Franchise focus: Smoke’s Poutinerie bringing poutine to the masses

| by Judy Mottl
Franchise focus: Smoke’s Poutinerie bringing poutine to the masses

Photo courtesy of Smoke's Poutinerie.

One only has to peruse the menu at Smokes Poutinerie to understand the passion behind the 150-location fast casual brand.

Or they could simply meet founder Ryan Smolkin who is not hard to miss when he's out spreading the word about his 9-year-old franchise cropping up at incredible speed from Canada to Hollywood to Tampa. The brand opened 10 franchises just the second year of operation, and that figure has just kept doubling.

"It's been a wild ride," Smolkin said with a huge grin while promoting his franchise at the recent International Franchise Expo held at the Javits Conference Center in New York City and wearing his typical attire — a red plaid hunters cap, signature shades and red shirt. He's hard to miss even in the throng of thousands attending the three-day event.

Smolkin is also the brand's alter ego, a man called Smoke who, as legend has it, revamped the Canadian Poutine into what the website describes as a "totally b******g concoction." Smoke even has his own Twitter hashtag #PlaidNation, an obvious nod to the founder's garb.

The Smoke's Poutinerie menu is clearly as passionate and colorful as its brand leader. Based on the simple French fry with gravy concept, Smolkin makes poutine a culinary extravaganza to meet the want of his core audience (Canadians, college students, travelers).

The hand-cut made fresh daily fries, cheese curd and "signature gravy" can be topped with dozens of extras (from pork to chicken to steak and vegetarian options). Think chili cheese bacon, the "hangover" choice featuring scrambled eggs, double-smoked bacon and maple syrup, the ‘hogtown' boasting Italian sausage, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and that double-smoked bacon.

There's the Korean Poutine — complete with flatiron steak, sambal, Korean BBQ sauce and green onions. Or try the non-meat Rainbow, topped off with guacamole, sriracha sauce, sour cream and cheese sauce. And, of course, one can always get extra curd, gravy, meat or add double-smoked bacon if it's not on the ingredient list.

All those creative takes on the poutine is driving a billion dollars in sales at this point. And while each location offers the same menu, each Smoke's is different than all the others — a purposeful decision that's also tied to some operational aspects. Some locations, due to consumer interest, require two fryer stations for example.

"They're all unique," said, Smolkin but very much the same in some critical ways. Each location, he said, is focused on building the brand, offering the same experience and the same atmosphere."People are just embracing it," he added.

Smoke's average customer is between the ages of 18 and 25 and typically have a fun nightlife as franchise sales spike between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.

Each year Smolkin hosts a CEO challenge for charity — whichever company leader can eat the most poutine in two minutes is the winner. Smolkin, who won last year's title, ate 3 1/2 pounds (equivalent to 7 orders).

It's that contagious love for poutine that caught Toine Murphy's attention when he heard about Smoke's from another business colleague. He, along with three other associates, was all in after spending time visiting Smoke's, talking with customers and talking at length with Smolkin. Murphy and his business group operate franchises in Michigan, Ohio and downtown Detroit.

"I had never done a restaurant and had heard only horror stories [about going into franchising]," he recalled, adding that he researched so thoroughly it was as if he was seeking a reason to say ‘no' to becoming a franchisee, he said. He conducted in-the-street interviews, asking locals in bars where he could get good poutine and the answer always came back the same: Smoke's.

Success, according to both Smolkin and Murphy, is tied to a few factors.

"Keep it simple and focus on the experience," advised Murphy.

Smolkin, just as enthusiastically, says franchise success is all about having no fear and doing what Nike says to do: just do it.

"It's about being real, having fun, don't be afraid. It's about passion."

Smolkin will keynote the 2019 Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit. Register here.

Topics: Food & Beverage, Franchising Focus, Franchising & Growth, Marketing

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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