The Canadians are coming, and they’re bringing poutine. This Monday, Smoke’s Poutinerie opened on Durant Ave in Berkeley. The first US location of a popular fast food chain with over 100 stores in Canada, the restaurant only sells poutine, the gloriously nap-inducing Quebec dish of fries tossed with gravy and topped with cheese curds.
Why Berkeley for the first US store? Ironically, it’s all because of a few enterprising Southern Californians. Los Angeles-based film producers Robert Parada and Danny Rodriguez went out drinking one night during a visit to Berkeley, and when they left the bar, they were struck by the amount of people--and potential customers--out late in Berkeley. Along with a third partner, they approached Smoke’s founder and CEO Ryan Smolkin with the idea of opening a Berkeley location of the chain, which they had tried and loved during a visit to Winnipeg.
The new shop has already tapped into the customer base Parada and Rodriguez observed--on the first day, there was a continuous line out the door. Open until 4 AM every day, Smoke’s location-- two blocks from the Berkeley campus, in between popular bars and within spitting distance of the dorms--makes it evident who their target market is: hungry students and sloshed bar goers looking for something cheap and filling to line their stomach before the library or the next Golden Bear at Henry’s.
The red L-shaped shop in-between Jaguar Karaoke and the original Top Dog is tiny, has no tables, but does have counters to stand up and eat at. The store is loud, with lightning fast workers yelling orders over '80s rock, and everything comes in a to-go box--perfect for eating en route to the next bar.
All the dishes are available in three sizes, a plenty filling “snack” size, the meal size, and a staggeringly large Wow Size (with toppings, it can weigh up to three pounds), best suited for those with an 18-year old metabolism--or the people who compete in the Poutine eating competition Smoke’s hosts every year.