Centerville resident Matt Ribar, who is 32, has never missed a State Fair.
“I was in my mom’s belly at the fair and even when I went off to school in Arizona for a year, I came back for Labor Day weekend to go,” he said.
The 2005 White Bear grad has fond memories of the Great Minnesota Get-Together as well as other state fairs and festivals. Ribar’s father, Brad Ribar of White Bear Township, has owned the Corn Roast concession at the State Fair for 34 years.
The family’s passion transcends generations: in the ’80s, Matt’s grandfather acquired a cheese curd trailer from the Mueller family, which was known for having The Original Deep Fried Cheese Curds stand at the fair. Although the family does not sell cheese curds at the State Fair, it does sell them at other fairs and festivals. Also in the family is Peter’s Hotdogs. At one point, the family operated a total of 13 food trailers.
“Knowing the carnival owners in the county fair scene, I remember playing all the games for free,” Matt said. “At the State Fair, my dad would give me a roll of quarters to keep me out of his hair and I would go to the arcade and see how many tickets I could get. I would crawl under the office trailer, store my tickets and count them ... I had all these stuffed animals that never got played with.”
After years of helping his family at the fair, Matt and his wife Erin decided to start their own adventure with a new food. Erin wanted to try poutine, so the two set out on a road trip to see what poutine was all about. “We went to Canada and spent a week and a half trying poutine all over. We drove to Quebec City and back and tried out all the places that claimed to have ‘the original’ or ‘the best’ poutine,” he said.
“We were at restaurant and saw it on a menu, but you don’t know what the word means,” Matt said, noting that the description said it involved cheese curds and fries. We sell fries at a few fairs and cheese curds, so I thought, ‘We already have all that stuff, all we have to do is add gravy!’ Then we figured out what it really was.”
In 2010, Matt and Erin tried selling poutine for the first time at the Anoka County Fair. They used one of the cheese curd trailers, crossed out the words “cheese curds” and wrote “poutine” on the trailer. In 2011 the couple purchased their own trailer and sold poutine for a full year. After applying both years to get into the State Fair, Matt received the call that his first year of sales at the fair would be 2012.
“When we went to Canada and did our research, we discovered that true poutine is a poultry-based gravy, fresh cut fries and (Ellsworth) cheese curds — not battered or deep fried, but the fresh curd,” Matt explained. “For our gravy, we came up with a recipe that nobody can duplicate … and it’s amazing. Anybody can cut fries and buy cheese curds, but to get a gravy that has that unique flavor is what sets us apart.”
On average, Duke’s Poutine does anywhere from six to 10 events every year. In addition to the State Fair and various events at the fairgrounds, the stand also makes its way to other state and county fairs and festivals. Matt also regularly helps his family with the other stands when he is not too busy with his own.
The second Saturday of the 2012 State Fair still holds the record: the couple went through 55 gallons of gravy in one day. As expected, Matt said the sales dropped off for the second year after the press promotions ceased, but in year five they finally matched their year one numbers. This year, Matt hopes to exceed that — and maybe even break some more records.
“It is a different city every weekend. You recognize people from the year prior and get to meet new people,” Matt said. “Growing up in it, a lot of the people out here are like family.”
Duke’s Poutine is located at the intersection of Judson Avenue and Clough Street, across from the CHS Miracle of Birth Center and adjacent to the All You Can Drink Milk stand.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.