Who’s This Tim Horton Fellow, Anyway?

In recent months, an icon of Canadian food fare has started to raise its profile here in ths U.S.  I’m speaking of Tim Hortons, whose chain of about 3,500 shops, mostly throughout Canada, offers donuts, coffee and sandwiches.  The closest comparison I can think of for those in the U.S. is a cross between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks  —  Tim Horton’ offerings of baked goods are very similar to Dunkin Donuts but the Canadian chain’s menu includes a heavier dose of traditional lunch sandwiches and soups and Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest seller of coffee drinks, although without the complicated varieties requiring the attention of a barista.  As most Canadians of coffee-drinking age also know, the namesake of the company is Tim Horton, one of the country’s most celebrated hockey players, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1950s and 1960s and who, in 1964, opened what was then a modest coffee and donut shop in the suburbs of Ontario.

Last summer, Tim Hortons announced the opening of about a dozen locations in New York City and a few months later cut the ribbon on a location at the U.S. Army’s facility at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  While their stores are dotted all across Canada, in the U.S. they are principally only found in the northeast and not really seen below West Virginia.  But, that may be changing.  Exhibit No 1. is this:  a couple of weeks ago a local branch of RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) in Atlanta held a “Coffee with Tim” promotion in the morning, in which RBC brought in plentiful quantities of Tim Hortons coffee to warm up patrons who may have been wondering exactly who is this Tim fellow and why does he want to have coffee with us anyway.  Clever promotion for both the bank and Tim Horton’s and a nice touch for Canadians far from home.

On my visits to many Canadian cities and towns I’ve frequently stopped in for a cup of coffee at a Tim Hortons because they are so convenient.  I suppose because of their presence just about everywhere there, these shops provide a sort of common comfort food to Canadians across their country, much like McDonald’s (at least more than any other quick service or fast food outlet) does here below the border.   Tim Hortons is so popular in Canada, I once had a Canadian friend tell me that anyone who owns one of these franchises essentially had a license to print money because, in his words, “these places are like gold mines.”

Perhaps, then, the Fort Knox location makes a symbolic statement.  Given the vast size of the U.S. market, I am sure Tim Hortons sees plenty of opportunities here, so I am sure that their stores will be popping up on more radar screens — and other bank branches — in the U.S. before too long.

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