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Chappie's Lunch







This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections Initiative, Industry Canada.


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Chappie’s Lunch: The First Italian Restaurant in “The Village”
By Al (Butchie) Carmanico
In the early 1900’s, Europeans were immigrating to North America in search of a better life. Two of these people, from the Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy, were my maternal grandparents: Vincenzo Cianci and Catarina Barbaro. They came to Canada and ended up in Ottawa, where they began their new life together. They had two children, Joe and Mary (my mom).

About this time, in a little town in the Abruzzi Mountains called Repa Teatina, where the father of Rocky Marciano (the famous heavy weight-champion) was born, a man named Antonio Carmanico and his wife Maria Napolitano decided to take their six-month-old son and move to the United States. They settled in Camden, New Jersey, in 1905 and had more children. Among these children was my dad, Albert (Chappy) Carmanico. After several years the Carmanico family moved to Ottawa where Chappy, now in his late teens, partnered up with Harry Menchini to form the Preston Athletic Club. Their goal was to train young boys to box and wrestle.

Chappy was working as a labourer for Frank Licari’s plastering company when the Second World War broke out in 1939. By 1940 the war was intensifying and Chappy became a Canadian citizen in order to join the army. With his past experience as a boxer, wrestler and his knowledge of ju-jitsu, Chappy was sent to assist in the training of new recruits. He was eventually transferred to the Provost Corp where he supervised the moving of German prisoners from Italy to various camps in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the war, Chappy and a lieutenant were in a jeep chasing a deserter. It was raining heavily and when they went around a curve the jeep slid off a small cliff and rolled over Chappy, crushing his groin area.

In 1945, when the Second World War ended, Albert (Chappy) Carmanico was lying in a veterans’ hospital recovering from his injury. He didn’t have much in the way of education or marketable skills, but his wife, Mary (Cianci) Carmanico, liked to cook and was good at it. Mary was now pregnant with their seventh child. The Carmanico family lived in a large building at 438 ½ Preston Street, with a large mortgage and a store on the main floor that wasn’t bringing in much revenue.
Chappie’s Lunch circa 1945-1956
Photo courtesy of Al Carmanico

The Carmanicos decided to take a chance that people would enjoy having a place to eat out, even though at the time dining out was not particularly fashionable for the average person. But the Carmanicos knew they would have good food and large portions for a reasonable price. And they were in a good location, close to the various government buildings on Booth Street, Rochester Street, and Carling Avenue, as well as the HMCS Carleton Navy barracks. So they opened Chappie’s Lunch – the first Italian restaurant in what was then known as “The Village.”

It was an exciting day in July of 1945 when the restaurant opened. The Orange Order were holding their annual parade and as always had gathered in their fancy bright outfits close by Commissioner’s Park to get ready for the march. The Catholics and the Jews were just as excited as the Protestants to see them marching with their loud bands. Before, during and after the parade a lot of people came to the newly opened restaurant. Chappy, Mary and their children, Mary, Tony, Kay and Theresa, were all busy cooking and serving.

Neither Chappy nor Mary had completed grade school, but now they were on their way to realizing the American Dream. This could not have happened without the help and sacrifices of their four older children. The oldest, Mary, was still a teenager yet she was up bright and early to bake pies: apple, cherry and raisin. (As a three-year-old my favourite was the lemon meringue.)


When I grew older, no matter where I went people would ask about Mary, who was always smiling and friendly with the customers. Tony was in high school and could often be seen at the end of the counter studying between serving customers. As the oldest son in a family of European descent a lot was expected of Tony, with not much gratitude or rewards in return. It must have been difficult to see his friends playing ball or hockey when he had to stay home to work and study. My older sisters, Cathleen (or Kay as people call her now) and Theresa, seemed always to be together. Whether it was arguing with Mary about the work or flirting with the young sailors, the two were inseparable. From a young child’s perspective they seemed to float between cooking, serving and cleaning and giving dad ulcers with their carrying on.

Chappy was the manager of sorts. He was in charge of ordering supplies, banking, maintenance, and talking to his old army buddies, a lot of who had become police officers. I remember Detective Lester Routtliffe coming in and sitting on two stools to eat his spaghetti and meatballs, placing one cheek on each stool. When I grew up and was working in the old Ottawa Magistrate’s Court I got reacquainted with Lester and another old army buddy of dad’s, Rene Lacroix, the godfather of Lower Town.

Chappie’s Original Menu

Hot dogs ................................................. 10 cents

Hamburgers ..............................................15 cents

Fish & Chips (homemade fries) ................. 40 cents

Wieners & Beans ...................................... 40 cents

Ham or bacon and eggs ............................ 35 cents

A variety of sandwiches ............................ 15 cents each

Spaghetti with meatballs

(including bread & beverage) .................... 50 cents

Coffee, Tea, Milk or Pop ............................ 5 cents


Another one of Chappy’s important duties was being the part-time bouncer. People would drink at the Prescott Hotel down the street and after it closed would wander down to Chappie’s Lunch for a meal. Sometimes they came to challenge the top gun former boxer and wrestler to a little “sidewalk cleaning” as dad used to call it.

But the real force behind the whole operation was Mary Carmanico. Mom was the main cook and seemed to always be there making sauce, rolling meatballs, frying eggs and even taking time to feed the three young ones: Al (Butchie), Joe and Ann. Ann was the seventh child Mary had been carrying when the Carmanicos started their venture and was born during “the restaurant years.” The story goes that mom took about one and a half to two hours off of work for the birth.

When Chappie’s Lunch opened it served a variety of regular meals that other restaurants served, such as hot dogs and hamburgers. What made Chappie’s different from other restaurants in the area was my mom’s delicious recipe for Italian spaghetti and meatballs. It was this unique feature that contributed to the restaurant’s success and longevity. Chappie’s Lunch operated from 1945 until about 1956.

I hope you found this little bit of “Village” history enjoyable; it was great for me to turn my mind to some of these past events. I loved growing up on Preston Street and am very proud to have contributed in a small way to Chappie’s Lunch.

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