Canadian poutine chain eyeing Milwaukee

Nacho Grande pountine

An Ontario, Canada-based poutine chain is hoping to break into the Wisconsin market by the holiday season with a location on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus and three restaurants in Milwaukee.

Nacho Grande pountine
Nacho Grande Poutine

Owners of Smoke’s Poutinerie are busy looking for space and franchisee owners to get operations underway in Wisconsin, which has been a target market for several months.

“Milwaukee has always been a main focus,” said Ryan Smolkin, chief executive officer of Smoke’s Poutinerie. “We love downtowns, urban cores and university towns.”

Smoke’s Poutinerie was founded in Toronto in 2008, serving more than 30 kinds of poutine, a Canadian dish consisting of French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy.

Smoke’s options include the Hogtown Poutine topped with bacon, Italian sausage, sautéed mushrooms and onions; the Chicken Inferno Poutine topped with chicken, jalapeno, sriracha and red pepper; or the Veggie Deluxe Poutine, topped with mushrooms, onions and green peas.

Bar time is prime time for the restaurant.

“We hit our peak late night, around midnight to 4 a.m.,” Smolkin said. “We are tossing out three poutine a minute to our customers.”

Today, the company has 110 locations across Canada and has been expanding in the United States since 2014 with its first location in Berkeley, Calif.

Smoke’s Poutinerie set up a pop-up restaurant for four days at UW-Whitewater’s food court in April, selling more than 1,000 orders a day.

“The entire food court sells 1,200 to 1,500 servings a day,” Smolkin said. “If we are not on that campus by the end of the semester, I am going to be very disappointed.”

Smolkin is looking for 450 to 1,800 square feet of space for his restaurants and franchisee owners who can be goofy enough to embrace the Poutinerie way.

“We cannot find franchisees fast enough,” he said. “Finding the right person who loves our brand and who is weird, wild, and wacky is the hardest part of this business.”

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