Researching a Pending Poutine Invasion
Have you tried poutine yet? If not, your chance might be coming soon, as the Quebecois-derived heart attack in a dish (fries, gravy and cheese curds) is coming to the United States in a big way. Smoke’s Poutinerie, the “world’s largest and original poutinerie” is a Canadian franchise with bold plans to open 800 locations in the United States and 1,300 locations worldwide during the next five years.
Sound like big talk? This Ajax, Ontario-based franchise already has 100 units open in Canada, where poutine is big business, and it has very specific plans to achieve “global domination.” As it becomes more popular by the day, poutine is even on the menu at McDonald’s in Canada.
Also known as loaded fries, poutine can be made in an infinite variety of entirely unhealthy permutations. Smoke’s offers 30 kinds, including a Chili Cheesesteak Poutine and Double Pork Poutine, which is the one I’d get. Never say no to double pork.
Interviewing Smoke’s founder and “chief entertainment officer”, Ryan Smolkin, was one of my most memorable interviews to date. I suspect he’s a little older than my 33 years, but his image and personality make him seem like the ultimate millennial businessman—brash, loud, funny, amusingly vulgar, but undeniably driven.
Smoke’s Poutinerie is based on the mythical character, Smoke, who lives inside Smolkin’s head. Smolkin credits Smoke with much of the brand's success during its five and a half years.
“Smoke’s a rockstar, he’s an athlete, he’s been on the moon,” he said of his invisible counselor. “Smoke gives me all my advice. He speaks to me, talks to me, directs me … he’s my visionary, he’s my leader.”
Intrigued, I also spoke with also spoke with Mark Cunningham, global chief business development officer at the company, to see if there are two sides to Smolkin’s loony personality.
“What you experienced is Ryan to a T,” he told me. “What Ryan has been able to do since the day he started the company is have the right individuals around him … he’s a visionary.”
While the first U.S. Smoke’s recently opened in Berkeley—allegedly to massive lines stretching around the block—the company plans to concentrate its growth around the sides and bottom of the Great Lakes, where Canadian familiarity is at its highest.
I can’t wait to see how this global domination pans out. Hearing their detailed plans, which are largely based on taking advantage of northern entertainment, college and sports destinations, I would think Minneapolis is right near the top of this strange, smoky list.
Stay tuned for the full story in an upcoming issue of Franchise Times. The full story, with many more glorious quotes, will not disappoint.