The Wanderer’s Spotlight on Small Business highlights the vivacity of Edmonton’s business community by showcasing local small businesses. From hidden gems to local hot spots, junior entrepreneurs to seasoned business owners, Spotlight displays Edmonton’s thriving small business community and the ventures that make it stand out.
When you walk into La Poutine, you instantly notice the mouthwatering scent of freshly made fries, interweaved with an aroma of rich gravy. Then you see the menu – 19 different poutines, some with exotic sounding names like the “Chana Masala”; others have a comfort food feel such as the beloved “Granny’s” while others sound downright scrumptious- why hello there, cheeseburger poutine. All of their poutines consist of crisp, hand-cut fries, garnished with locally made, “squeaky” cheese curds and either a traditional Quebec style gravy, or a thicker, beef gravy. Now the hardest decision approaches- what do you top your poutine with? Bacon bits? Smoked sausage? Seasoned ground beef? Sautéed mushrooms? Tomatoes? Pickles? How do you choose a poutine in this palate heaven??
Founded two and a half years ago, La Poutine is Edmonton’s only poutine specialist. Recently, I sat down with Lindsey Robbins, the co-owner of La Poutine, for a chat about their delectable fries and managing a burgeoning business.
How did La Poutine start?
My partner, Francis and I own La Poutine together. We’re actually a couple; we’re business partners and partners in life. Originally, we met here [in Edmonton] and then we both moved to Quebec together and moved back to Edmonton. Since I’ve worked in the restaurant industry my whole life, we knew we wanted to open something, but we didn’t know what. Then the idea of poutine came up because of our experiences in Quebec. I’ve eaten a lot of poutine there. Fries, cheese, gravy together is one of my favorite things to eat. We had thought about opening it up as a food truck, before the food truck concept was even popular. In the end, we decided to work on a restaurant. So, it’s been two and a half years now and I feel as if I’m living my dream!
Do you have plans to expand your business?
This summer we opened the food truck, which is part of our expansion that we’re really excited about. We go downtown for lunch every day; we’ve done some private catering like weddings as well as company catering. It’s great that we can go out to our customers now and can bring our food to people. We would like to have another restaurant, seeing as this one is so small. The next restaurant will have more seating and parking.
Let’s talk about the food now! With 19 different poutines on your menu, where does the inspiration for so many poutines come from?
We are inspired by different types of cuisines. For example, our monthly feature poutine is the Chana Masala which consists of fries, curds, and a chickpea curry. Fries are so versatile you can add almost anything on top and make a whole meal out of it. So we take a look at everything from different cuisines, whether it’s pizza or cheeseburgers, and try and turn it into poutine.
Veganism and gluten-free diets are becoming more prominent. How does La Poutine accommodate these special diets?
We have vegan and vegetarian poutines. Our vegan poutines have vegan Daiya cheese, which is made from tapioca but maintains a shredded, buttery flavor. As well, our traditional gravy is vegan. Both our vegan and vegetarian poutines are topped with vegetables like sautéed mushrooms, onions, green peas or tomatoes. Also, we noticed there was a demand for gluten-free gravy, so we introduced that a year and a half ago.
Even if people are vegans or meatlovers, they still adore fries. Why do you think people like fries so much?
It’s certainly a comfort food. Fries have been around for a long time and people will always love fries. Some of the current food trends go towards healthier options, but there’s always room for a little treat in the day. Poutine is one of those really tasty treats! People make room for it. People have salad all day so they can treat themselves to poutine later on. Personally, even after two and a half years, I still have a poutine every day- a small one, but a poutine every day! I love it!
On Managing a Business
Managing a restaurant and a food truck has to be tough sometimes. What difficulties have you encountered?
Lots. One of the main difficulties was construction – the space was completely bare and we had to renovate it. Of course, construction never occurs on time. Working through the city permits was another difficulty.
Oh, one of the things that is hilarious, looking back now. We opened the doors with one staff member, me and my husband. Now we’re a team of 11 staff members. We thought it wouldn’t be busy and that we’d be waiting around for customers. I thought I’d be watching a lot of TV in that corner there. But we were serving over 300 customers a day. We were exhausted! I had to call my mum in to help. We had friends coming in to help, until we could hire more staff. The first two weeks were crazy! It was fantastic though. We couldn’t believe how many people were anticipating our opening.
In spite of the difficulties, you seem to enjoy your work. What do you like most about having your own business?
I love it! First off, I always wanted to have my own business so I feel like I’m living my dream. I love working for myself. In fact, it doesn’t feel like work, so you can just do it for fourteen hours day. I love the freedom. I think all entrepreneurs hope to achieve some freedom, whether it’s freedom from having a boss or financial freedom. Owning a business is a huge responsibility, but it is so rewarding to create jobs for Edmontonians and contribute to the economy.
From what you’ve learned from starting and running your own business, what skills do would-be entrepreneurs have to develop?
Entrepreneurs need a strong work ethic for sure, as well as common sense. Entrepreneurs have to know how to deal with people, whether it’s customers or staff. You have to be able to motivate yourself. When you wake up every day, you create your own schedule. You have to be motivated to get all the necessary work done. It’s also important to be money smart or you’ll need a good accountant.
Do you have any advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
I would say, “Go for it!” But be very cautious. Put the chances of success on your side…read books, get a job in that field, get a business mentor, do anything you can to better ensure success. Have a good team in place. You need an entire team- a lawyer, an accountant, staff members. There isn’t a course that tells you how to really open a business, so having a lawyer or accountant you can count on to answer questions is really handy. Also, have an idea of things that could go wrong and have solutions. In Alberta, there’s a lot of financial freedom. Families have money to back the dream so would-be entrepreneurs have to get motivated and do it.
Although entrepreneurship may seem intimidating, Lindsey and Francis at La Poutine are flourishing. Starting a business provides one with a unique opportunity to learn, to work for oneself and to attain self-realization. Hardships are inevitable, but Lindsey and Francis are proof that any burden can be alleviated by love for what they do. Strength can be found in the fact that they have created a business of their own: La Poutine.
Photographs provided courtesy of Lindsey at La Poutine