Editor's Note: This story first appeared in print in Cleveland Magazine's March 2019 Fish Fry Guide.
Jim and Pat Lesnick haven’t spent almost 30 years running the St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church fish fry for the glory. In fact, they only agreed to speak with Cleveland Magazine after we name-dropped their priest. And even then, they insisted there were more interesting people to interview. If that weren’t indication enough that the Lesnicks are some of the most dedicated volunteers around, consider their track record. Since they started organizing the Lenten and monthly St. Joseph fish fries 29 years ago, only two have been canceled. The couple, who run an audio media duplication business, also started the church’s homeless ministry, which provides meals at 2100 Lakeside every Sunday morning. The meals are financed, you guessed it, by the fish fries. We learned a few lessons from the Lesnicks about volunteerism, giving back and the key to a stellar fry.
Pat Lesnick: Jim and I have both been very blessed. We’ve been in business for 46 years, and really have no talent that got us this far. God has been very good to us. The fish fries and the [2100 Lakeside] outreach are a way of paying back, of doing what we’re supposed to do.
PL: Because of [owning our own business], it gave us the time to do something like this.
Jim Lesnick: There are days where we say, “Oh, we can get back to work on Monday and take it easy again.”
PL: I can’t picture not doing [the fish fry]. It becomes a part of your life.
PL: One of our volunteers just turned 90. God bless her. She is my bakery lady, and she is still very, very active and she just had her 90th birthday. She keeps saying, “I’m going to work this job. Don’t give it away.” We have a really good volunteer base.
JL: The volunteers get as much out of it as the customers. They see people that they know, and they get to talk. That’s important too. This is not hurry-up-and-get-out.
PL: You learn by your mistakes. You don’t just give up on it. And it’s been really successful.
PL: If we weren’t passionate about it, I guess we would have stopped, maybe after that first one. We have four kids, so it’s like a fifth child to us.
PL: We give them a good value for what they’re getting. They’re not getting a cheap piece of meat. They’re getting walleye or baked scrod.
JL: People say, “How come [other fish fries] can give us all you wanna eat, or two pieces instead of one?” Well, we can buy fish for $2.50 a pound, or $6.50 a pound. We chose the $6.50. It’s important to give people consistency.
PL: It’s our own personal goal to make a dollar more than last year, but it’s not a big deal. The money is nice to have. But there’s so much more, [like] some of the people that we’ve helped over the years.
PL: One gentleman, he lost his wife and was completely devastated. We got him working. It really made a difference. It gave him a purpose again. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
PL: After every Lenten season, we get one or two people that join the parish.
PL: This is supposed to be a church family, not just a bunch of people who come to the same church every week.
PL: It’s a way of thanking God for what we’ve had all these years.