Before Smoke’s, I owned a branding and design company, AmoebaCorp, for 11 years. I’m all about brand experience, and ultimately for Smoke’s, it’s about being an entertainment company. It’s more than fries, cheese curd, and gravy. When I opened the first location in downtown Toronto, I was preaching global domination from the very beginning. There wasn’t anything like us. I made up the word “poutinerie” and always said when they’re fighting over who created poutine back in the ’50s, I’d be taking it to the rest of the world and loading everything you can think of on top of it.

I knew nothing about the food industry, so there’s that aspect of learning on the fly, but I was always confident I could build a successful restaurant. I went to Montreal to test out the poutine. One sit-down restaurant had loads of poutine, so I thought it was pretty damn similar to my concept. I went there on a Wednesday night at 3 a.m. with pouring rain outside, and it was lined up at the door. Over 90 percent of the people were eating poutine because they were hammered, and it’s the perfect hangover food. My brother was with me, and I said, “This is going to be the million-dollar deal.” People have since said, “You stole my idea,” or “Aw man, I could’ve done that.” To this day I shake my head, too. It seems a pretty simple idea, but nobody did it.

When I tell stories about AmoebaCorp and the success there, I do it not to pat myself on the back or brag but to give confidence to franchisees and the people working at global headquarters. I’m a whacked-out dude with a concept, but I know how to build million-dollar businesses as well. It kind of gives me the cred.

When it was just a concept and I was selling off an idea, every franchisee said, “Ryan, we’re investing just as much in you as we are in the business.” It put a lot of pressure on me, but it was true and that’s how intimate I am with the brand, with my franchisees, and with those relationships. It’s hard work, common sense, and just plugging away. Surround yourself with the right people.

What was your first job?

Vice president of marketing and strategy for Smolkin’s Men’s Wear Limited. That was essentially running the summer sidewalk sale for my father’s clothing store; I sat in front of the store with my boom box.

What’s your favorite menu item at Smoke’s?

We have a secret recipe that’s not on the menu, called the Slaughterhouse. It only comes in the ‘Wow’ size box because it’s so big. It has six meats on it. I’ll maybe add mushrooms while I’m at it.

What’s your favorite cuisine, excluding poutine?

I’d have to go with burritos. We have a Smoke’s Burritorie and a Smoke’s Weinerie. So we’re kind of doing the same thing to those two categories like we did to poutine.

What’s the best piece of advice you think restaurant leaders should hear?

You’d better be ready to work your ass off; nothing comes for free. It can be a great idea, but if you’re not going to work your ass off, it ain’t going to work. On the flipside, you could have the worst idea but if you work your ass off, it could be successful.

What are some of your interests outside the business?

I have twin 12-year-olds, Nate and Sam. Every minute of my life that isn’t related to the biz is with them. They’re hockey boys; six nights of the week are hockey.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Smoke's Poutinerie