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Fish market reels in crowds during Lent

LEXINGTON, Ky.-- During Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, many Christians avoid red meat. In fact, Catholics avoid it on Fridays all year round, making fish the menu item of choice.

So seafood markets see a huge surge in business this time of year, and one in particular reels 'em in.

Drive down Winchester Road and you can't miss Charlie's Seafood Market, squeezed into a triangled intersection. Watch for a few minutes and you know there must be something special about the place as a steady stream of people go in one door and out the other and cars circle the block waiting for parking spots to open.

The market sells fresh and frozen seafood, but most people are here for one thing-- the huge whitefish sandwiches, fresh cut and hand breaded every morning.

The fish is way bigger than the bun, another of Charlie's claims to fame.

Co-owner Barry Sissle says "We strive to give a half pound of fish, whether it be one, two or three pieces. We want a half pound per order. We feature that for $6.75 and we could sell 500 of them today."

That's the bait that leads to long lines down the narrow hallway to the takeout counter. This is strictly a carry-out operation.

There's been a fish market here since 1981. Before that, it was a Texaco station. Barry and Patty Sissel bought the business 15 years ago when original owner Charlie Johnson died, but Barry has worked here 25 years.

Marketing experts would probably advise against this business model--very little parking, no indoor or outdoor seating and a lmited menu. But what Charlie's does have in its favor is visibility, tradition and word of mouth.

One customer told us "Any time I leave town, it's the last place I eat when I leave and the first place I eat when I come back."

People just eat on the curb or in their cars.

"We always know when it's spring because the truck gates come down and people sit out and have their own little tailgate lunch," Patty says. She always gets a picture of the first people who do that and puts it on the business's Facebook page.

The Sissles have the chance to relocate, but why mess with what works?

"There are a lot of places in the north part of town that's closed up and I think we're grateful just to be here and be able to stay open," Barry says.

A lot of people are hooked on Charlie's but, after keeping up this pace more than 50 hours a week, it would be understandable if the Sissles were a little sick of fish.

"To be honest with you, everywhere I go, if they've got a fish sandwich on the menu, I have to try it," Barry says. "I just want to see if there's anything better than what we're doing."

So far, they haven't seen a reason to change. They seem to have the perfect recipe for success.

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