Your senses kick into high gear simply by waiting in line outside the popular RIV Chip Stand in Sturgeon Falls.
The scent of freshly cut French fries cooking away in the deep fryers, and burgers sizzling on the grill is enough to make your mouth water.
Your taste buds go into overdrive by the mere sight of their classic poutine dishes, comprised of fries slathered with delicious gravy topped with your choice of curds, shredded, or marble cheese.
And if that isn’t enough to satisfy your poutine craving, customers always have the option to kick things up a notch by choosing one of the RIV’s many signature poutines.
The specialty poutines are a hit with customers looking for something slightly different.
“We have hamburger poutine, chicken poutine, so this is your classic poutine topped with some meat and if you want vegetables added we can add them,” explained RIV co-owner Kate Lepage.
There is also the choice of Italian meat sauce, steak, the Great Canadian (bacon, pea-meal, mushrooms), or Buffalo chicken with Ranch.
“I think right now the most popular is our pulled pork poutine with BBQ sauce. A lot of people like that one,” added Kate.
“It is hard just to pick one because they’re all so fun and unique,” grinned Bruno Lepage, Kate’s husband and co-owner.
“And we do try to have specials, so we sometimes have limited-timed specials like the Soprano poutine which blew up online recently and became this phenomenon.”
The Soprano is their “ultimate Italian poutine special.” It comes with house-made Italian sauce, and mozzarella cheese, topped with meatballs, fried ravioli, Parmesan cheese, and parsley flakes. It quickly sold out.
“We’ve also done an eggs benedict poutine, we do our hollandaise in-house. And a dilly poutine, it is shredded dill pickles on top of your classic poutine with a dill sauce that is also made in-house,” added Bruno, who credits some of his staff for collaborating on that one.
“The next thing you know we ran a special and it became a permanent item on the menu. People just kept coming back and now we’re buying pickles by the bucket, “he laughed.
At the end of the day, the great poutine debate still rages on, curds versus shredded cheese.
“I’d say curds definitely is the big winner with our customers,” said Bruno.
“But I always recommend to somebody who is not sure, to do both. You get the nice chew of the curd and the quick melt of the shredded. I’m personally a curds guy,” Bruno laughed.
“And if you really want to try something a little different, you can do marble cheese and curds. We call that mixed,” suggested Kate.
As you can imagine it takes an incredible number of potatoes to meet demand, and dedicated team work to prep the potatoes in-house.
“We have someone peel potatoes every day. We hand cut them and fry them here,” stated Kate.
Over the course of a week, the restaurant will go through roughly 120, 50-pound bags of potatoes.
“We get a lot of our potatoes from Azilda which is just past Sudbury,” added Bruno.
The business has developed a solid relationship with local and Ontario growers and producers.
“With the local growers, we try to utilize a lot of fruits from Leisure Farms, so when they have their haskap berries in season, we typically run some milkshake specials. Also, in the fall they have a pumpkin patch that is reserved for making their pies and we get access to it, and we make some awesome milkshakes from it. So, our pumpkin milkshakes are legit, not just some fruit syrup. It is actually Kate who bakes off the pumpkins and makes a pumpkin puree,” stated Bruno.
“Throughout the season as the vegetables become available, we try to incorporate some of that into our daily specials.”
Their beef and cheese are also Ontario sourced.
“So, we really try to incorporate as many ingredients from Ontario as can. We’ve been very lucky to be able to do that,” Bruno explained.
The RIV’s extensive menu includes wraps, haddock, salads, and a variety of side orders including mushroom caps, deep-fried pickles, fried cheese sticks, and sweet potato fries.
In addition to their poutines, the chip stand is also famous for its pogos.
The pogo batter is made in-house.
“It is a very unique recipe handed down to us from the previous owners. Actually, during the pandemic, we would make some pogos, freeze them and bring them to our girls. Then we had an epiphany to start making and selling them because not everyone could always come to the chip stand. So frozen pogos became this huge thing,” said Bruno proudly.
“And we had a couple of sales in December and February where we did a pop-up where you can get some frozen pogos. Right before Christmas, it is very popular. So now hockey teams are using our frozen pogos as fundraisers. So, it is kind of fun to do that.”
“We’ll post the date and place it on Facebook and you can pre-order,” Kate added.
You don’t need a deep fryer to enjoy the traditional taste.
”A lot of people use their air-fryers to reheat them. We’ve done them in the oven and they come out great, or microwave them or put them in a toaster oven like our kids do. People are blown away by how authentic it is.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the popular chip stand.
Bruno and Kate, who both have backgrounds in the hospitality industry, took over ownership in May 2017.
”I grew up in Sturgeon Falls, and I did frequent the restaurant. This was my chip stand when I was growing up. My hangout” laughed Bruno.
Kate did not grow up in Sturgeon Falls, but after they married, the couple made it a point to stop at the RIV when back in the area visiting family.
Now their teenage daughters are working at the family-run chip stand, along with some employees whose parents worked there growing up.
“It is a really fun place to work, we have great employees and a lot of great customers, Kate shared.
“We meet a lot of new people, but then we also have a lot of regular customers which is really nice to see.”
People make the drive from North Bay and Sudbury, to satisfy their craving for RIV food.
And of course, tourists and seasonal visitors stop in on their way to the cottage, some introducing their children to the RIV experience.
“They’ll tell them ‘Oh, I used to come here as a kid.’ There are quite a few that come from far away. There is a couple that has a cottage north of River Valley and I think it has been a multi-generational cottage. They come from Illinois and every year when they stop in, we always have a quick chat about how they’re doing which is nice,” said Bruno.
“It is a very nostalgic environment, and we try to keep that culture and tradition and nostalgia of the red chip stand, so we’re very conscious about keeping that fun setting.”
And at the end of the meal, if you still have room for dessert, try the ice cream.
“London Ice Cream is a really great brand, and I find they’re expanding more up north. We were kind of one of the first in the area to carry them and it is a really good kind of old-fashioned ice cream,” explained Kate.
The RIV chip stand is located at 235 Main Street, at the corner of Hwy. 17 and Main Street Sturgeon Falls.