Despite its name, N.Y. Fries is Canadian - Telegraph Journal

By: Derwin Gowan

ST. ANDREWS - An upper St. John River valley potato grower has a stake in the success of Lori Bourque's business in Dieppe.

Bourque owns the franchise for the New York Fries restaurant chain in Champlain Place. The Toronto-based chain, with 197 locations mostly in Canada, slices, fries and serves up seven to eight million pounds of New Brunswick potatoes per year.

Grower Ben Brake and his son Jeremy Brake of Hillspring Farms in the Bath area supply these potatoes, a huge portion of the chain's annual consumption of 22 million to 23 million pounds, New York Fries president Jay Gould said in an interview in St. Andrews this week.

He, Bourque and members of the Brake family attended a conference for New York Fries executives, franchisees, suppliers and others at the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel.

Bourque, then 23 or 24, started working at the New York Fries restaurant in Dieppe about nine years ago in August. "It was just a part-time job for extra money," she said in an interview Wednesday.

She stayed for six years before she left. A year and a half later, Gould approached her about taking over the franchise. A crew of six people works at the Champlain Place location.

Franchisees own all but about 10 or 11 New York Fries restaurants. The company generally leases the location, then sublets at cost to the local owner. This model allows Gould to negotiate favourable leases, but leaves him on the hook if the franchisee bails out, he said.

New York Fries has two franchises each in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton areas - one each at the local Empire Theatre cinema, the other in a mall.

New York Fries will likely never open a franchise in St. Andrews, a small town with a largely seasonal economy, Gould said.

However, holding a get-together within a one-day drive from its single biggest supplier of potatoes made sense, Gould said.

"We get all of eastern Canada's supplies here and probably half of eastern Ontario's," he said. About 160 people came to the event, including about half a dozen from the Brake family.

New York Fries, which began with a single restaurant in Manhattan, chose St. Andrews for its 25th anniversary gathering. "For our 20th, we went to the Banff Springs," Gould said.

The Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, like the Fairmont Algonquin in St. Andrews, began with the 19th century vision for a chain of luxury hotels to increase railway business.

New York Fries now boasts 182 restaurants across Canada, nine in the United Arab Emirates, one in Bahrain, four in Korea and one in Hong Kong - but none in the United States, despite the company's name and origin.

"We're Canadian, let's start with that. We have a long-standing relationship with the Brake family here," Gould said.

At 21, Gould and his brother Hal launched the Cultures chain of fresh food restaurants featuring salads, soups, yogurt and fruit. The chain grew to 58 franchise restaurants before they sold it to new owners in Montreal in 1987.

On a visit to the South Street Seaport in Manhattan in 1984, they discovered a New York Fries restaurant that opened in the previous August on the third floor of a former warehouse converted into a shopping centre.

"We ran into it in January '84 so it was about six months old when we found it," Gould said.

They bought the Canadian franchise rights. They opened Canada's first New York Fries restaurant in Scarborough, Ont., 1984. The original New York Fries closed in 1987, but the Canadian operation grew. "We bought the Americans out in '87," Gould said.

Jay is the active partner, while his brother Hal pursues his real estate business.

New York Fries buys a tiny share of the approximately 14 million hundredweight (1.4 billion pounds) of New Brunswick's annual potato crop, but it amounts to a huge sale for an operation the size of Hillspring Farms.

"We're buying a certain size and specific type of potato," Gould said. Consumers, in turn, pay a premium over what the competition charges for fries.

You can buy hotdogs and poutine at New York Fries. "I think we are actually responsible for putting poutine on the map in Canada," Gould said.

In March, 2004, New York Fries led the fast food industry by switching from canola oil to non-hydrogenated trans-fat free sunflower oil at a 30 per cent premium. This oil is not genetically modified but is low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, Gould said. The gravy on the poutine has no trans-fat either, Gould said.

"Lots of calories - don't kid yourself," Gould said. "The customer wants real food; they still want chocolate cake but they don't want chocolate cake that comes out of the freezer."

This year Gould is focusing on franchising South St. Burger Co. He opened the first South St. Burger restaurant in north Toronto in 2005 offering locally raised beef, hormone and antibiotic free.

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