Magazine article ADWEEK

Tim Hortons: HOW A DOUGHNUT JOINT OPENED BY AN EX-COP AND HOCKEY PLAYER WOUND UP SERVING CANADA'S FAVORITE CUP OF COFFEE

Magazine article ADWEEK

Tim Hortons: HOW A DOUGHNUT JOINT OPENED BY AN EX-COP AND HOCKEY PLAYER WOUND UP SERVING CANADA'S FAVORITE CUP OF COFFEE

Article excerpt

About a decade ago, Tim Hortons put up a page on its website that let customers share stories about what the restaurant meant to them personally. Just in case that concept sounds a little strange--people expressing their affection for a doughnut chain--well, then, you don't know Tim Hortons, and you're certainly not Canadian. For 55 years and counting, Tim Hortons has joined maple syrup, Molson, ketchup chips and hockey on the list of things quintessentially Canadian.

"Tim Hortons is a brand that historically has been seen by many Canadians as the fabric of Canada," said Toronto-based retail analyst Bruce Winder. It is, he added, "the equivalent of Mom and apple pie in the U.S."

Which explains why the "Tim's True Stories" page has racked up some 18,000 entries to date, including the bride who interrupted her wedding to run into a Tim Hortons--or Timmies, a shorthand that applies to both the chain and its coffee. There was a guy who left his Timmies unattended and the dog drank it, and the couple who left their Timmies unattended and a seagull drank them. One customer described how her father, undergoing chemo, had lost his appetite for most everything except Timmies. Another related that, though he suffers from complex PTSD, he always feels comfortable at his local Tim Hortons.

"It's hard to explain the love affair that Canadians have with Tim Hortons," said the chain's marketing chief, Paloma Azulay.

Fortunately, it's easier to explain the brand itself. It all started half a century ago with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Miles Gilbert Horton, better known as Tim. Handsome and multitalented, Horton distinguished himself both on the ice (helping the Leafs win four Stanley Cups between 1962 and 1967) and in business. In 1964, he opened a tiny restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario, about 37 miles southwest of Toronto. For his steel-town customers, Horton kept the menu simple: coffee and doughnuts.

The company expanded steadily and had grown to 40 locations in 1974. That same year, Horton fatally crashed his sports car in St. Catharines at age 44. Business partner Ron Joyce, who quit his job as a cop to become Hortons' first franchisee, took the helm. It was Joyce who slowly expanded the Tim Hortons menu, rolling out doughnut holes called "Timbits" in 1976 and lunch items like chili by the mid-1980s--though he made sure the doughnuts that Horton himself served (the apple fritter and the Dutchie) stayed on the menu, along with "always fresh" coffee. …

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