The things I learn thanks to my strange and semi-professionally-based fascination with fast food. I was in a mall in suburban Toronto yesterday wolfing down some grub at the food court when I glanced up to see a New York Fries outlet. It wasn’t just a normal New York Fries though – it was a New York Fries “poutinerie.” On the menu, along with the regular fries, regular poutine and The Works, were two new kinds of poutine: braised beef and butter chicken.
Wha?!?! Why had I not heard of this? And what was this all about? I already had tacos, but otherwise I most certainly would have tried one of the new creations, since poutine is one of my true loves. I did take it upon myself to get to the bottom of the situation.
It turns out the chain started testing the “poutinerie” concept in the summer and it’s now in the process of rolling it out across all outlets. The braised beef poutine, by the way, sounds awesome. As the press release describes it, it’s “slow-cooked Angus beef, carrots, onions and mushrooms in a red wine sauce.” Mmmm… cheese, beef and gravy…
But that wasn’t the interesting part. One of my first thoughts was, “I wonder if they’re rolling this out in the U.S.?” After all, poutine is a pretty Canadian thing. By and large, it’s not something that Americans really understand (and love yet). That’s okay, give them time. It took them a while with donuts but they got there.
So I called the company’s media folks here in Canada and they dropped a shocker on me: there is no New York Fries in the United States. Nope. It is in fact, an all-Canadian company. There are outlets in every province and a few in other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Hong Kong, but none in the U.S. That seemed really counter-intuitive. After all, I asked, what’s with the name?
The story is that founder Jay Gould and his brother Hal, both from Brantford, Ont. (birthplace of Wayne Gretzky), took a trip down down to the South Street Seaport in New York City after hearing that the best fries around were found at a little stand there. They liked the fries and bought the stand, and the business was born. New York Fries has, of course, been very successful is seemingly everywhere, with more than 200 locations. The company has also recently started expanding by starting up South Street Burger Co., its own burger chain subsidiary.
I find this kind of amazing because when you combine New York Fries with Harvey’s, Swiss Chalet and Tim Horton’s, a larger picture emerges: Canadians do very well in fast food. Anyone who thinks Canadians can’t compete with Americans only needs to look at this sector to be proven wrong.
There are still some interesting questions to be answered about all of this and I’m hoping to have lunch with Jay soon (I imagine we’ll have fries). More on this soon.