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The potato prophet

The potato prophet

Can a poutinerie take Canada’s signature dish, and P.E.I. potatoes, to the masses?

Ryan Smolkin has a love affair with P.E.I. potatoes, and the founder and CEO of Smoke’s Poutinerie is using the island’s famous export to expand his business at a rapid rate.

The Toronto-based fast food business sells poutine—that famous Canadian concoction of French fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds—and consumes five million pounds of potatoes annually to make its prized product. And 70 per cent of those spuds come from P.E.I. “When potatoes are your key ingredient, they better be the best and P.E.I. potatoes are the best Canada’s got,” Smolkin says. “I’d argue they are the best in North America and even the world.”

That’s a matter of opinion, of course. But Smolkin’s yen for the island’s potatoes is great publicity and branding for P.E.I. potatoes. Poutine is suddenly sexy, and the growth of Smoke’s Poutinerie is evidence of that. The excitable Ontario entrepreneur, who uses the words ‘dude’ and ‘baby’ liberally during our interview, started with one location in downtown Toronto. He now has 150 in Canada and the United States.

There is more on the way. Smolkin sees the potential for poutine to become a global gastronomical phenomenon. He has plans to expand Smoke’s Poutinerie into the United Kingdom, Australia, the Middle East, old Europe and Asia. If it happens, and Smolkin has no doubt that it will, that will mean he’ll need a lot more P.E.I. potatoes, which means more export markets for an industry that is worth approximately $1 billion annually to the province and has run into headwinds in recent years with worker shortages and concerns about industry-wide overproduction that is driving down potato prices.

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