Millsboro Lions’ fritters a 40-year staple

Millsboro Lions member Rita Rogers adds ketchup to an oyster fritter Saturday at the Fritter Shack, a seasonal fundraiser for the Millsboro Lions in their mission to provide eye exams and glasses to those in need. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — With autumn’s annual arrival comes a tasty treat that has been a Millsboro tradition for several decades.

The Millsboro Lions’ Fritter Shack is open for business — albeit a week later than usual — and will be serving oyster fritters and several other food and drink options two days a week into early December.

Fritter Shack hours are Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 2-6 p.m. — or until they sell out.

“We have people come over from Rehoboth; they come up from Berlin (Maryland). And boy, are they really ticked off when they get here after we’ve just sold the last one,” said Millsboro Lions member Dave Mitchell, who coordinates the scheduling, food and supply ordering and operation. “We try and open about the third week in September. We close a week after the Christmas parade.”

Millsboro resident Alex Dorsey stopped by the Fritter Shack twice last Saturday. Each time, he purchased an $8 oyster fritter topped with mustard.

“Every Saturday,” said Mr. Dorsey. “If I am not working — I work on Saturdays, mostly — but if am not working, I’m here.”

Alex Dorsey of Millsboro visits the Millsboro Lions Fritter Shack a second time Saturday for an oyster fritter sandwich. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Besides oyster fritters, the menu features soft crab sandwiches and crabcakes, also for $8 each. It also offers $1 hot dogs and $1 sodas.

“Nowhere else can you buy a hot dog for a dollar,” Mr. Mitchell proclaimed.

Proceeds from Fritter Shack sales support several charitable projects, primarily Lions International’s vision to reduce global blindness with its SightFirst program. Locally, that includes eye exams and eyeglasses.

“I think last year, we cleared about $6,000, and mostly, it all goes for eyeglasses,” said Mr. Mitchell, currently the first vice president of the Millsboro Lions and first vice district governor of District 22D. “We support the Boy Scouts, the Little League. We give money to the Lions International — a lot of things. But our primary expense every year is eyeglasses, eye exams; that is the Lions’ thing.”

On average, the Millsboro Lions assist between 35 and 55 persons annually in the vision initiative. The club’s record is 75, logged five years ago.

“We occasionally have to go to our state organization to get more funds. Delaware Lions Foundation will match half,” said Mr. Mitchell.

Oyster fritters, made with fresh oysters purchased by the gallon from Harbor House Seafood in Seaford, are the shack’s main draw.

“That is our identity in town,” said Mr. Mitchell. “It is not guys that help with eyeglasses; it’s the guys that sell fritters.”

The Millsboro Lions’ recipe calls for whole oysters, not chopped as some other fritter-makers choose, Mr. Mitchell said.

“When you use whole oysters, the shape is what the shape is,” he said. “You know when you are eating an oyster. It’s not some little piece of oyster.

“There are two secrets to this. One is getting the batter the right consistency, and the other is knowing when they are done,” he added. “I like mine really loose.”

Others, like Lions member Mitch Rogers, who manned the fritter frying pan Saturday, prefer a firmer, pancake-like texture. Ketchup, mustard, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and mayonnaise are garnish options.

Presently based in the Millsboro Town Center parking lot, Fritter Shack history in town dates to the early 1960s, when it was started through a church endeavor.

“St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, they started this in a little, tiny trailer — that wasn’t as long as this one is wide — in the early ’60s. There is some debate whether that was ’61, ’62 or ’63. But they were the ‘Fritter Friars,’” said Mr. Mitchell. “They started it; they ran it. Like so many other organizations, the men aged out, and the Lions started helping them. It must have been in the early ’80s that we just kind of assumed the franchise.”

Today’s Fritter Shack trailer is the third one that Mr. Mitchell is aware of. “It is the second one that the Lions have used. It was custom-built for us, from the frame up, by a guy that used to run a mobile home supply out across the bridge — Willie Taylor. He was a Lion at the time.”

The current Fritter Shack has updated ventilation.

“It used to be a smoky mess. You’d go home, and you couldn’t get in the door. You still smelled like fried food,” said Mr. Mitchell.

The Lions have been at the Millsboro Town Center location for several years.

“For years and years, we were on Main Street. That is where it started, on the street in a parking spot. Then, when PNC redid their parking area, they actually made a place for us — put an outlet in the parking lot — and we were there until a couple years ago,” said Mr. Mitchell.

The bank’s requirement for increased liability insurance from $1 million to $3 million precipitated the Lions’ move to the town center.

“The traffic situation certainly is much better than being on Main Street. It’s been a good move for us. The town likes to have us here,” said Mr. Mitchell.

Sanitation is a high priority. The floor is scrubbed weekly, and everything is wiped down.

“The only thing the board of health has ever dinged us on is, we don’t have running water,” said Mr. Mitchell.

However, when completed, a wiring project will pave the way for a water supply.

The Fritter Shack operates with a small core of Lions volunteers. Mr. Rogers, a two-time past president of the Millsboro Lions, and his wife, Rita, also a Lions member, had the Saturday shift last weekend.

“For 40 years, it has been our primary moneymaker, which is both good and bad,” said Mr. Mitchell. “It is pretty labor-intensive for 12 or 13 weeks.”