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The Golden Donut: Happy 50th Anniversary to Tim Hortons

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

In a long career for the NHL, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Tim Horton is remembered is a player will has scored 518 points, 115 goals and been a part of four Stanley Cup winning efforts in the 1960s for the Toronto Maple leafs. Along with the Maple Leafs, his 22-year career on the ice also included stints playing for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres. However, for many Canadians and some Americans, the legacy of Tim Horton is reflected in a cup of coffee, a muffin or a donut. Today on May 17th, the memory of Tim Horton is being celebrated with a major milestone for a business that ballooned into Canada’s largest fast food restaurant chain.

Much like what many athletes do today, Tim Horton placed his name and money into several investments. During his long stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Horton spent his time away from the ice creating business ventures baring his name. In a plot of land now opposite the Centerpoint Mall on Yonge Street in Toronto, Tim Horton Motors sold Studebakers. Tim Horton was also involved in a short-lived burger restaurant with business partner Jim Charade.

Under the urging of Charade, he talked Horton into a venture to create a donut store. Out of an old gas station, the first Tim Hortons restaurant served coffee and donuts under a franchisee named Spencer Brown. The first franchise opened with the name “Tim Horton Donuts” and sported a Blue and White appearance to complement the Toronto Maple leafs. In contrast to the fast food juggernaut is associate the restaurant chain with today, the early days of Tim Hortons was ridden with financial difficulty. It was not until the arrival of an enthusiastic Hamilton police office named Ron Joyce in 1965 the donut shop began righting its path. Joining as a partner to Tim Horton and Jim Charade, Joyce brought needed capital and know-how to the business. Charade divested himself from his share of the company early making practically nothing from the sale. With Tim Horton’s death in 1974, Ron Joyce bought out the former hockey player’s widow Joyce in the following year (Joyce Horton would later unsuccessfully sue Ron Joyce in the 1990s citing the sale was unfairly undervalued).

Images from a 1982 Matchbook Cover.

Rapid extension of the restaurant chain and the menu followed in decades. Timbits were created to the store menu in 1976. Pecan butter tarts were offered during the 1980s and soups, sandwiches and iced drinks were added through the 1990s to their growing menu. By 1978, the 100th Tim Hortons restaurant chain opened. Six years later, the 200th location opened in the business’ originating city of Hamilton. Before the 1990s, Tim Hortons had over 400 stores across Canada. As of February 2014, there are 3,588 Canadian restaurants operating under the Tim Hortons name.

In the mid-1990s, Tim Hortons gained a major ally but lost much of its Canadian credentials. After opening a few joint locations with the American restaurant chain Wendy’s, the companies merged in August of 1995. Ron Joyce gained the position as being the new business‘ largest shareholder. Though the chain lost some of its autonomy, Canadians continued to embrace their rituals of the morning double double coffee. The hockey player that inspired the chain’s name, Tim Hortons ventured aggressively into the United States with the Wendy’s merger. While the first official Tim Hortons opened in Amherst, New York in 1985, the 1990s and 2000s had the franchise more dedicated to growing deeper into the lucrative US market. In 1998, the 100th Tim Hortons restaurant was opened south of the border. In early 2014, there are over 850 locations in the United States. Along with new locations, Tim Hortons experimented with pasta and an in-store Cold Stone Creamery setup in some stores. Popular in some American stores, the Cold Store Creamery concept has been discontinued in Canadian locations earlier this year.

In 2006, the Wendy’s spun off the Tim Hortons business allowing it to operate separate from the burger chain. On paper an American company with the spin-off, Tim Hortons’ head office operated in Oakville, Ontario. Tim Hortons would officially return to being a Canadian company in 2009.

A cornerstone for many of our daily routines, the roughly 4,400 Tim Hortons locations have opened on the company’s 50th birthday continuing the tasks of brewing coffee and serving donuts. Tim Hortons is now an international restaurant but the celebration of the 50th year has displayed how grounded the chain is with their past. 

The following video details the efforts devoted in recreating the first Hamilton "Tim Horton Donut" in Toronto's Yonge Dundas Square:



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