Like many other restaurant owners, Nick Petrella of The Boulevard Tavern in Youngstown is gearing up for the Lenten season. The Boulevard Tavern will serve fish dinners on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent.
By Kristen Russo
At 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, Nick Petrella walks into the dining room at The Boulevard Tavern. He talks briefly with the few patrons gathered in booths enjoying the food from his kitchen. None are eating fish now, but Petrella knows that will change in about a week.
Though Petrella usually has no problem packing the house on an average Friday night, he also knows something else will change in about a week: Friday business at his restaurant will be booming.
The Lenten season begins Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 9 this year. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, it begins Monday.
For many Christians, Lent is a period of self-denial and reflection. Believers may sacrifice one object or habit for the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.
The tradition commemorates the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry.
Another common practice is abstaining from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent, and eating fish instead.
For restaurants that serve seafood, it creates one of the busiest seasons of the year.
“It’s always busy here for Lent. It’s just a matter of how much busier. ... It fluctuates,” Petrella said.
Petrella said, on average, he goes through about one and a half times more fish during Lent than at other times of the year.
“It’s our Christmas season,” said Tim Hopkinson, owner of four Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips locations in the Valley.
His restaurants are in Austintown, Niles, Warren and Hermitage, Pa.
Though he usually sees a large uptick in business during the Lenten season, Hopkinson said a lot of factors can impact sales during Lent — including weather. Snow storms during last year’s season brought his sales down slightly.
“I suspect this year will be a very good Lent because it’s a later Lent, and with later Lents, there is usually better weather,” Hopkinson said.
Ottavio Musumeci, owner and chef at Station Square in Liberty, doesn’t share that view.
“Because economic and gas prices and food costs are up, I think it’s going to be a little tough this year,” Musumeci said.
Musumeci still expects an increase in business during Lent, but because people will have less money to spend, he predicts this season might not be as busy as seasons past.
Matt Frampton, manager at the Guilford Lake Grill in Lisbon, said all holidays bring a boost in business. During Lent, the restaurant simply sells more fish.
He also said that while the restaurant gets a boost in business, he’s not sure if it’s because of Lent or because of the warmer weather that comes with spring.
“Because it’s a restaurant by a lake, spring is always our busy season,” Frampton said.
Lent has changed one thing at the restaurant: Frampton said the all-you-can-eat fish served on Fridays last year was such a hit that it never stopped offering the option.
Some restaurant owners and managers said that their Lenten business has seen some impact from local churches and organizations offering fish frys of their own.
“We’ll have people who are here every Friday, and then, during Lent, we won’t see them. But I can’t blame them. They’re supporting their church,” Petrella said.
Hopkinson said his business also has been affected by organizations and restaurants that typically don’t serve seafood cashing in on the season.
“We’ve been a fish restaurant for years, and suddenly all the major chains are becoming fish experts,” Hopkinson said.
Tami Jones, dining-room manager at the Youngstown Crab Co., said the competition hasn’t had an affect on the restaurant’s sales, which are up about 30 percent on Fridays during Lent.
“We still see an increase in business,” Jones said.
Donna Strickland, owner of Barney’s Deli in Canfield, also said she doesn’t feel the impact too much.
“This area is very permeated with creative restaurants. We are very lucky in that way. But any extra competition can always make things a little harder,” Strickland said.
Despite the extra competition, Strickland said she still see an uptick in business of about 25 percent during the Lenten season.
“My clientele is pretty loyal,” she said.
A list of where you can get Lenten fish dinners:
ASH WEDNESDAY ONLY
Location: Girard Eagles 2172, 26 W. Wilson Ave., Girard; 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday; adults, $9; children 5-10, $5; children 4 and under, free.
Location: Holy Family Parish Center, 2729 Center Road, Poland, noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday; $9.
Location: St. Michael Church, 340 N. Broad St., Canfield, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; adults, $10; seniors 60 and older, $8; children 12 and under, $5.
Location: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 381 Robbins Ave., Niles, 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church’s Marian Hall; adults, $8; children, $5.
Location: Girard Eagles No. 2172, 26 W. Wilson Ave., Girard, 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday; adults, $9; children 5-10, $5; children 4 and under, free.
Location: Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, 53 Laird Ave., Youngstown, 3:30 to 7 p.m; adults, $9; children, $4.50.
Location: Lowellville Rod and Gun Club, 6225 Quarry Road, Lowellville, noon to 7 p.m.; $15.
Location: American Legion R.F.D. Post 560, 103 12th St., Campbell, noon to 6 p.m.; adults, $7; children 12 and under, $4.
Location: Argus Lodge No. 545, 5050 Shields Road, Canfield, 4 to 7 p.m.; adults, $8; children 12 and under, $5.
EVERY FRIDAY DURING LENT
Location: American Legion Post 737, 16465 Milton Ave., Lake Milton, 3 to 7 p.m.; adults, $8; children 6-12, $5; children 5 and under, free. A fish sandwich with fries and coleslaw is $5.50.
Location: The National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, 2759 N. Lipkey Road, North Jackson, 3 to 7 p.m.; adults, $10; children, $6.
Location: St. Michael Church, 340 N. Broad St., Canfield, 4 to 8 p.m.; adults, $10; seniors 60 and older, $8; children 12 and under, $5.
Location: St. Patrick Church, 225 N. Main St., Hubbard, 4 to 7 p.m.; adults, $8; children, $6.
Location: Maennerchor Club, 39S. Dock St., Sharon, Pa., 5 to 8 p.m.; adults, $7.95 for fish or $8.95 for shrimp; children, $4.95 for fish or $5.95 for shrimp.
Location: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 381 Robbins Ave., Niles, 4 to 7 p.m. at Marian Hall; adults, $8; children, $5.
Location: St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 4453 Warren-Sharon Road, Vienna, 4 to 7 p.m. with the exception of Good Friday; adults, $8.75; seniors, $8.50; children 6-12, $4; 6 and under, free.
Location: VFW Post 2799, 3161 E. South Range Road, New Springfield, 4 to 7 p.m.; adults, $10; children 10 and under, $5.
Location: Austintown Eagles Club, 1655 S. Raccoon Road, Austintown, 4 to 8 p.m.; adults, $10.95; children 10 and under, $5.
Local seafood options
Location: Youngstown Crab Co., 3917 Belmont Ave., Liberty.
Location: Barney’s Deli, 132 South Broad St., Canfield.
Location: The Boulevard Tavern, 3503 Southern Blvd., Youngstown.
Location: The Manor, 3104 S. Canfield Niles Road, Austintown.
Location: Guilford Lake Grill, 7094 Eastlake Road, Lisbon.
Location: Station Square, 4250 Belmont Ave., Liberty.
Location: Fifth Season, 7098 Mahoning Ave., Austintown.