Franchise FunSeptember/October 2022

Franchise Fun: All Aboard The Smoke’s Poutinerie Rock N’ Roll Gravy Train!

Mark Cunningham of Smoke’s Poutinerie offers a glimpse into the art of balancing family time with the brand’s plans for GLOBAL DOMINATION!

It’s hard to miss the bold, in-your-face marketing and branding Smoke’s Poutinerie serves up! From the mysterious face of Smoke dotting their ads, to the signature red & black plaid that has become synonymous with the brand. “Smoke’s Poutinerie has taken the iconic Canadian dish and transformed poutine into so much more than fries, cheese curd, and gravy; it’s a whole new food category complete with unlimited variations of topping ingredients to choose from,” says Mark Cunningham.

As the brand’s global chief operations officer, Cunningham leads the development and growth of the Smoke’s Poutinerie franchise model. The Ajax, Ontariobased company has made a name for itself through disruptive social media campaigns and epic brand activations like the “Smoke’s Poutinerie World Famous Great Canadian Cross-Country Plaid Gravy Train Fries Curd & Gravy Weird Wild Wacky Poutine Eating Tour 2022,” a cross-country celebration of the “artery-clogging goodness” Smoke’s Poutinerie brings to the table. Cunningham says the “intensive, high-energy event brought the Smoke’s Poutinerie Rock N Roll Gravy Train to city stops along the route, showing those locations, their communities, and our fans that we’re much more than fries, cheese curd, and gravy!”

Since its founding in 2009, the brand has expanded to the United Arab Emirates, with even more locations slated to launch in the Middle East. More than 500 restaurants are planned for traditional and non-traditional locations like airports, zoos, and amusement parks. Cunningham says he’s focused on bringing the “Psycho Circus” to every city and country in the world!

Here, Cunningham takes us through the brand’s plans for GLOBAL DOMINATION, and his dreams and family goals, while reminding us of the importance of family and working to live, rather than living to work.

The most interesting thing I’ve done recently is… I decided to build a 22’ by 25’ garden shed on my property as a summer project. It was lots of fun and lots of work. I hope to have it wrapped up by the end of August. It’s always nice to plan and build something that you will use for years to come.

In its best form, work is… Having fun, meeting new people, and finding great franchise operators for Smoke’s Poutinerie development that grow into great Business owners for the Brand.

A good franchisee… Is focused, driven, and a people person who can deliver the Brand’s Signature Entertainment! We are an Entertainment Company that happens to sell Poutine!

A good franchisor… Listens well to their franchise operators, customers, fans, and head office team to drive the company and Brand in the same direction together.

My top advice for prospective franchisees is… To take your time in the process, ask a lot of questions, and roll up your sleeves to see how it’s done right. Enjoy the training experience and get ready for a wild ride on our Gravy Train!

My top advice for new franchisors is… Set a development plan and take your time with franchise leads. Train them well, support them, and provide leadership. Build a strong Franchise support team.

The most important thing in life is… We’re only here for a short time. Enjoy life, family, and friends.

One of the most enjoyable things to do is… Travel and see the world. It’s big and you’ll meet some great people along the way.

The hardest thing for me to do is… Disconnect from work and only focus on down time.

My favourite drink is… A nice cold pint of Guinness from St. James’s Gate, Dublin, Ireland.

If I could change one thing… I would enjoy more of life, as I missed a lot in the past rushing to get to the next project.

If I could meet anyone… It would be golfer Rory McIlroy and playing Royal County Down golf club with him.

The person who has had the most positive influence on me as a businessperson is… Ryan Smolkin. He represents the Brand every single day with electric energy; he is a great leader and friend.

Canadian franchising is… Growing. There is a long runway ahead to grow. Everything you touch will one day be franchised.

My franchise interest began because… After many years in restaurant operations and being asked to travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to open a Second Cup café that took over a year to set up, build and ship product to. I then moved onto another country (Kuwait) two months later to open their first Second Cup. That was the start of a 12-country development in six years, travelling and visiting another 20 countries around the world for additional new developments. During that time, I also supported Canadian operations and development, and started focusing on nontraditional restaurants and growing the U.S. market. I look back to those days of travelling more than 120+ days a year with a smile. I am stronger today from all my years working in different countries.

The most positive influence on my life as a person is… My father, who always had a smile on his face every day and loved meeting new people. Plus, two great business leaders I worked for over the years: Alton McEwen and Bruce Elliot.

The key to success is… Working hard, teaching and coaching the people around you to grow in their roles and driving for results.

I’d like my friends to describe me as… A nice guy who is always there when needed.

The accomplishment I look forward to the most is… Turning off the laptop for the last time and looking ahead to retirement and spending lots of time with my wife and daughter.

My personal motto is… Enjoy the ride of life and have fun every day.

One necessary item on my life’s “to do” list is… To spend as much time with my family and enjoy every day with them. My daughter wants to go to Paris, France and I’m looking forward to seeing that and the world through her eyes.