Facing the rise of the burger craze, chefs/restaurateurs Adam Dolley and Bryan Burke opted to close their burger shop in downtown Toronto as bigger players moved in. But this closure ultimately led to the creation of Loaded Pierogi, born out of a fishing trip and a hodgepodge of fridge contents.
“We had some pierogies and didn’t really have anything to go with them, so we just started pulling things out of the fridge and made up a couple of dishes,” explains Dolley, the brand’s Operations manager/co-owner. Impressed with the results, the pair asked themselves “why isn’t anybody doing this as a concept?”
The experiment led the chefs to write a menu for what they intended to be a pop-up kitchen, featuring pierogi dishes with different flavour profiles. “It took off and, ever since, we just keep trying to grow,” says Dolley.
The beauty of the concept is its simple operations afforded by the pierogi-based menu, which also allows the restaurants to maintain relatively low inventory. Pierogi dishes are available either boiled or deep fried and topped with indulgent topping combinations — there are 12 from which to choose.
Since its inception, the menu has also expanded to dishes that aren’t pierogi based in order to offer more variety. “There’s a big market for gluten-free and healthier options, so we’ve introduced two salads, because we haven’t found a cost-effective way to make a gluten-free pierogi dish,” says Dolley. Two desserts and two deep-fried snacks are also on offer.
The first Loaded Pierogi location opened in Toronto in late 2014 and the brand began franchising about a year ago.
“The goal was always, once we had some success behind it, to make it a franchise,” he explains. “However, we wanted to make sure we, as good franchisees, ironed out all the kinks and figured out what concepts and models work best. We initially started with three concepts: a sit-down, roughly 30-seat restaurant; a food-court concept; and a QSR concept.”
The brand currently includes three corporate locations (one of each format) in Toronto and a franchised sit-down location in Hamilton, Ont., as well as a new Edmonton franchise, which opened in April — marking the brand’s first location outside of Ontario.
“Our food-court model [and] our QSR model do really well and we’re starting to lean away from the 30-seat restaurants, especially in the downtown cores of larger cities,” says Dolley, noting takeout orders and catering also make up a large portion of the brand’s business. “Our [full-service] Hamilton location does really well, but we’re realizing you don’t need that large dining-room space because people are coming in and grabbing lunch or dinner, having a beer or a non-alcoholic beverage and then going out to wherever they’re going for the evening.”
As the brand has grown, it’s evolved to better suit its clientele. The newest Loaded-Pierogi locations, in Edmonton and Toronto’s Union Food Court, boast a fresh iteration of the brand image, which Dolley describes as having “a hip, more-fun vibe” — one he intends to update the brands other Toronto locations to over the course of the summer.
“Our initial design was casual, but still perhaps a little too refined for eating pierogies,” he adds, attributing this to his and Burke’s history of working in high-end restaurants.
As Loaded Pierogi embarks on national expansion, the brand has been seeing significant interest from markets in Western Canada. “There’s large Ukranian and Polish communities out there; that’s where a lot of the interest is coming from,” explains Dolley. “Out there [pierogies are] something everyone grew up on…whereas in Toronto, a lot of people aren’t as familiar with [them].”
Additional Edmonton locations are already in the works and expansion to Saskatchewan and Manitoba may be in the near future. “It’s basically an untapped market,” says Dolley. “There are a million burger places and a million Mexican restaurants out there, but not too many people specializing in pierogies.”
“We’re going to expand in Canada and then slowly start to make our way into [the U.S.] as well,” Dolley adds. “We want to expand rapidly, but we don’t want to expand to the point where we hurt our own brand. And, as we’re growing, we’re starting to build a team of Operations managers, Marketing managers and have that growth [within] our staff to handle the expansion.”