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Meet the Wisconsin man who has had a fish fry dinner 528 Fridays in a row

Posted at 6:27 AM, Feb 16, 2024

MILWAUKEE — The first Friday of Lent is fish fry Friday in Wisconsin, a Midwest tradition. And now, officially, it's a holiday recognized by the governor's office!

That's a celebration nearly all Wisconsinites can get behind. It might be no surprise to you that the Wisconsin man who created the holiday has a deep love for all varieties of fish; deep-fried, hand-battered, or breaded. But you'll likely be shocked to hear just how committed he is. Caleb Westphal of Milwaukee has enjoyed more than 500 Friday fish fry dinners — in a row!

Reporter Andrea Albers met Westphal at one of Milwaukee's busiest Friday night spots, The Packing House, to hear the (fish) tale.

"If you don't have a good tartar, it's not going to work," said Chris Wiken, owner of The Packing House. Wiken knows what makes a good fish fry and knows how to serve it up, in big numbers.

"There have been Good Fridays where we've done like 1,200 fish frys," he recalled. His family-owned restaurant is launching into its 50th Lenten season and Wiken is grateful, attributing much of the restaurant's longevity and success to its dedicated staff.

"Bobby in our kitchen — he's been with us 43 of those 50 years," added Wiken.

Chef Bobby can crank out a fish dinner in four minutes, and he's done it countless times.

"Probably at least 20,000. Easily!" he said with a laugh.

It's a safe bet that Caleb Westphal has enjoyed at least one of Chef Bobby's made-from-scratch meals.

"Perch or cod is usually my go-to," said Westphal. "I've been doing a lot of bluegill recently."

He has had a fish fry dinner every Friday for 10 years! "I've done at least 528 in a row. I started keeping track in January of 2014," he explained.

There were times he had to resort to making his own fish dinner to keep the streak alive. "One time I tried it (fishing) in Humboldt Park in Bay View," he recalled. "And I caught a goldfish and 10 other types of fish that were not keepable and then I just gave up. I had some frozen fish in the freezer and I just used that. Always have reserves in your freezer, that's important!"

Thanks to his efforts, Wisconsin's weekly ritual was given a holiday in 2021, and now, "Friday Fish Fry Day" has its first official statewide proclamation.

"Last year I got a proclamation from the city," continued Westphal. "Milwaukee made a proclamation for it. And then I was like, 'Well I'm gonna go bigger this year, I'll try to get a state proclamation'."

And that's exactly what he got — complete with a seal and a signature from the governor. Westphal says he'll probably frame it.

"I suppose, yeah. I should [in case] the dog eats it, that wouldn't be good," he said with a chuckle.

The garnish to this accomplishment is a partnership with Feeding America, making it possible for you to help provide a meal to a neighbor in need every time you enjoy fish this Lenten season.

"When you go out to eat on Friday Fish Fry Day, or if you go out to eat throughout that six-week period of Lent, you can donate to Feeding America and the money will go help people that are facing food insecurity," explained Westphal. He added that the suggested donation is $10.

Click here to get involved in Westphal's fundraising effort for Feeding America.

You can also click here if you'd like to read Westphal's fish fry reviews.