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Smoke’s Poutinerie plans US expansion

The Canadian concept, which serves “loaded fries,” will open in California

Smoke’s Poutinerie, a Toronto-based fast-casual concept, hopes Americans will take to poutine the way those North of the border do, with its second U.S. restaurant scheduled to open Monday in Los Angeles.

The franchised restaurant in Hollywood will join Smoke’s first U.S. location, which opened in Berkeley, Calif., near UC-Berkeley, in December 2014, offering the typically health-conscious college students there an indulgent option, said Smoke’s founder and CEO Ryan Smolkin. The brand’s tagline is, “Clogging arteries since 2008.”

Smoke’s has 100 units in Canada, and plans to open another 35 locations this year.

Photo: Smoke’s Poutinerie

Poutine is an iconic Canadian dish of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, or what Americans might call loaded fries, Smolkin said. At Smoke’s, guests can build their own poutine, choosing from a variety of fries, gravy flavors and toppings.

The menu includes a platform of signature dishes, like Chili Cheesesteak Poutine, with flat iron steak, chili and cheese, and Double Pork Poutine, with chipotle pulled pork and bacon.

Limited-time offers veer toward the “ridiculous,” Smolkin said, with offerings like Eggs Benedict Poutine, with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, and Slaughterhouse Poutine, with six meat toppings.

“It’s fun and indulgent,” he said.

And it’s something Smolkin believes Americans will embrace, along with the 1980s-inspired, plaid, Canadian glam-rock design.

Smolkin’s goal is to reach 800 units in the U.S. within five years. The company aims to reach 1,300 locations worldwide in that time, including 725 restaurants in nontraditional locations like stadiums, universities, transportation hubs, movie theaters and casinos.

Smoke’s has an average check of about Canadian $11, or about U.S. $8.95.

Restaurants stay open until as late as 4 a.m. or 6 a.m., depending on location, with the goal of drawing a late-night crowd that “has the munchies,” Smolkin said.

“Poutine is an antidote and cure for hangovers,” he said.

Units are generally around 1,000 square feet, although they can be as small as 500 square feet to 600 square feet, Smolkin said.

The Hollywood location is the first for franchisee and area developer Alan Goldstein, who has agreed to open 20 units in Southern California.

Another five restaurants are scheduled to open in Las Vegas, with the first to open this summer in the container park that includes the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which was featured on the TV program “Pawn Stars.”

Meanwhile, Smolkin has two more brands on deck.

In Nova Scotia, the company is testing Smoke’s Weinerie, a loaded hot dog concept, which will also likely enter the U.S. Also in development is Smoke’s Burritorie, a loaded burrito concept. Smolkin said the franchisor has already pre-sold 25 units of both the hot dog and burrito concepts.

“That’s the power of our brand. It’s all about the brand and Smoke,” he said.

Smoke is a mythical North Canadian recluse who entrusted Smolkin with the concepts, he said.

“I answer to the man,” Smolkin said. “I’m 100-percent owner, and behind the scenes, he’s the chair.”

Marketing includes stunt events like the annual World Poutine Eating Championship, and the Smoke’s Poutinerie World Famous Great Canadian Cross Country Plaid Gravy Train Fries Curd & Gravy Weird Wild and Wacky Poutine Eating Tour, scheduled to launch for a second year this summer in Canada.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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