Quebec fry specialist Frite Alors has become the latest restaurant to re-evaluate its menu nomenclature in the wake of Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine. After calling its standard poutine “La Vladimir” (after the Russian president) for years, it’s decided to drop the punny designation. Now called “La Volodymyr” after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the name change is “mainly to support Ukraine,” restaurant shareholder Sarto Blouin said in an e-mail.
The restaurant announced the name change on March 9 in a Facebook post that heralds “the end of the Vladimir in our restaurants.” The post includes a link to a recording of restaurant partner and product development director Yannick de Groote speaking about the decision on the radio show Tout un Matin. In it, De Groote explains the dish name was comically conceived, but that the restaurant chain realized it was “no longer the right [one].”
In French, Vladimir Putin’s last name is transliterated to “Poutine,” just like the emblematic Québécois dish of cheese curds, fries, and gravy — a coincidence that back in 2017 also inspired another, now-defunct, Montreal poutine spot to go by the name Vladimir Poutine. (According to an oft-cited 2005 column in the New York Times, “Poutine” was chosen as the transliteration for the Russian president’s last name in part because Putin pronounced in French sounds like “putain,” a common curse word in the language.)
De Grotte says Frite Alors was prompted to revise the name of the dish formerly known as “La Vladimir” after receiving comments from a few customers. The new name is meant to convey solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of Putin, “a person currently doing the inconceivable,” de Grotte said on Tout un Matin.
Late last month, a Drummondville diner that claims to have invented poutine in the 1960s made headlines for deciding to update its online branding temporarily — Le Roy Jucep now refers to its signature dish as “fries cheese gravy.” Meanwhile, a restaurant chain in France called Maison de la Poutine says it’s been receiving insults and threats because of its name, which it maintains has nothing to do with the Russian president. It’s widely believed the word “poutine” (for the dish) derives from the English word “pudding,” which Quebecers used to mean “mix” or “mess.”
First opened on Parc Avenue in 1991, Frite Alors now has locations in Montreal, Quebec City, and Saint-Étienne and Lyon, in France. The last of these announced on Instagram last week that it was swapping the “La Vladimir” label for “La Mère des Poutines” (“The Mother of Poutines” in English).
The chain first adopted the “La Vladimir” moniker for its classic poutine in 2012 — the same year of Putin’s third inauguration as Russia’s president. “We were just following the trend of Frite Alors into humour and derision,” says Blouin. The menu item has been updated across all online platforms, and the restaurant is putting a sticker over the word “Vladimir” on its paper menus while new ones are being reprinted.