Ryan Smolkin was meant to be in business the minute he graduated Wilfrid Laurier University. Although his first step into the business world was as a landlord, his true calling lay in a profession with a much richer flavour. His creation of Smoke’s Poutinerie, an 80s style Canadiana fast food chain has spread like wildfire throughout the country.
“We’re up to 23 locations in the past two years; it’s been an explosion,” said Smolkin. “We created poutinerie. We’re the founders of poutinerie. It didn’t exist before. Now, we’ve got some knockoffs happening — we’ve got some copy cats but it’s a nice compliment.”
The first Smoke’s was opened in November 2008 and the second opened in Dundas in October 2009. “In my initial business plan, I was thinking ‘oh this could work, if I can get 20 across the country I’ll be happy.’ But now we’re going to have 20 in the GTA alone and now my goal is 100 across the country.”
And Smoke’s service isn’t just limited to walk in or take out. They also offer a catering option for weddings, business events or other occasions.
“In Toronto, we were doing about 12 events a week, about five or six events in one weekend. Huge, huge numbers,” said Smolkin. “We’ll do corporate events, lunches, golf tournaments, every single festival you could think of; Beerfest, ribfest Oktoberfest, whatever it is.”
One of their most profitable events however, is the annual Freedom Festival marijuana march. “[That] is a fun one,” laughed Smolkin. “We’ve done it in the past few years. We’d say [it’s] about 20,000 of our direct target with the munchies. We set up between noon and 7 p.m. in Queen’s Park and serve over 1,000 poutines.”
Smoke’s Poutinerie also hosts a world poutine eating championship which started two summers ago.
During this event, professional eaters come from all around the world to eat the most poutine they possibly can. Last year it was hosted at the Rogers Centre and there was an undercard event for amatuers, as well as the professional contest.
A variety of cities such as London, Kingston and Hamilton participated to represent their city. “We’ll do that for sure in Waterloo as well,” said Smolkin. “We’ll have the undercard armatuer [event], there’s prizes and cash prizes, a trophy, the whole bit.”
This original poutine-eating experience still does not have a specific open date for the Waterloo Region but Smolkin hopes it to be in the near future.
“It all depends on the space,” he said. “I’ve honestly been looking there for two years. Not a lot of vacancies. I’m really specific, and really strategic.” The goal is to open somewhere in or near the university core.