BY D’ARCY EGAN
Rich’s Drive-Thru on West Fremont Road in Port Clinton has put its home cooking in the spotlight, said Rich and Diane Kokinda, especially their fried chicken. It took a little while, though, to get the secret ingredients just right.
“We kept experimenting with a wide variety of spices, and asking our friends and customers to taste test the results,” said Rich Kokinda. “We offered them pieces of chicken tenders done a lot of different ways, and had people drop tickets in buckets to vote for their favorite.”
While Rich’s Drive-Thru has been a one stop shop for decades, the Kokindas admit the fried chicken has really created a buzz this year.
The Kokindas won’t share their secret fried chicken ingredients, but they’re delighted customers feel the need to carry home buckets of chicken, chicken pot pies, pulled pork sandwiches, mac and cheese, hefty fries and other local favorites.
The neat, clean corner store and drive through is a treasure trove of take-home food and drink, with a huge wine selection and a spacious 30-degree beer cooler.
A mini-grocery store, Rich’s Drive-Thru offers Tank’s locally-produced steaks, chops and sausages. They also have fresh walleye and yellow perch, and a wide array of homemade potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans and sandwiches.
“It’s all homemade, and always fresh,” said Diane Kokinda, a basketball star from Danbury High School’s Class of 1985. Her husband was a Port Clinton High School grad in 1981, and a familiar face behind the counter at Rich’s Drive-Thru, working for his mom and dad, Jean and Rich Kokinda, who eventually sold the store because of medical issues.
Rich Kokinda worked for years in manufacturing at Ford and USG plants in Sandusky after high school. After he took a retirement package, and Diane retired as Director of Nursing for the Ottawa County Health Department, they took over Rich’s Drive-Thru and worked to make it a friendly neighborhood store.
“There wasn’t anyplace else to buy groceries, wine or beer on the west side of Port Clinton,” said Kokinda. “Many of our neighbors here are older, and walk to the store for a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk or a six pack of beer. We’re working to provide them with good food — especially chicken.”
The chickens arrive in boxes of a dozen, and they go through 18 to 20 boxes each week. The birds are quickly brined and then breaded, using the Kokinda’s secret spices.
It also helps to have a dedicated staff. J.P. St. Clair is the Kokinda’s right hand man, and cooking and creating the homemade delights are Barb Erickson, Lori Kokinda, Leighia Havens and Macey Meacham.
“Whatever has to be done, from cooking and cleaning to handling the cash register, it gets done,” said Diane. “We’re just a happy family.”