Mike Moldowan died in July 28, 2008 at the young age of 96 years old. Yesterday I saw his truck for sale, and the memories began to flow. There was and is– no one like Mike and his fries, and the town of Carleton Place will forever miss the summer traditions of Mike’s Fries. Ted Hurdis said,
If you asked Mike if he was making lots of money. His reply was always ” I don’t make money just chips “. As a kid we used to clean up at night around the wagon and he would give us free chips…great guy…no one dared ask for ketchup at Mikes chip wagon you didn’t need it just butter.”
So I went searching and found his Obituary online and printed it here so we can always have a permanent recollection of the Man Behind the Fries.
OTTAWA-It’s said, all over the Ottawa Valley, that people would drive from the capital, and other far-flung places, to Bridge Street in Carleton Place to get a taste of Mike Moldowan’s french fries.
That might be a unique distinction for a seasonal chipwagon, but more unique perhaps was the way that wagon travelled through town in the summers of the 1930s. Carleton Place’s first chipwagon — and second-oldest business — made its way downtown with one horsepower.
“Mike had a horse-drawn chipwagon he took downtown in the summer evenings,” said his daughter-in-law, Pat Moldowan. “He’d hire a boy to take the horse back home for the evening, and come back and get him and the wagon at 1 or 2 a.m.”
In those days, downtown stores were open until midnight so business was swift in the evenings.
From those humble beginnings, Romanian immigrant Mike Moldowan (pronounced Muldoon), became Carleton Place’s top fry guy — and a community institution.
After moving to Carleton Place, they opened a corner store called Moldowan’s grocery and sold Sunoco gas. With his wife running the store, Mr. Moldowan was free to run the chipwagon in the summers.
“They worked hard,” Ms. Moldowan said.
“They did well, but they never took a vacation, never went anywhere. I guess he was happiest when he was working.”
Mr. Moldowan sold fries — and gave away plenty, too — until 1979 when he turned 68 and passed the business on to his son.
During his fry days, he also found time to serve on city council, from 1963 to 1965.
“He was very civic-minded,” Ms. Moldowan said.
Brian Costello, mayor from 1993 to 2005, gave the eulogy at Mr. Moldowan’s funeral. He said the longtime Lions Club member gave much to charity, but “never said a word about it.”
The horse-drawn chipwagon lasted for the better part of a decade. In the 1940s, Mr. Moldowan bought a 1938 Rio. He hooked a steam whistle up to the fry cooker and it would sound as he rode through town. He replaced the Rio in the 1960s with the custom-made International that remains a purveyor of fries to this day. Pat and Mike Jr. ran it together for 25 years until Mike Jr. died from heart complications.
Now, it’s up to Ms. Moldowan to make the fries, always from fresh-cut potatoes. She gets help from her daughter, Debbie Moldowan-Peake, who will one day own the business.
Ms. Moldowan-Peake will try to run it with the humour of her grandfather, described by Carleton Place Mayor Paul Dulmage as always having a joke for everyone.
“We grew up with Mike’s Fries,” said Mr. Dulmage. “He was a real gentleman.”
Ms. Moldowan remembers when city council wanted to move the chipwagon from its spot on the main street because it was taking up too many valuable parking spaces.
“People were up in arms,” she said, adding that they had about 1,000 calls to the house. “Needless to say, it didn’t go through.”
She also remembers how customers would ask her father-in-law about his accent. “With a straight face, he’d tell them it was Chinese.”
Mr. Costello remembers how he’d call everyone Joe. “He’d say ‘Joe, I hear you have a new job, making lots of money. Can you lend me some?’
The answer would be that Mike made lots of money, too. And Mike would answer, ‘I don’t make money, I just make chips’.”
Ultimately, Mr. Costello said, Mr. Moldowan was “one of those people that are unforgettable and really form the basis of what small community life in the Valley is all about. It’s about caring. And he cared.”
Thanks to the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum for the new pictures. The Butter Pourer alone is worth its weight in gold!
Mike Doyle said: I’m 80 now and we left Carleton Place in 1940 but every Saturday was movie matinee and after the movies my sister and I would be lined up at the chip wagon (horse drawn) to get our favorite treat. Every Saturday evening in Carleton Place in the summer was almost a festival – everyone walked from one end of Bridge Street to the other. When I saw the picture of Mike that you posted the memories just flooded back. In all the years since I have never tasted fries as good as those.
This photo from the Christmas Parade of 1981 is of Mike Moldowan’s chip wagon passing the Bank of Nova Scotia. From the Collection of The Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum. Tim Campbell The original horse drawn chip wagon was given to the museum and then loaned to the Chamber of Commerce. It was then basically ignored until it was irreparable and I believe it was demolished. A sad ending to a great story.
Photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum
If you love fries covered in melted butter, then we’re sure you’ve met Pat Moldowan, of “Mike’s Chips”. Her late husband is Mike Moldowan who carried on the chip wagon tradition that his father, Mike Sr., started in the 1930s. Do you remember the day The Day Mike Muldowan’s House Burnt Down? CLICK here for story–
Gail McDowell-– Thanks to Pat for keeping this tradition going…Can still picture both Mikes dishing out the chips!!! I am so old that I remember running to get a dime from my Grandmother and getting chips in a paper cone from senior Mike right around where the coin wash is on High Street…..
Ted Hurdis– I used to get a free cone of chips from mike senior at night all i had to do was clean up any old chip boxes laying around the bowling alley or Stuart Comba’s furniture store! He had a great business and people would always ask him “are you making lots of money Mike?” He always answered with “I don’t make money i just make chips”. Great memories 3 generations of Mikes chips.
Tim Neil– Bill Russell and I also picked up Mike’s Garbage. On Friday nights after we worked setting up pins in the bowling alley ( a penny a player) we walked from the chip wagon to the town hall, crossed the street and came back to the chip wagon. I think we w…See More
Barb Boyce-– You know you are from CP when you have these memories. Mike’s chips are definitely one of my favorite ones!!!
Ben MacRae –I have to agree, Mike’s chips are the best. I have travelled to many places around the world and any time I grab an order of French fries, I compare them to Mike’s. I still remember the little butter pot with the cork in the spout!