Okay, Canada: It’s time for the hard truth about Tim Hortons

Timmy’s, a national institution? Scott Feschuk pours cold coffee on that notion

(Illustration by Sarah MacKinnon.)

If you drink your coffee with two creams and two sugars, you might as well pour a mug of instant instead—or worse. (Illustration by Sarah MacKinnon.)

Have a seat, Canada. Are you comfortable? Good, that’s good.

I noticed you’ve been in a downward spiral since Burger King announced its plan to buy Tim Hortons for $12 billion—or roughly $1 for every Tims on Yonge Street in Toronto.

You’re worried about what the takeover will mean for your morning coffee—and for the corporation that is traditionally depicted in our media as adored, iconic and able to cure hepatitis with its doughnut glaze. (I’m paraphrasing.)

I’m here to help. This is a safe place, Canada. I want to see you get through this. Which is why I need you to listen to me closely. These words will be painful, but it’s important you hear them:

Tim Hortons is not a defining national institution. Rather, it is a chain of thousands of doughnut shops, several of which have working toilets.

Tim Hortons is not an indispensable part of the Canadian experience. Rather, it is a place that sells a breakfast sandwich that tastes like a dishcloth soaked in egg yolk and left out overnight on top of a radiator.

Tim Hortons is not an anti-Starbucks choice that makes you a more relatable politician or a more authentic Canadian. Rather, it is a great place to buy a muffin if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to eat blueberry air.

More from macleans.ca:

There is no shame in having been caught up in the Hortons hype. It happens. Just last week, a columnist in the Toronto Star likened Tim Hortons to a precious vase that’s about to be juggled by its new owner, a monkey. (I was so irate at this irresponsible journalism that I wrote a letter demanding the Star issue a retraction. Everyone knows monkeys juggle only coconuts.)

Meanwhile, the NDP’s Peggy Nash—who, by all accounts, is an actual person and not a fictional construct of The Onion—gravely warned of the potential consequences of the Tim Hortons brand “falling into foreign hands.”

Yes, imagine the consequences. Maybe these madcap foreign owners will go so far as to alter the sandwiches so they taste like . . .  something. Preferably like sandwich, but, at this point, most of us have stopped being picky.

Am I getting through to you, Canada? While we’re on the topic of hard truths, there is something else that needs to be said.

Canada, you sure do like your double-double—or, as it is by law referred to in news reports, the “beloved double-double.” But here’s a newsflash for you: If you drink your coffee with two creams and two sugars, the quality of the coffee itself is of little consequence. You’d might as well pour a mug of instant coffee or sip the urine of a house cat mixed with a clump of dirt from your golf spikes. It’s all basically the same thing once you bombard it with sweet and dairy. You’re really just wasting your . . .

I see from your reaction that I’ve crossed a line. I hereby withdraw my defamatory comments about the double-double and kindly ask that you return that handful of my chest hair.

Sit back down, Canada. I want to tell you a story.

There is a Tims located a few blocks from where I live, which is to be expected, given that my house is not on the moon. This outlet happens to be close to a major intersection. Every morning, the lineup from the drive-through extends down to the edge of the street.

Confronted with this situation, a sensible driver would grasp the inherent hazard in blocking a thoroughfare and simply keep motoring on. Does anyone do this? Of course not.

Instead, everyone stops and idles. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. Other drivers come whipping around the corner and must execute Cannonball Run feats of two-wheeled stunt-driving to avoid ramming these pastry-seeking asshats. Horns honk. Tempers flare. And still no one moves. Sure, I got a debilitating case of whiplash, and the nice lady in the Subaru lost the use of her legs, but on the upside TIMBITS NOM NOM NOM.

My point is this, Canada: It’s fine to enjoy Tim Hortons. Some may even say it’s fine to be like my Dad and insist on the old-fashioned plain, the only doughnut that delivers both the flavour and texture of a memory foam mattress.

But don’t get weird about it, OK?




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Okay, Canada: It’s time for the hard truth about Tim Hortons

  1. Very true, very funny….and I agree with every word.

  2. Ummm hey guys, Tim Horton’s is an American company… It was acquired and merged with TDL Group by Wendy’s International, Inc., an American company on August 8th, 1995. Tim Hortons Inc., was also initially incorporated in Delaware. Of course is was, 20 years ago, but that was a very long tome ago… They kept the headquarters in Oakville, to give ‘appearance’ that it was still Canadian.

    • Tim Hortons was sold back as a public company. If Wendys still owned it, Burger King could not buy it.

    • You’re an idiot for a variety of reasons, but I’ll point out two specifically: the company was founded in Hamilton, not Delaware, and they were bought back many, many years ago. As someone else said, if Wendy’s parent still owned it, there would not have been a deal, or even a proposal.

      You may resume living under your rock.

      • As far as I was made aware – China bought corporate last year? Hence why the slogan went from “Canada’s coffee shop” to “Canada’s favourite coffee”.. Am I the only one who noticed this? *returns back to the rock in the woods*

  3. Ok Scott..I’m just going to come out and say it…

    I still believe Tim Hortons to be a Canadian institution, as it is something that has been intrinsically linked to the Canadian people based on our affiliation…However, I found your article comical, and a good read.

    I agree to some small extent that once coffee is infused with those oh so lovely globs of fat and spoons of sandy sugar, it becomes something other than coffee. However, I’ve become something of a connoisseur of coffee..and I’ve had terrible coffee, double double and all. However, I’m not preaching that Tims is the best thing going, and I think that is where you’ve overlooked what most people are concerned about. When people visit from the world outside of Canadaland, they see these franchises on every street corner, in every gas station and most malls. OF course, the interpretation of this is “My God, Canadians love their Tim Hortons coffee”. I feel that the concern lies wholly in perception. Canadians are proud of the heritage they’ve built here over the course of the past few hundred years, and in the past fifty, Tim’s has ingratiated itself into our everyday lives, and it is here that the people are concerned. Burger King has hardly been known as the purveyor of fine foods, but also steadily upholds that image. Tim Horton’s, while not the golden child of coffee establishments, is still a place that attempts to try to identify itself as relatively dynamic as well as attempts to identify itself as a place that doesn’t really acknowledge borders between people. Burger King, however, has always resigned itself to being a food chain that is more about low grade food, substandard sit in locations, and catering to a lower standard with very little change. The concern, as I see it, is that by being affiliated with a food chain like Burger King, Tim Hortons as a public image will lose some of this hard contrast and diminish the image. The concern is completely about perception, as the move is very clearly for the benefit of both franchises as Burger King now evades a larger tax bracket by relocating their head office to Oakville, and TIm Hortons suddenly becomes a grandstand coffee establishment in the U.S. Neither has anything to lose. We both know that Tim Hortons will not go away because of people’s reception of affiliation, but rather feel that because Tim hortons is a cornerstone of Canadian daily life, it someho diminishes its prestige by affiliating itself with the ‘King.

    Wow this got wordy. Nonetheless, I’ve found this to be an interesting argumetn, having contributed to discussions on facebook and other forums about it…I’d be happy to hear further thoughts on it from other people! :)

    ~S

    • Tim Horton’s is already an American fast food chain. It was acquired and merged with TDL Group by Wendy’s International, Inc., an American company on August 8th, 1995. Then on September 28, 2009, Wendy’s International, Inc. wanted to maintain Tim Horton’s Canadian brand integrity, so they sought to keep the headquarters in Oakville, ON and register the company in Canada, as Canadian… But again – it is still US ‘owned’ by TDL Group/Wendy’s International, Inc.

      • See my comment above for links, but Wendy’s actually fully divested themselves of Tim Hortons in 2006, a wholly separate publicly traded company was formed then (at the time, registered in Delaware) and then in 2009, Tim Hortons completed the restructuring to become a fully Canadian publicly traded company again.

        So:
        1964-1995 – private Canadian Company
        1995-2006 – acquired by Wendy’s and operated by them from the U.S.
        2006-2009 – Spun off from Wnedy’s, becomes a publicly traded company with operational headquarters in Oakville, but registered in Delaware
        2009-2014 – fully-Canadian publicly traded company
        2014 – Merged with Burger King and parent company of both chains moved to Canada

        • Thanks. You are mostly correct. I would edit your last line to…

          “2014 – Proposed merger with Burger King, subject to shareholder approval in future vote. Parent company to move to Canada once transaction receives regulatory and shareholder approval.”

    • I agree with one thing: that Burger King is worse than most fast food outlets.

      Tim’s is close to them in quality of food though and I can’t understand why the coffee which is nothing special, is so loved. But then marketing works wonders.

    • I would just like to comment that since I was diagnosed as a diabetic I drink my coffee black. Tim Horton’s coffee is not the best when drunk without cream and sugar but it is not the worst either and is cheaper than most places; the dark roast is quite good.

      • I still think it tastes better than Starbucks lol

  4. You’re right about the breakfast sandwiches. Had one back in January– I think it was nominally supposed to be made of turkey– it was disgusting.

  5. Brazil owns it folks. ’3G Capital’. Not Americans.

    You could own some of it too if you bought shares

  6. This story is so full of crap! Scott Feschuk does not have any chest hair….

  7. From the southern side of the border, as someone who was relieved to hear BK bought out Tim Horton’s because maybe the nearest Timmy’s won’t be 170 miles away (seriously, I have to drive to central Michigan if I want Tim Horton’s) just pray they don’t switch it out for BK’s “Joe”, their rather sad attempt to chase McDonald’s foray into the gourmet coffee business. My hope is BK will adopt Tim Horton’s coffee instead. And just be glad it wasn’t Dunkin Donuts who bought them out. That is the worst coffee to ever try to pass itself off as drinkable. Tim Horton’s has NOTHING on the weird chemical odor Dunkin attempts to mask with a quarter cup of cream and a half cup of sugar in a small coffee. I’m not a huge Starbucks person but it’s not even a contest between them and Dunkin’s swill, which I swear has to be postconsumer chemical lubricants.

    And this was a refreshing change from the screaming down here about Burger King unpatriotically turning Canadian. If it means BKs will be more like Tim Hortons, I for one welcome our new maple-leaf-wearing overlords.

  8. Scott, I hope you never drink a Tim’s coffee for the rest of your life – that just tells me you have a weird thing for feline urine soaked cleat dirt.

  9. Tough language from someone someone that works for Rogers Media. Are you already standing in line for the new iPhone.

  10. Hmm. I do agree with Scott’s overarching message to Canada of “don’t get weird” about BK and TH joining together (it’s not like Tim’s doesn’t exist in the states already). That being said, I have to disagree with his comment that TH isn’t a “defining national institution.” I kinda think it is. It’s a Canadian-created franchise, and over the years, it has become entrenched in the Canadian culture. Culture is “the way we do things around here” (Deal and Kennedy, 1982)–and that way involves rolling up rims, donating to Camp Day, and a common understanding of the term ‘double-double.’ Tim’s has become something that DEFINES Canadian culture (not the only thing, but something).

    True, I don’t think people need to freak right out about the merge, but I think it’s fair for people to feel a sense of loss as they wonder if the merge might change TH’s “Canadianess.” Because if that happens, we may lose a small piece of our culture and that’s disappointing for some.

    I mean, think about Starbucks. Do you sense the “Seattleness” of that franchise anywhere outside Seattle? Probably not. Even I associate it more with Chapters than Seattle. Starbucks’ origins have been lost in the process of becoming completely Americanized. I wouldn’t want that for Tim Horton’s.

  11. while the author is comical in a sense he appears to be seething with hatred for tim hortons. I dont get what your deal is with their products and god forbid its succesful. the coffee is my favourite, I like mc donalds too, secobd cup isnt bad and I find starbucks repulsive and expensive. thats not to say its awful. just not my cup of coffee. as for the sandwhiches? I live Tim’s breakfast sandwhiches. indigent know what horrible Tim’s you are going to but I get the sausage egg and cheese on a 40 cheese bagel and it was one of the best FAST FOOD CHAIN breakfast sandwhiches ive ever had. I dont mind the egg white and turkey either when I wanna cut some calories. mc Donalds isnt bad but their options leave a lot to be imagined. this entire article was just a smash on Tim’s and hardly even discussed the article header at all. the complete bias of this article ruins any enjoyment of the satire. ya double double is bad.. drink a regular then. or have fun drink in it black. double double doesnt change per chain.

  12. I agree with you about the marketing ploy that is appealing to Canadian’s patriotism and insisting that drinking double-doubles & Molson Canadian somehow makes us more Canadian and insists that we’re thumbing our noses at other countries. That’s fine.

    But why the paragraph after paragraph putting down their food? Maybe over in fancy Toronto, where you “don’t live on the moon”, there’s other dining options. But try leaving the GTA once or twice, drive Highway 430 in Newfoundland for instance, drinking 8oz. after 8oz. coffee because no one there drinks coffee, at various Ultramar & Irving gas stations where the coffee has been cooking all day into a thick sludge. You might appreciate the sight of the St. Anthony’s Tim Hortons then.

    Lastly, I purposely get into those long drive-thru lines because a) people that have large orders should go inside, b) people that don’t know the menu should go inside, and c) workers should work at a reasonable rate of speed. I’m not inconveniencing you, those people are.

  13. Wow, that was just a bad article. Maclean’s, eh? Apart from being without cadence, the awkward writing and laboured attempts at humour were just—bad. I was drawn in by the title and expected a researched piece with some comedic “you-know-what-i’m-talking-about” observations sprinkled about, so much like the pastries being chided. What I discovered can be likened to a bad stand up routine that gets uncomfortable laughter from a sympathetic Yuk Yuks crowd. I will concede though, the double-double observation was spot on, however, I doubt you’ll get much more than glossy stares considering that double-double drinkers make up about 70% of the coffee drinking consumers in Canada (cue the chirping crickets).

    The silver lining: the true beauty of online articles versus hard copy. The comments that followed the article are orders of magnitude more interesting than the article, itself. Who knows? Maybe discussion was the point.

  14. You take this from the Canadian mind set, what’s there to hold on to? Hockey and Maple syrup? Let them enjoy the “Canadian” brew.

  15. Tim Horton’s doesn’t serve coffee, they serve corporate chemically laced hot flavor beverage. Coffee just doesn’t taste like that. Maybe you could reproduce the Canadian taste at home if you brew a pot of actual coffee mixed with 5 or 6 busted up cigarettes, a 4 day old dish rag and served it in a skate for that wonderful Canadian blend.

    • I agree, I actually prefer Starbucks, or when I was in Ottawa, I loved Second Cup, it may have cost a couple cents more, but it tasted a lot better than that battery-acid-detergent at Tim’s.

  16. Thank you Scott, you just made me spew my non Tim Horton’s freshly brewed at home coffee all over my keyboard. So true and so funny. Where I live, I often see vehicles parked on the train tracks just to be in the lineup for the local Timmy’s. It’s a coffee people and it’s not even good coffee.

  17. Well I will never get the couple minutes it took me to read this drivel back … thanks for nothing of substance to read.

  18. Well, I found the article negative, inflammatory and critical of what so many people apparently enjoy. I have enjoyed the occasional old-fashioned plain doughnut which has neither the taste, nor the texture of memory foam. While I have had better coffee I would not classify theirs as resembling cat urine in flavour.
    If your aim was to incite heated discussion… well then… well done! If this was meant to be an informative or educational article laying the facts out… well then… huge fail!

    • so you drink cat urine regularly do you, anyone that consumes th `s garbage should not be allowed to vote.

  19. I just started my day and I think I’ve already read the most useless article I may find. I hope no one paid for journalism school to get this. Hard hitting journalism at its best! -Shame nothings happening in the world that we have to talk about why Scotty doesn’t like Timmy’s :(

  20. This article is the work of a Grade A snob.

    Your jokes may actually be funny if your “hard truths” were actually true.

    One, the THs that I’ve encountered actually have pretty decent washrooms, and I’ve never encountered a non-working toilet. Sometimes they are not clean and/or don’t smell the greatest, but that can be said of any washroom open to the public.

    Two, their blueberry muffins are actually very good, even in comparison to Starbucks or Second Cup. I had one this morning.

    Three, their egg breakfast sandwiches absolutely KILL any fast-food or Starbucks/2nd Cup equivalent. I don’t care what anybody says.

    Fourth, the line-ups at THs may be long, but at least they generally move fast. Have you ever been to Starbucks? A line-up of 6 people can eat 15 minutes on a good day.

    Fifth, you’re right that double doubles are disgusting. And I would prefer coffee from other places, even McDonald’s. But you imply that a double double is the only option at THs. Personally, I get a medium coffee with one milk and a shot of espresso.

    • About those washrooms. The one at the branch on the road to Fredericton–which I only used as a pipi stop–had a dripping tap for five years, in spite of my reporting it several times. It’s fixed now, because they renovated the whole place.

  21. Whether your argument is valid or not is irrelevant. Your crass lecture is not one we’ve asked for or respect. What Tim Hortons has done is created one of the most successful brands to ever resonate within Canada. In a country where many claim have little to no culture of its own, Canada has adopted Tim Hortons as a fundamental part of its identity. Whether it was owned by Canada or not is irrelevant. Your argument is irrelevant. What matters is how Burger King will change the Tim Hortons brand within Canada. If they do not respect the Canadian heritage of the chain, at least within Canada, they will lose many customers on the our fact that it has been americanized and is no longer the brand we have come to love.
    The Marketers of this brand have spent years ingraining Tim Hortons into the very fibre of Canadian culture. For you to sit there and lecture as if anyone actually cares whether its Canadian owned is naive. The marketers have successfully done what they wanted to do. Tim Hortons is a part of our country like no other brand is. The people who now own it need to consider this as part of their future marketing strategy because extensive change will scare away loyal customers and lower the value of the brand from where they bought it to whatever they leave us with.
    I certainly hope the Burger King has a better understanding of the importance of the Tim Hortons brand in Canada then you seem to. Otherwise, the investment they’ve just made will be pointless and they may as well have just opened another chain. IT’s not about being American owned. ITs about respecting the brand consumers have come to know and love.

    • What is Canadian about a business that was copied on Dunkin Donuts? Or are you implying we’re only good at imitation? Heavens!

    • any one that consumes th`s garbage should not be allowed to vote

  22. Scott, hilarious read. Thank you! Tim Horton’s may not be a national institution…but it might just be a national treasure. ;) It is and will forever remain a warm refuge from out of the snow and freezing rain that blows sideways for many Canadians and while I personally may not remember the taste of the Tim’s double double the day I flew to Vancouver, (I now live in Austin, Texas) I will forever remember how it felt to hold my grandfathers hand across the table and listen to him talk about his love for my grandmother who had just passed. THIS is Tim’s. It’s the thousands of stories just like mine, that unfold every single day inside it’s walls. When I go back to Canada, I always look forward to TIMS in my Home and native land. Tell me you’ve never sat in a Tims to people watch and write? Heck, you probably BECAME a writer sipping on a Tims coffee, the Canadian wind in your hair! Confess! ;)

    • We go there not because it’s Tim Horton’s. We go there because it’s there.

  23. A friend of mine would regularly will drive that extra mile for his Timmy’s, even though a Starbucks is around the corner from him.
    He didn’t believe me, almost freaked out, when I said Tim’s hasn’t really been “canadian” for almost 20 years now. That was a few days ago, he called me last nite from the starbucks around his corner, and said that the dark paradiso there is pretty good, and not as many tfw’s either -err atleast not at his starbucks.

    Funny, I remeber in the late 70z, my highschcol sweetie and I would goto to the Tim’s on Princess Street in Kingston, listem to Elton John, on the juke box -yes they actually had a juke box there.

    Needless to say, Tim’s has had a long heritage in Canada, especially early on with youth, hockey sponsorships,…, but unfortunately, these are just sad business facts.
    ;)

  24. …in other words people, just remember your good times at Tim’s, and not the bad business-facts of today.

  25. I don’t drink their coffee, but about twice a year I buy a couple of sour cream (unglazed) doughnuts.
    A few years ago, they had a lunch time special of field mushroom soup & a ham and cheese sandwich. I came home gasping for water, and looked up the nutritional info online. Two days worth of salt! In one meal. Last time I ate there.
    Sorry, Tims.

  26. Oh so true. My Wife handed me the magazine and said “read this , you could have wrote this as you have the same opinion of Tim Horton’s. I was sent to Tim’s by my employer to pick up so Tim Bits for a meeting and while there the chap in front of me ordered a large “Quad Quad” as he called it which meant 4 sugars and 4 creams. When it came to my turn I asked the girl “Did you put any coffee in that” and she replied there is a regular customer that request 5 sugars and 5 creams !!!!!!!!!!!.
    Just how bad does your coffee have to be when you have to masked the flavor with that much sugar and cream. It is kind of like putting a whole bottle of Ketchup on a filet magnon

  27. I have a question: why would anyone get in line so they can fork up a couple of bucks for a cup of coffee in the morning, when they can buy that same coffee in a can, a $10 drip coffee maker at a yard sale, prepare the coffee themselves at home, and save hundreds of dollars a year?

  28. A Canadian institution? Nonsense. I was in one once and thought both the do-nuts and coffee were for the birds. Its only high popint was it was warm, on a cold day.

  29. Not a mention of how Tim Horton’s uses part of it’s profits to sponsor underprivileged children to Tims Summer Camp every year… they flew my younger Brother to Ontario from BC and back, I was and always will be impressed… I am not a big fan of any fast food outlets, but I will support Tim’s as long as they stay a part of our community.

    How about the History of Tim Horton, does anyone actually know who he was… or do they just accept it as a doughnut joint, n carry on with no clue about what Tim’s actually represents.

  30. What a stupid article. 2 minutes of life wasted.

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