Last bite for Sligos first hamburger shop as Peter and Mai call it a day
Jim Gray reports In the boom years, they fried three tonnes of chips every week, and they made and sold Connachts first ever hamburger. But after thirty-five years behind the counter of their beloved Carlton Cafe, Peter and Mai Filan have decided to hang up the aprons.
Although in recent years the Carlton has become famous as the home of Westlife singer, Shane Filan, the restaurant has, in fact, long been a star in its own right.
Peter and Mai have fed generations of Sligonians with their home-cooked food, and long before the fast food phenomenon swept the country, the Carlton was earning rave reviews as a good old-fashioned traditional chipper.
“In the early years, we mainly did just fish and chips, but we extended the menu as the years went on, and customers could literally have anything from a cup of tea to a good old fashioned fry-up to a succulent steak”, Peter recalls.
A native of Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, Peter and his late brother, Luke, initially operated the Mayfair cafe in High Street, before Peter and Mai took over the Carlton from its previous owner, John Harkin from Glencar, in 1967.
“We were the first restaurant in Connacht to sell hamburgers”, Peter proudly boasts. “I’d seen how popular hamburgers were when I worked in London and decided to give it a go here. We made them here ourselves, and I can remember people queuing a couple of hundred yards along Castle Street for them.
“In those days, the only take-away restaurants in the town were ourselves, the Mayfair, and the Rainbow in Wine Street. None of the local factories had their own canteens, so we did the catering for a lot of hungry workers in the town.
“Business was so good we’d often be on our feet until the small hours of the morning, as people would drop in after dances in Strandhill or Bundoran. It was hard work, but we enjoyed every minute of it, and we had some very loyal customers”.
As well as introducing the hamburger to local diners, the Carlton always made a point of cooking real potato chips.
“In the boom years, we’d be frying up to three tonnes of potatoes a week. Thankfully, we had an electric peeler”, Peter quips.
Peter and Mai reared a family of seven overhead the Castle Street shop — four boys and three girls — and while the youngest, Shane, has become a world renowned pop star, they’re all superstars in their parents’ eyes.
“They all worked very hard in the cafe as children. Every school holiday was spent behind the counter, and it wasn’t easy work. But it didn’t do them any harm, and I think they enjoyed it”, their father says.
Of course, Shane’s celebrity introduced a whole new generation to the delights of the Carlton, as fans from all over the world dropped in to see his home.
“Once the Carlton became known as Shane’s home, we had fans dropping in from all over the world”, says Peter. “On one day last week, we had people from nine different countries”.
As he filled his last bag of chips on Thursday evening, Peter gladly contemplated the prospect of retirement.
“We’re off to see the world”, he smiled, with the type of winning wink which his son has made famous. A chip off the old block, no doubt.