Cincinnati Enquirer August 2000 Story
On Sunday, August 13, 2000, the Cincinnati Enquirer published the following story in their Tempo and Taste section. Chuck Martin, the Enquirer food editor, wrote the article.
Churches’ chicken inspires Web site
Carl Heilmann is a computer guy who loves good food and fellowship, so it makes sense for him to introduce the old world to the new. A part-time computer consultant at the university of Cincinnati, Mr. Heilmann has created a web site featuring a schedule of church chicken dinners held in Southeast Indiana and Southwest Ohio. As far as I know, it’s the only Web site that promotes eating fried chicken, green beans and mock turtle soup in small rural Catholic churches. And even he agrees there is a little irony in linking the Internet with these social and eating events, rooted in years of tradition. “I think they might call this a dichotomy,” says Mr. Heilmann, who lives in Delhi township.
To be clear, he receives no payment – not even a free chicken leg of slice of pie – for his services. Mr Heilmann built the chicken dinner Web site in 1995 for “practice”, when the technology was relatively new. Since then, his motives have evolved. “When I met the sponsors and hosts at the dinners, I realized that they were such decent people,” he says, “So I thought I could give them some advertising”.
Came to chicken late
Mr. Heilmann didn’t always like the idea of sharing chicken with strangers. Growing up in Lawrenceburg and the West side of Cincinnati, his German-immigrant parents took him to chicken dinners as a child. He hated them. "I was like any other kid,” he says. “I wanted to be out playing with my friends.” When he was old enough to get away with saying no, he stopped going. But he rediscovered the church meals 10 years ago, after a neighbor told him about going to a dinner in Indiana and then another friend brought him a batch of church-made turtle soup.
In June 1990, Mr. Heilmann and his wife, Edith, went to a family-style dinner at St. Nicholas church in Sunman Indiana. They sat at a table with eight people whom they had never met. But soon they were passing mashed potatoes and carrying on conversation. “I remember talking to an older couple sitting across from us” Mr. Heilmann says. “They had raised their family on a farm, not too far from the church. They reminded me of my parents, somewhat. They had the hands and the look of people who had worked hard all their lives.”
List grew slowly
Five years later, Mr. Heilmann started compiling a list of dinners by talking to friends and searching for church fliers advertising the meals. Later, equipped with a list of Catholic churches in the area, he sent our surveys. “A few were a little reluctant to respond at first” he says, “because the technology was new and they thought it might cost something.” Since that first year, his list has grown from six to 25 dinners, most of which are held from June to Labor Day. In addition to the cost, location and time (with an explanation of Indiana “slow” time) of each dinner, Mr. Heilmann offers menu highlights and other details, such as whether the dining hall is air-conditioned. For a while, I rated the dinners on a plus and minus system”, Mr. Heilmann says. “But my wife thought that was kind of mean-spirited.”
Although he enjoys the social aspects of the dinners – making new friends while passing the dressing and gravy – Mr. Heilmann also enjoys eating the food – sweet, crunchy coleslaw; tart cucumber salad; corn cut from the cob; tender noodles and homemade desserts. He likes the chicken, too, but unfortunately he’s not supposed to eat it in its fried form. “I have this cholesterol problem,” he says with a tone of disappointment. “And I have to take the skin off before I eat it.” So far, none of the church hosts have recognized him standing in line, but that’s fine with him. “I kind of prefer the anonymity,” he says.