The Secret Ingredients What makes lunchtime so delicious

by Connor Walters '09 for the Winter 2020 issue of Saint Ignatius Magazine


Thus came the call from Mrs. Emily Eckert to her crackerjack team of cooks in the cramped quarters of the old kitchen. The lunchtime rush of students was on.

Hundreds filed through the dual serving lines, helping themselves to a small selection of packaged snacks, sodas, novelty ice cream bars and a limited selection of hot foods. Among the latter were the staples: hamburgers, chicken patty sandwiches, rectangles of cheese pizza (with the requisite hot sauce bath) and, of course, French fries.

For alumni of a certain generation, mere mention of Emily’s siren call is enough to spark a daydream of days gone by as memories of their high school years resurface.

The old lunchtime serving area occupied half of the space of what is now the Senior Lounge.
“Emily was the absolute best,” says English teacher Casey Yandek ’95. “I always loved when she'd call out ‘hamburgs!’ when she was out of patties. She was loud enough to be heard over all the boys waiting in line in what is now the Senior Lounge. I still remember, every time I ordered the ‘Special,’ which my senior year was $2 for a burger and fries in a brown bag, she'd always tell me, ‘I threw in a few extra fries for you, honey!’”

Alumni love to reminisce about lunchtime at Saint Ignatius. It’s a universal piece of the student experience, and yet unique to each and every Wildcat who walks our halls.

Campus dining has evolved in tremendous ways over the years. Various personalities have come and gone, the facilities have changed, and the choices for lunchtime fare have made tremendous improvements. Students’ eating habits have shifted, and as Ohio City has transformed, so too have off-campus dining options.

Advertisements in The Eye promoted lunchtime offers in the Kampus Kafeteria.

Consider that, a half century ago, most students brown bagged their lunches and ate in a space known as the Student Center. Today, the majority purchase lunch from the servery of the Rade Dining Hall, which actually is the same student center, renovated in 2007. The earliest food sales on campus were extremely limited and took place in the so-called Kampus Kafeteria, whereas Wildcats today can use their student ID card to purchase from dozens of freshly prepared food items. And while pizza, burgers and fries still survive on the weekly menu, students also have their choice of a large salad bar, customized burritos, a variety of changing pasta options and, on occasion, sushi.

On occasion, Wildcats-for-a-Day will say that the highlight of their day shadowing a current student was, in fact, lunch. We can only surmise that they’ve picked up on what is one of the greatest and yet oft overlooked Ignatian traditions: breaking bread with their brothers.

Space and Tastes

Where did you eat lunch? What was your favorite food? Who made lunchtime special for you? Depending on when you graduated from Saint Ignatius, the answers to these questions vary tremendously.

Today, more than 130 years after the school was founded, campus dining has upped its game in the same way that so many other areas of Saint Ignatius have.

The spaces, for example, are vastly different. The current Senior Lounge formerly housed both the entire kitchen and serving area. It was a compact space with limited food offerings but plenty of fond memories.

The old Student Center, prior to the 2007 renovation that transformed the space into Rade Dining Hall.

“The further I am removed from my time at Ignatius, the more I value and cherish the small things like lunch,” says Michael Pippin ’01. “First of all, I remember eating my packed lunch before it was lunch time and then buying lunch at the cafeteria when it was actually lunch time.”

If walls could talk, the bright yellow walls of what formerly was the Senior Lounge would tell stories of seniors having permission to smoke, a television set perpetually tuned to ESPN, shooting the breeze with classmates from all sides of the city and, memorably, food fights.

Years in Passing, a history of Saint Ignatius written for the school’s centennial in 1986, described the most legendary of these incidents, planned by the Class of 1974. “It was premeditated and executed with precision. Literally gallons of food and drink washed the walls and occupants of the Senior Lounge and the adjoining dining hall.”

Some students recall the Senior Lounge as a sacred place where they witnessed history.

“I'll never forget watching 9/11 live in the Senior Lounge til the day I die,” says John Kopcso '02. “It made an immense impact on my view of God, family, and country in a positive way even though the tragedy was massive to all.”

The cramped quarters of the old cafeteria kitchen.

The staff of the caf certainly were part and parcel of students’ lunchtime enjoyment. Campus dining at Saint Ignatius bucks the trend of food service just about anywhere, with many cherished staff members who have literally served students for anywhere from 10 to 25 years.

Eckert was a favorite of all students—though many fondly referred to her as the “Fries Lady.” For 15 years, and perhaps without concern for any sort of health inspection, a stray dog named Julio formed friendships with the student body and frequently wandered into the serving area, where Eckert would slip him a hamburger patty on the sly. At a rally celebrating her retirement in 2000, the beloved lunch lady grabbed the microphone and announced a free day for the entire school, eliciting a raucous cheer.

“I do not recall if the administration honored her decree or not, or if it had been arranged prior to the rally,” says Assistant Principal for Student Discipline Ryan Franzinger ’01. “It certainly seemed spur of the moment.”

Nowadays, the same fun spirit still permeates the places where students eat, from the Atrium to the Senior Lounge to Rade Dining Hall. Music blasts in the serving area, where from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. students can grab breakfast, lunch and snacks.

The lunchtime rush in the servery of Rade Dining Hall.

It all happens under Chef and Director of Campus Dining Marianna Burgess, a 15-year veteran of Saint Ignatius and mother to current junior Simon. Prior to Saint Ignatius she was a chef at the Ritz-Carlton for 10 years. She oversees the entire food operation and serves as matriarch of the campus dining family—a word she uses to describe her team.

“We’ve all been through so much together,” she says. “It’s a great community to be in.”

Burgess says that the renovation and expansion of the dining hall in 2007 was transformative. It allowed her team to expand their hours of sales, offer greater variety, and prepare healthier, fresher foods.

Building the servery of the new Rade Dining Hall meant an expansion of the Student Center into property on the west side of the original building.

“It changed everything,” she says. “We were able to do so much more. We had so much space and we could just make better food.”

Rade Dining Hall today offers an array of options that would rival many colleges. A robust salad bar is replenished several times each day. Pizzas, with homemade dough, are constantly rotated. Two daily soup options are prepared from scratch. Three other stations offer hot food options, and students snap up pre-made sandwiches, fresh fruit and yogurts from a refrigerated case. Of course, burgers and fries are mainstays of the menu, but what students receive most from Rade is choice—of fantastic foods prepared with love by a staff that cares for each kid.

A Riche History

For a time, one of the fun quirks of life at Saint Ignatius was the fact that the principal ran the concession stand during evening and weekend sporting events on campus. That man was Rich Clark, and today a small kitchenette building on the back quad bears his name.

Former principal and Riche burger inventor Rich Clark.

Serving as principal from 1991 to 2003, Clark launched his own little grill stand after sitting through a freezing cold soccer game sometime after the debut of a newly turfed Wasmer Field. His signature food offering was a remake of a breakfast sandwich sold at the West Side Market.

“Johnny’s Hot Dog has a breakfast sandwich that is to die for,” Clark says of one of the longtime market vendors. “It’s a scrambled egg-like thing, a piece of ham, a slice of American cheese, and a hash brown served on a bun. And the deluxe included a tomato.”

The recipe seemed simple enough for the entrepreneurial principal, so he expanded the food offering at his little concession stand to include the same breakfast sandwich.

“I thought stupidly that people would say, ‘What the hell is the principal doing this for?’” says Clark. “Nobody else stepped up. So, I decided, I’ll take the profits and once a month we’ll bring people over and do a community dinner at St. Pat’s, that I’ll be able to buy because of profits. It was like Robin Hood.”

Clark becomes animated as he gets to the meat of the story. One busy Saturday with back-to-back-to-back soccer games, he ran out of most ingredients for his breakfast sandwich. A hungry boy—who had already eaten a couple of the breakfast sandwiches—returned for a third time. Clark broke the bad news: Breakfast was over and he had started grilling for lunch. But the boy was undeterred. He suggested that Clark throw one of the leftover hash brown patties on a cheeseburger.

“Two minutes later,” Clark says, “he came back with two of his friends who said, ‘We want one of those.’ I cooked until I was out of hash browns!”

Thus was born the Riche Burger: a cheeseburger with a grilled hash brown patty on top—a burger and fries all in one. The name (pronounced Reesh) is a play on its creator’s name, with a French twist.

It quickly gained a cult following. The cafeteria began to sell Riche Burgers after Clark left Saint Ignatius to be the founding President of Saint Martin de Porres High School. Rocky River Brewing Company has it listed on its menu, and Clark himself has answered requests to cook up his famous creation at graduation parties. Today, 250 Riche burgers are sold every Thursday in the Saint Ignatius cafeteria.

“I couldn’t believe it caught on,” he says. “It’s the simplest damn thing in the world! I’m not seasoning the meat or anything; I’m just combining three store-bought items on a cheap bun.”

Clark has yet to find out the identity of the boy who suggested the combination to him almost 30 years ago. One thing he does know, however, is that his creation will live on in the hearts and minds—and bellies—of Saint Ignatius students forevermore.

“It’s an amazing thing. Of all the things I’ve done, in the obituary it’ll say, well…he invented the Riche Burger.”

The Rise and Fall of the Chicken Patty

Odds are, there are a few alumni reading this headline now in stunned silence. What?? How? They don’t have chicken patties anymore? What do those kids eat on Wednesdays then??

Students from the 2000s will recall the meal, usually served on Styrofoam trays: a sandwich, a heaping pile of corn, and a dollop of mashed potatoes with gravy. The true fanatics refused to eat a chicken patty without smothering it in hot sauce. To do otherwise was practically sacrilege. Meanwhile, dozens of alumni claim that they were the first to request the mashed potatoes be placed on top of the patty as part of the sandwich.

Those were fantastic days, and the craze following chicken patty sandwiches rivaled the rush to purchase tickets for any sporting event against that school in Lakewood. The sandwiches were a morale boost for even the most morose sophomore. The sandwiches were so popular, in fact, that in the late 2000s former Principal Pete Corrigan ’69 hedged his bets and awarded every person in the school a chicken patty pass in lieu of a free day as a reward for a state championship. The annual Scholarship Drive for many years has included chicken patty passes as one of the incentives for selling tickets.

Dude, where's my free day? Students lined up in the cafeteria to redeem their chicken patty passes, which they received instead of the expected free day for a football state championship.

Clearly, the chicken patty was revered. But what made it so special?

At first glance it appeared to be just another breaded chicken sandwich. But the brand of patty and its preparation were key. According to Kathy Pavlas, a 23-year veteran of the campus dining team, it was a Tyson brand patty, which was baked and fried to perfection. Around 2009, with use of the new Rade Dining Hall and kitchen underway, a well-intentioned former director of campus dining sought a healthier option.

“He picked another kind of chicken,” Pavlas recalls. “And they rebelled against it. And they boycotted it. And we went back to the Tyson chicken, but it’s not as it used to be.” The kitchen staff opted to try and retain a healthier patty by only baking them, but as students found other delicious options, the patty faded from prominence.

Remnants of “Chicken Patty Wednesdays” remain. At some alumni gatherings on campus, the campus dining staff will serve slider versions of the beloved sandwich. Every couple of weeks, the main serving line in the cafeteria offers an “Ignatius bowl” of mashed potatoes, corn and popcorn chicken.

In 2020, Wednesdays come and go with nary a mention of chicken patties—the result of a change that for too many students was just too hard to digest.

Off-Campus Eats

No matter the era, students have always had places to eat off-campus before, during and after school. The longest-lasting of those, of course, is Heck’s, founded in 1934 by Francis J. Heckman and his wife, Mary. Originally founded as a confectionery store, it quickly evolved into an unofficial campus hang-out space.

“A daily footrace was held, with the lunch bell serving as the starting gun,” says the Years in Passing text. “While it must have led neighborhood residents to think the school caught on fire each day at noon, the so-disposed students considered it the highlight of the day, in the same way that Jug served as the lowlight.”

Since those early days, Heck’s has been known for its hamburgers, although today’s iteration of the café is a sit-down restaurant where Mom or Dad should pick up the tab. And yet, while Heck’s is no longer the hotspot hangout, others have filled that void.

Andrew Biehl '19 favored the outdoor seating area at Phoenix Coffee for getting work done before school.

Phoenix Coffee shop sits catty-corner from Heck’s at the intersection of West 30th and Bridge, in the building formerly known as the West Side Community House. A local chain of finely crafted coffees, the cozy café is a place where students and teachers alike drop in throughout the day.

For decades, students have had permission to visit one off-campus lunch spot: Wendy’s. At the corner of West 30th and Lorain, the fast food joint is surrounded by campus on all sides. Although its popularity has waned since the renovations to the cafeteria, it still fills a need for students looking for a quick bite or a Frosty.

Perhaps the first and only time a fast food restaurant has been referred to as a "unique emporium."

“Wendy’s chicken sandwiches were all-time,” says Joey Greco ’11. “Or the junior bacon cheeseburger. The after-practice snack before you went home for dinner.”

But students didn’t even need to cross the street if they really wanted something different from what the cafeteria was serving up. For many years, a wonderful Greek gentleman named Emmanuel Konstantinous—but known to many as Demetrius—hawked hot dogs from his own stand on the Mall. He was friendly and reliable, serving street meat no matter the weather.

“I must have eaten 500 hot dogs during my tenure,” says Andrew Rising ’07. “Demetrius was a guy you could always count on to be there, rain or shine. It was a lesson in consistency and hard work. Good for all Ignatius men to observe.”
"Hot Dog Man" was the subject of many features in The Eye and a staple on the mall for many years.

The little cart, with its signature red and yellow umbrella overhead, was a staple. For a few bucks, a kid could feast on a couple hot dogs, a bag of chips and a can of ice cold Tahitian Treat. Polish boys were popular, and Demetrius had all the fixings for franks.

Like the hot dog cart, countless other lunchtime spots have come and gone. In a bygone era, students wandered eastward to the West Side Market, or westward to the Hot Dog Inn. Other popular spots included Athens bakery, now the site of Boaz Café, or Ma’s on Lorain. The student handbook dictates that the only off-campus locations students can grab food at during the school day are Wendy’s and Phoenix. But the crackerjack campus dining team has found ways to flip the script.

Almost weekly, staff from Ohio City Burrito set up shop at the main serving line. On Fridays, a team from Project Sushi creates custom sushi rolls on campus. Once in a while, Picadilly Creamery doles out scoops of ice cream. In recent years, Student Senate scheduled food trucks to park next to campus during lunch periods. And, outside of school hours, a majority of the local fast-casual restaurants will accept student IDs as a form of payment.

“It was part of what makes Ignatius unique,” says John Geffert ’94. “Being a part of the surrounding community and being given the responsibility to venture (even if just a few) steps off campus.”

Family Favorites

Each of the 18,000 alumni of this school has his own stories and memories; indeed, they are too numerous to tell in one article. But to step back and hear the stories from those of a different era is fascinating.

Theresa’s Pizza? Papa John’s? Fresh off the serving line in the caf? Whichever slice you associate with your high school days says a lot about the time that an alum was in school. And yet, the menu aside, there are some ingredients to the lunchtime experience that remain unchanged.

The lunch table, often enough, featured guys students didn’t necessarily have class with. It had guys from outside their extracurricular circles. As Kopcso put it, “Honestly, graduating from Saint Ignatius prior to text messaging on cell phones and in the pre-social media era, most social information traveled here in the student center.”

The veteran campus dining staff serves up tacos, burgers, salads--and most importantly, smiles.

Behind the scenes, there were always people making sure lunch was one of the highlights of the day.

“I tell other people, ‘Cook like you’re cooking for your family,’” Burgess says. “We have a lot of ladies that are really good friends with the boys, just really close to the boys… The relationships that we form with these boys, we’re their second moms. They can come in here and they can talk with us. It’s just amazing.”

And that’s the secret sauce—care, camaraderie, and some damn good cooking—that all makes lunchtime at Saint Ignatius an essential part of the student experience. And, as the moral of the chicken patty story shows, sometimes there is never any need for a recipe change.

This one is already perfect.

While it may have undergone dramatic changes over the last 134 years, one thing remains constant: Lunchtime at Saint Ignatius is a treasured time.
Created By
Connor Walters '09