CHILLICOTHE — During fair week, the Chillicothe Evening Lions Club hangs its hat on a sandwich so popular it’s become an attraction unto itself.
The Lion Burger — a half-pound double cheeseburger stacked high with sauce, pickles, lettuce, onion and tomato — is reason enough for some fairgoers to step foot onto the grounds. For the Lions Club, the burger represents a chargrilled boon to its fundraising efforts.
All of the proceeds from the Lions booth go to help support 17 local and international charities, several of which are tied to the club’s philanthropic focus — sight conservation.
The Lions collect used eyeglasses at the fair as part of a year-round campaign that brings in an average of 3,000 to 4,000 pairs annually. They’re cleaned at the Ohio State University and then distributed in Central and South America. The club estimates it has collected more than 100,000 pairs and raised more than $1 million during the course of its 87-year history.
The Chillicothe Evening Lions Club was chartered in 1924. Club members first served food at the fair in 1946, and a permanent booth was built two years later.
The club has 82 members and devotes more than 900 man-hours to its booth during the fair.
“We sell an awful lot of (Lion Burgers) and I do the cooking in the evenings, so I can attest to that,” club President Emmitt Hempstead said.
Hempstead said the booth cooks about 100 pounds of beef each day, which would amount to 200 Lion Burgers. But the menu is more than one sandwich, no matter how popular that one sandwich might be. Members also offer regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, hot dogs, eggs for breakfast and various other items.
Mike Hathaway, a club member, conceded the Lion Burger has some similarities to a certain famous double-decker burger served by a popular fast food chain.
“We had the idea first,” Hathaway said, before backpedaling a bit. “OK, I can’t say that for sure.”
Those who pass by the Lions booth cannot only smell the Lion Burger being grilled, they can hear it being sold. Every time a customer buys one, the Lions ring a bell.
In something of an ironic twist, as much as Hempstead touts the burger, he’s never actually eaten one. He has a sensitivity to gluten, so he can’t eat the bun.