many,” he said. “As you know, a lot of Legions are suffering financially, and we’re fortunate to own our own building. A lot of Legions have to pay rent.”
He estimates that proceeds from the weekly fish fry contributes about 70 per cent to the organization’s yearly budget. With the long layoff due to COVID-19, it was beginning to look like it might become difficult to pay the bills.
Though the patio was set up on the front lawn, guests were not able to sit down on site to enjoy their dinner.
“We can’t have people inside because of COVID,” he explained. “Even our members aren’t allowed to eat here. We decided it’s best to try this first. We’re going to have a meeting after this, and tweak it and see what we can do. We haven’t really heard any comments about eating here. We have heard that people are happy to be here, though.”
Legion member Cory Abt confirmed the sell-out the following day. With the cars backed up from their 410 King Street location almost all the way to the John Street intersection at times, the sell-out isn’t surprising.
It may not be able to boast about serving 99 billion like other drive-thrus, but judging by the turnout, it might not be long before the local branch of the Canadian Legion reaches its own significant milestone.