Mike Conway, former sous chef at the Venice Inn, found purpose in the kitchen

Editor’s Note: On Sundays, The Herald-Mail publishes “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series looks back – through the eyes of family, friends, colleagues and others – on a recently deceased member of the community. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Michael E. Conway Sr., who died Feb. 28 at age 73. Conway’s obituary was posted on The Herald-Mail website on March 19.

Mike Conway’s son recalled how his father yearned for a life of his own.

He did, helping to run one of Hagerstown’s busiest kitchens at the famous Venice Inn at 431 Dual Highway in Hagerstown.

Mike was sous chef at the hotel, working alongside Bob Vidoni to prepare hundreds of Italian and American style entrees for crowded evenings at the 200-person restaurant.

‘A new start’

Mike’s son, Michael Conway II, of Charles Town, W.Va., explained how his father arrived in Hagerstown around 1970. He got into trouble and ended up incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Facility in Hagerstown . Upon his release, he thinks about his future.

“He knew he needed a fresh start and he decided to do it in Hagerstown,” his son said.

Jobs in the restaurant industry were plentiful then and Mike took the plunge, falling in love with the craftsmanship.

He was born on January 10, 1949 in Trappe on the east coast of Maryland. According to family history, her father was the first black man to own a gas station in the county town of Talbot.

The Venice Inn

Mike’s first restaurant job in Hagerstown was likely at the Venice Inn from around 1980, his son said. He began to hone his cooking skills there and enjoyed preparing prime rib and seafood such as blue crabs and crab cakes.

“He was a good cook in everything,” his son said.

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The term sous chef means the second in command in a kitchen. At one time, 140 people worked at the Venice Inn restaurant.

“We were so busy,” Bob Vidoni said in a 2014 interview with Herald-Mail Media. Bob and his brother Richard ran the business after their parents, originally from Italy, started it. It was a popular place for community service organizations in the area to hold events, and there were sometimes two or three that used a banquet hall at the same time.

Mike Conway also worked at the Copper Kettle restaurant in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He is known as

The establishment also offered 220 rooms, a ballroom that could accommodate 650 people and a discotheque that could accommodate 230 people. The Vidoni family sold the business in 1998 and today is where the Baymont by Wyndham Hagerstown operates.

“Old School”

Bob Vidoni’s wife, Dolores, said Mike was a very pleasant worker to have in the kitchen. At one point, a cousin of Bob, who was a chef in Argentina, came to work at the restaurant, and he, Bob and Mike worked on dishes together, she said.

Dolores said she thinks Mike worked there for about 10 years.

“I know Bob really liked him working there because he was from the old school,” Dolores said, explaining that Mike understood the value of a strong work ethic.

His son also spoke about his father’s popularity.

“Dad was always a nice guy. He talked to everyone in the room. Everyone knew who Mike Conway was,” he said.

After the Venice Inn, Mike moved on to the Copper Kettle in Chambersburg and made many strong friendships there during the 1990s, his son said. The Copper Kettle is known as the “House of Prime Rib” and for its quality sandwiches, seafood and cocktails.

Wise with age

Mike, who lived on Guilford Avenue near Hagerstown City Park, had seven children. And he went through tough times, like when his daughter Monza Conway died aged 12 of leukemia, according to his son. That was in the 1980s, when cancer treatment wasn’t as advanced as it is today, he said.

Another daughter, Misty Conway, died at birth.

Mike’s son said he saw his father evolve from wilder days in his youth to a wise man later in life, something that touched him.

Mike Conway's son said his dad got wise with age, which inspired him.

“It was something that inspired me and still inspires me,” said young Conway, who is maintenance manager at the Procter & Gamble factory in the Tabler Station business park south of Martinsburg, W. Va.

Mike was a huge Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan and had “a multitude of grandchildren,” according to his obituary. He also had the chance to see his great-grandchildren.

He is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery along Pennsylvania Avenue.

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