When you're in need of a meal that's comforting, delicious, and maybe a little greasy in Montreal, few places rank as a high in the minds of Montrealers as Restaurant Lafleur.
Boasting 13 different locations in the Montreal area, Lafleur's is beloved across the island, and unlike other franchises which are popular but lack a certain level of quality (*cough* Belle-Pro *cough*), Lafleur's maintains a fairly high standard.
Yes, the Lafleur's menu is simply hot dogs, burgers, and poutines, but they're good hot dogs, burgers, and poutines. You can taste the difference and so can we, it's the reason why Lafleur's reigns supreme when it comes to fast-and-delicious eats.
With a history dating back to 1951, Restaurant Lafleur has been providing Montrealers with their favourite foods for decades. And yet to most, Lafleur's unique history is entirely unknown.
Family-owned and successful for some key reasons, we think it's time to shed some light on Lafleur's, because there's more to the beloved Montreal fast food restaurant than just steamies.
The Origins Of Lafleur's
Before being a franchise, food counter, or "voiture à patates," the story of Lafleur's actually begins at a dairy farm in Mercier, Quebec. This was where Denis Vinet (the future founder of Lafleur's) grew up with his family, who owned the farm.
Working on the dairy farm since he was a kid, Denis probably didn't think he would go on to create a fast-food empire. Interestingly enough, it wasn't even his idea to begin with, it was his dad's.
When Denis was in his early twenties, his father decided it was time to diversify the dairy farm and find new ways to bring in extra income. After a failed attempt at supplying fresh meats to buyers, the elder Vinet decided to focus on selling "repas chauds" made using fresh ingredients from the farm.
Denis's father then purchased a truck as a means to bring his farm-prepared meals to the public, which he would sell himself. But Denis's father would soon realize that dealing with people isn't the same as dealing with cows, and so Denis himself was charged with selling his father's delectable wares.
And so the first Lafleur "voiture à patates" (as it was called) was born, first serving to the residents of Lasalle on May 1st, 1951.
Even then, Montrealers couldn't get enough of Lafleur's fries and hot dogs. To meet demands, the original Lafleur mobile unit would be joined by two others in just five years. A fourth would have hit the streets but things hit a snag when the City of Montreal's ban on street food began to be enforced.
Denis, who had since taken the reigns over the family's food-service operation, was then forced to change the Lafleur's model after ten years of selling food from trucks. The next step was fairly obvious, but not all that simple to accomplish: open up a service counter that wouldn't be affected by the street-food ban.
As we all know, Lafleur would go on to open the first fixed-location Lafleur's, a restaurant that would herald many more, but far fewer people are aware that Denis Vinet could only do so with a little bit of help.
Where "Lafleur's" Gets Its Name
The very first Lafleur's restaurant opened in 1961, specifically at 475 Lafleur Avenue in Lasalle. Given the shared name of the street and the franchise, many believe the latter was named after the former. That's definitely true, but it isn't the whole story.
During an interview with La Reussite, Denis Vinet revealed that the moniker "Lafleur" is also an homage to a certain individual who helped the first restaurant get off its feet.
As Denis explains, even though the food-truck model had been profitable, he didn't quite have enough funds to open the inaugural Lafleur food-service counter. To cover the rest of the bill, Denis actually got help from a Lasalle aldermen who happened to also bear the name "Lafleur."
So "Lafleur" is both a nod to the street in which the first restaurant first opened as well as an homage to a kindly city worker who helped finance the creation of the first fixed location.
Lacking any tables, chairs, or seating at all, this first Lafleur's was quite bare-bones, but it demonstrates the humble beginnings of the franchise. As time would go one, Lafleur's would add multiple locations around Montreal (19 in its heyday, 13 right now), a butcher shop, two cow farms that supply the franchise' meat-needs, a team of over 200 employees, and millions in revenue.
And it was with Lafleur's unique approach to fast food and business strategy that would help establish the fast food chain as one of the most iconic franchises in Montreal.
Why We All Love Lafleur's
Founded on the principles of personalized, "lightning-fast service" and meals prepared using high-quality ingredients, Lafleur's may owe a larger chunk of its success to a couple of specific business strategies.
One such tactic is Lafleur's continued emphasis on families and blue collar workers in need of a fast-and-affordable meal.
As commented on by Denis Vinet in an interview with the Peter Diekmeyer, most Lafleur restaurants are strategically located "near business districts or industrial parks," thus allowing nearby blue collar workers to get a quick hot dog (or three) for lunch without spending too much.
Vinet further explained how Lafleur's "clients tend to be men, or families who were brought in because the man wanted to come." We'll take this little bit of information as a sign of times passed, because we all know that women go to Lafleur's just as much as men, but a majority of the blue collar clientele that once helped Lafleur thrive (and continue to) were likely male.
Lafleur's is also an entirely family-run franchise, no doubt another reason for its success. Denis Vinet, even at the age of 75 continued to come in to work, and three of his eight children went into the business.
Straight from the founder, Denis explained the "fact that all Lafleurs restaurants are family-owned makes them stand out from competitor chains" as a certain sense of pride and quality is maintained, rather than just sheer growth. "It's a lot easier to keep consistent if you control everything" said Vinet, a truth other restaurant owners can no doubt relate to.
Known For The Hot Dogs, Loved For The Fries
Lafleur's steamies and "Michigans" (chili-topped hot dogs) are no doubt the most iconic aspects of the franchise, aside from maybe the green-white-yellow colour scheme. But while hot dogs have played a large role in Lafleur's success, that doesn't mean we should forget about the french fries.
Originally, fries were the star of the show for Lafleur's, given the very telling name "voiture à patates" which is what the restaurant's original food trucks were known as. Fries maintained their importance as Lafleur's grew, becoming the franchise's main selling points, aside from hot dogs.
In a 1978 Gazette feature on fast food, Lafleur's fries were ranked "the best greasy fries" in Montreal, a title earned for good reason. Within the article, Vinet explained how the Lafleur's staff is trained for two to three full months in order to properly know how to cook their fries, along with the restaurant's other food items.
Going over the preparation for every batch of Lafleur's fries, Vinet divulged how all locations freshly cut all the potatoes and cook them in oil, "just like you used to do at home before frozen foods came along." If a batch isn't served or eaten in fifteen minutes, they're thrown out for a fresh set of fries.
While it may not seem all that important, the way Lafleur's handles its fries is demonstrative on why the franchise achieved and maintains success. Rather than place cost-effectiveness or money as the driving force of the franchise, quality, proper procedures, and attention-to-detail reign at Lafleur's.
No wonder everything at Lafleur's just tastes better.