AJAX, Ont. — Smoke’s is once again pushing the boundaries of fast-casual with its first-ever food court concept. The three unit location, which opened yesterday next to Smoke’s global headquarters in Ajax, Ont., brings the Smoke’s Poutinerie, Smoke’s Weinerie and Smoke’s Burritorie brands together in one 2,500-sq.ft. unit.
Customers came out in droves to celebrate the grand opening with free poutine and steamies.
According to Ryan Smolkin, founder and CEO of the Smoke’s empire, food courts were a natural extension. “I always said I didn’t want product extension, it would be brand extension,” he said of the new multi-brand concept.
The company already offers dual units with Weinerie and Poutinerie brands but the new Ajax location marks the first triple-branded unit. “I’m going to put the challenge out there that we are the first-ever food court by one brand,” said Smolken.
With 60 deals for the triple units already in the works on university campuses, such as Carlton University in Ottawa and sport venues, Smolken said the next step is to take Smoke’s into traditional food courts. “Once we dominate the four-wall, above ground retail space, food courts are next,” he said.
Smokes has always been focused on the downtown core, urban nightlife “but there’s this secondary market we’ve barely tapped into,” said Smolken. “Young urban and suburban families…it’s the 8 to 12 year old kids driving the food dollar. We haven’t had the time or capacity to start going after it but this new triple concept is attracting that market.”
With crossover between products, the new concept allows the whole family to eat in one spot, offering a triple food destination. “You capture all the food markets — where maybe the market wasn’t big enough to support just one of the brands on its own, the triple unit allows more locations to make it onto the strategy plan.”
Real estate is another factor driving triple-nit growth. “It so hard to find the 800 to 1,000 sq. ft. locations we need to open the stand-alone, single brand locations,” said Smolken. “Footprints available are more like 1,400 to 1,800 sq. ft. — you can find those anywhere. Then you find the perfect location but it’s 1,800 sq. ft. So while the rent is fine per square foot, if you’re looking at just one brand, as a footprint it’s way too expensive.”
While the new concept is more economical in the long-term, Smolken said it is a bigger build-out and more expensive “but you also get the cross-overs and the synergies between the three [brands] and a lot of shared space.”
Franchisees are lining up for a piece of the food-court action but Smolken said the company is “holding back a bit until we master it.” For now, Smoke’s has reached its goal for number of double and triple units for 2016. It has also hit its expansion goal for Poutineries for the year. “It’s a good headache,” said Smolken.