Fried dough, eh?
To make a BeaverTail doughnut, whole wheat dough is hand-stretched into an oval shape and fried in canola oil. It’s still warm when the pastry is served, topped with cinnamon and sugar or more extravagant additions like cheesecake spread sprinkled with Skor bits. In Canada, it’s an indulgent favorite found at theme parks, ski lodges, and summer festivals in the eastern half of the country. And unlike your average doughnut or pastry, part of the BeaverTails experience is watching the decadent treat being prepared in front of you.
BeaverTails are new to much of the United States. There are currently just eight places to find them outside Canada, where the fried treats were invented in the 1970s by Ontarians Grant and Pam Hooker. As a snack for the family, the Hookers would fry up the dough leftover from whatever meal they cooked that day. Their daughter remarked that the end result looked like a beaver’s tail, and a Canadian classic pastry was born.
The Hookers began selling BeaverTails in their hometown of Killaloe, Ontario, in 1978. The first permanent store followed two years later in Ottawa’s ByWard Market (where Barack Obama famously sampled the treat a few years ago during a trip to the country’s capital) but prior attempts at spreading the brand didn’t hold. That changed once Pino Di Ioia, who started off working part-time at Montreal‘s first BeaverTails store in the 1990s, took over the business with his wife Tina and twin brother Anthony in 2009. The three are responsible for the company’s recent successful expansion to 120 outlets today, including franchises in Dubai, South Korea, and Japan.
Between Canada and the United States, Di Ioia hopes to open 150 new BeaverTails outlets in the next five years. “Our future development will be in the US,” Di Ioia explained over the phone, en route to a recently opened BeaverTails store along the Wildwoods Boardwalk on the Jersey Shore.
Popular attractions like the Wildwoods Boardwalk represent Di Ioia’s strategic expansion, skipping shopping mall food courts in favour of tourist and leisure spots like amusement parks, zoos, and aquariums. “Locations make the biggest contribution to maintaining our uniqueness,” Di Ioia says.
By restricting their footprint, BeaverTails are seen as an occasional indulgence for special occasions as opposed to an everyday snack. Think of them as the Canadian contender for funnel cakes—or the wintertime equivalent. Toronto veterinarian Lucy Fernandes associates the fried pastry with snowy weather and alpine cabins. “I definitely think of BeaverTails as a treat after snowboarding,” says Fernandes, who last ate the banana-chocolate-hazelnut variety during a snowboarding trip north of the city this past winter.
The cold weather association is more common among eastern Canadians, many of whom have childhood memories of wintertime in Ottawa. Along the city’s Rideau Canal, where skating is a popular winter pastime, BeaverTails have been sold seasonally along the frozen 7.8 km stretch of ice since 1981.
If Di Ioia has his way, this fond nostalgia will slowly span borders and BeaverTails’ friendly origins could help him accomplish that. “On an international level, we’re amazed at how Canada’s favorable public image is always sought after,” Di Ioia explains. The company isn’t shy about showing off their roots. Canadian flags and maple leafs are prominent motifs in the brand’s signage and decor. Inside stores, antler chandeliers help illuminate the fried treats as customers devour them.
Following Donald Trump’s Super Tuesday victory, Google Trends showed that searches for ‘how to move to Canada’ jumped by over 1,000 percent. A similar rise in searches was also reported when Britain voted to leave the European Union earlier this year. Positive inferences like this could promote the growth of Canadian food outlets abroad which are currently limited in number. “They often associate franchising with America,” Di Ioia says, referring to international groups in Mexico, Egypt, and India that have expressed interest in bringing BeaverTails to their home countries.
From just a handful of US outlets recently opened in the past two years—including Lagoon Park in Utah and Dollywood in Tennessee—Di Ioia reports that the stateside reception has been warm. “In the few stores we have, it’s amazing how many other Americans are picking up on it,” he says. A sign, perhaps, that log flumes and roller coasters may inspire cravings for Canadian fried pastries in generations of Americans to come.