Serving doesn’t officially start until 5 p.m. at the Farmington VFW’s monthly steak frys, but there was already a line forming by 4:50 on the third Saturday of May.
These are regulars: longtime Farmington residents who show up every month for a juicy steak, a baked potato, salad and dessert. They sit at folding tables and sip from Styrofoam cups of lemonade, water or coffee while they catch up with friends and neighbors. It doesn’t necessarily matter who’s benefitting from the night’s fundraiser — in this particular case, it’s the Farmington Rotary — just that they can get a good steak dinner for $10.
Part community gathering spot, part community service project, the steak dinners have been part of life downtown Farmington for more than 30 years at this point. They started in the early 1980s, when the VFW moved into its current home on Third Street. At first, they were fundraisers for the post. Members did the serving, and the VFW put the money toward its programs.
Then, sometime in the early 1990s, things started to change. One of the Boy Scout troops that meets at the post needed to raise some money, so the VFW turned over one of its steak frys. The VFW still did some for itself at first, but by the mid-90s, the community had taken over completely. For the cost of a few hours of labor and some pans of dessert, groups like the FHS dance team, the girls fastpitch softball program and Farmington girls hockey can walk away with hundreds of dollars.
“It’s just something you do for the community,” VFW commander Ron Ersfeld said. “The needs were there for all the different organizations.”
The groups that partner with the VFW on a steak fry take home $4 for every meal served. The remaining $6 covers the VFW’s costs. The post itself doesn’t make any profit.
The VFW provides most of the raw materials for the dinner. They order the steaks and the potatoes and the vegetables for the salads. Club members also are on hand to cook the steaks on the gas grills lined up behind the building, and to sell tickets at the door.
The group doing the fundraising is responsible for desserts, and for selling advance tickets. And, of course, for providing some of the manual labor. There are potatoes to scrub and wrap in foil, tables to set and drinks to serve. Group members bus tables and wash dishes.
The amount of work depends on the size of the crowd. Last month’s dinner served 134 people, but a steak fry earlier this year for the girls fastpitch program brought in 461. It was a record crowd, Ersfeld said, and a very busy night.
Ersfeld is there to set out supplies and provide direction. He’s given up a lot of Friday and Saturday nights to steak frys over the years. He likes the events, though. He’s met thousands of people there. Each new group that signs up draws a different crowd, and Ersfeld still runs into visitors who are seeing downtown Farmington for the first time.
“You have a fun evening. You see different people,” he said. “You’ve got to have fun and enjoy it or you wouldn’t be there.”
The steak frys happen all year round. There’s one every month but December, and the cooks are still out at the grills even on the coldest nights. With special requests recently, the club had held two steak frys a month from February through May.
“It’s good for the community,” Ersfeld said.
It’s also pretty darn tasty.
The VFW’s next steak fry will take place June 21. It will benefit the FHS dance team.