Hockey parents know the feeling: the game is set to go, the Zamboni has a few more passes to make, but your tummy rumbles. But wait, what’s this? That kid two rows down appears to be enjoying a box of golden, crispy delight. Mmmm… french fries. The aroma wafts tantalizingly in your direction. Is this the answer you seek?
Peterborough’s Jef Dueck knows. And such is his passion for the arena fry that he began a journey last November to find the best arena fries in Ontario.
“As a hockey parent,” says Dueck, “obviously you spend your time travelling [from] arena to arena and around the province. And as it often goes, somebody will get fries and then somebody else can smell them and they want fries… and just talking to other hockey parents, it was like, ‘Oh, what are the fries like here?… Maybe somebody should try them first.’”
So, he says, it was decided that there needed to be some sort of a ranking system or scorecard people could use to find out about the fries being offered at each arena — and then take it a step further to make it a contest. “Just a fun, tongue-in-cheek kind of game.”
“It became particularly fun for us because here in Peterborough, our concessions never even opened in our arenas here this year because of an issue with the contract and vendor. So, we didn’t even get fries at our home rink!” — a fact that Dueck says, “removed any potential for bias.”
Dueck encouraged others to submit fry reviews to an Arena Fries Ontario Facebook page throughout the 2022-2023 hockey season and, as it came down to the final weeks, he began a survey of the top contenders.
And the winner is… wait for it … The Strathcona Paper Centre (SPC) canteen in Napanee, operated by “Big D’s,” Darcy and Teresa Deyo.
Darcy Deyo says it was a shock: “We really didn’t know about the french fry contest; we only learned about it from a family member that came across it.” But his “bragging rights” are now secure: Big D’s canteen holds the honour for Best Arena Fries in Ontario.
“It’s neat!” says Deyo. “We have people that come here for fries now, so we’re a little busier. And we get people that travel through the hockey world who come here and say, ‘Yeah, you got really good fries’. That was even before the contest. And then when we saw the contest, it was just like, ‘Oh, geez.’”
Until recently, Deyo also had a restaurant, Big D’s, in downtown Napanee, but he says they made the choice to close the restaurant due to the worker shortage. “My son, my wife, and I tried to do the restaurant plus this canteen, but with me coming up here, my son was so busy down there [at the restaurant] that we just couldn’t do it. And so we had to pick one… Once you get successful, you need help, and right now ,you can’t find the help.”
If you want to see for yourself what the best arena fry in Ontario tastes like, Big D’s Canteen is open Monday and Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 12 noon to close; they also open on the weekend at 8 a.m. for breakfast.
As for Dueck, he will be presenting a championship prize to Big D’s in a few weeks. Now that he has one french fry competition quite literally “under his belt,” he says he had better start his off-season training “so I’m prepared for next year and so I’m not buying a whole new wardrobe.”