Volunteers prepare items for the fish fry at St. Stephen Parish, Oak Creek. The parish hosts a fish fry every Friday during Lent. (Submitted photo)

Each Friday during Lent, the fish is frying like hotcakes at St. Stephen Parish in Oak Creek.

The secret recipe for beer-battered fish was developed by the parish’s pastor, Fr. Robert Kacalo, who focuses on made-from-scratch menu items.

“We make our own beer batter, coleslaw, tartar sauce and more,” Fr. Kacalo said. “My role has always been hands-on. I’m helping cut the fish, overseeing and tasting recipe preparation, making sure every detail of food preparation is par excellence, serving hot food hot and cold food cold. Then the volunteers take over and do an excellent job preparing and executing, knowing it’s for the Church.”

According to Mary Peterson, St. Stephen Advancement Director, their fish fry stands out due to the dedicated group of loyal and wonderful volunteers.

“Our volunteer community is a powerful group of all ages, who come together to have fun, help others, build a sense of fellowship and strive for the success and advancement of St. Stephen,” she said, adding that Fr. Kacalo is the other reason for success.

Fr. Kacalo’s success in providing a tasty fish fry that brings in hundreds of diners each week stemmed from his previous background in the hospitality industry.

“I have a food service degree and experience, which allowed me to use my talents to begin the fish fries at Holy Family for fundraising and community building,” he said.

“His expertise and experience are the reason our fish fries have reached so many patrons’ tables. Fr. Robert’s awareness of how the food should look, and most of all taste, is truly a blessing,” Peterson said. “We are also one of the few churches that offer dine-in services, to-go and a drive-thru. And we also pride ourselves on how quickly we can serve the public.”

Staff and volunteers begin planning and holding meetings six to eight weeks before Lent. They work hard on organization, communication and preparation to ensure they serve the best and fastest fish fry in town.

“Our goal is approximately 500 guests every Friday to include our drive-thru and dine-in guests. Our success is customer service, (and) we make sure our guests have everything they need to enjoy their meals, maybe even a glass of beer or wine to help them wash it all down,” said Fr. Kacalo. “We aim to serve our drive-thru guests in three minutes or less. We can beat the fast-food drive-thru, for sure.”

“It takes a village” is the beginning of a saying pertaining to raising children. But for St. Stephen Parish, it may take an army to replace Fr. Kacalo when he retires this year, as he has done so much for the parish, including overhauling the fish fry into the current menu and offerings.

The parish fish fry offerings include beer-battered cod, baked cod and fried shrimp. Service runs from 4 to 7 p.m. each Friday during Lent, including Good Friday.

The St. Stephen fish fry is not Fr. Kacalo’s first foray into Lenten fish fries. He began one at Holy Family in Whitefish Bay when he served there from 2008-10. Then he was assigned to St. Robert Bellarmine from 2010-16, where he began another Lenten fish fry, followed by St. Stephen in Oak Creek from 2016 to the present.

After his retirement this year, Fr. Kacalo plans to travel, as well as contribute and volunteer at his home parish, the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

“I have my family home in Crivitz that is always in need of tender loving care, and I wouldn’t mind spending some time running my toes in the sand in a warm climate during the Wisconsin winter months,” he said.

St. Stephen is located at 1441 W. Oakwood Road, Oak Creek. For more information, call 414-762-0552.

Fr. Robert Kacalo