ST. GEORGE — Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, a crowd of roughly 20 people gathered in the Smith’s parking lot at 20 North Bluff St. A blue-eyed man in a blue jacket sauntered up to the front of the line, drawing sidelong glances from those who were already waiting.
“Is this the beginning, or the end?” asked Robert Wells, an insurance agent at American National Insurance.
His question was met with silence, as his line-mates may have been wondering whether Wells was confronting them with a philosophical quandary.
Finally, someone told Wells that he was, in fact, at the front of the line.
Though it was early yet, the line for On The Hook’s Fish and Chips was growing. And nobody was in the mood to wait longer than necessary.
On the Hook Fish and Chips was dreamed up by engineering students at the University of Wyoming, Ocean Andrew and Hunter Anderson, in 2016. Based in Laramie, Wyoming, they specialize in beer-battered fried Alaskan cod with a side of chips.
On The Hook boasts of catching each piece of cod in Alaska, where it’s headed and gutted. Then they flash-freeze it on the spot to preserve flavor and tenderness.
Does that painstaking process translate to the product?
Wells, an Alaska native who now lives in St. George, said that he has been to England, where fish-and-chips are also popular.
“I prefer On The Hook,” Wells said. “We buy meals for the whole office every time these guys come to town.”
This On The Hook crew drives roughly 1,800 miles a week, working 12- to 16-hour days, to bring their popular fish-and-chips to hungry customers throughout western states. They crisscross the country in their aqua blue food trucks, from Idaho down to Nebraska, and Utah to Montana.
The company is currently trying to set up shop in Las Vegas, but they love Utah.
“St. George is our most popular spot in Utah,” said Terrick Petersen, one of the truck’s crew. “We make a point of stopping here every six weeks or so.”
Petersen joined the company in May, after finding a post on Indeed.com.
“I needed a job really bad,” Petersen said. “They asked me if I could handle the long hours on the road, being away from my family.”
Petersen accepted the job, and he’s glad he did. Before joining On The Hook, Petersen said he struggled to support his family.
“I have a girlfriend, and three kids,” Petersen said. “Before I got this job, we were living in hotels. Now, my girl is a stay-at-home mom.”
Now, his family has a home in Salt Lake City.
“This company saved my life,” Petersen said.
As noon drew closer, more customers lined up to get the only thing on the menu. As all this was happening, a member of the On The Hook team poked his head out the window and shouted names like Ron, Jay, and Donna. The customers almost always appeared immediately, with their hands stretched up toward the white boxes filled with crispy fish and chips.
Petersen said they average between 500 and 800 sales a day. At $12 a plate, that’s a healthy haul.
“If you think this is something, you should have seen this line when it was warm,” Wells said. “It went clear back to Smith’s … and that was before social distancing.”
Rebecca Sullivan, a Seattle native who’s lived in St. George for 12 years, said that she’s been an On The Hook enthusiast since she heard of them.
“I haven’t tasted fish this good since I lived in Seattle,” Sullivan said. “I’ve missed it so much.”
One masked man walked past Wells and said, “You can’t see me, but I’m smiling.”
On the Hook moved onto Hurricane on Thursday before heading back north on Friday. Their schedule of Utah stops is available on their website.
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