Donut Detour: Tim Horton Hamburgers

tim hortons2Here’s a picture of an early Tim Horton establishment that I understand was located in North Bay, Ontario.

For people who like cars (and hockey, I guess), it’s interesting to see an original Mini parked next to the big green Ford sedan. What is that? A Galaxie 500? 1962? And there’s what I think is a 1964 Chevrolet and a 1964 Rambler American Convertible.

The “7” on the street sign refers to Tim Horton’s Toronto Maple Leafs team number (a rather bold use of another company’s branding, I should think. Wonder if they asked!).

And of course, above the front door there’s Tim guarding the blue line, his distinctive signature headlining his famous… What’s this? Hamburgers?

Yes indeed, and hotdogs, too. But not a donut in sight, so what’s that all about?

If you take a look at timhortons.com’s history section, you’ll learn that the company was formed in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964, and that “The first Tim Hortons restaurants offered only two products – coffee and donuts.” There’s no mention of hamburgers.

The official history also identifies 1967 as the year in which Tim Horton and Ron Joyce became full partners in the enterprise, although as you might expect, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Many have heard of now-billionaire Ron Joyce (who continues to have a role in the company), while Tim Horton’s tragic 1974 death in a car crash (in his De Tomaso Pantera) is part of Canadian lore.

But Tim Horton Hamburgers predates the familiar “Tim’s” that we now know. Wikipedia echoes the corporate account that the familiar “Tim Horton” brand was founded in Hamilton in 1964, but it also mentions that at this time the partnership was actually between Tim Horton and one Jim Charade.

Steve Penfold’s “The Donut: A Canadian History” fills in some blanks. Mr. Charade – ex-Vachon salesperson and donut plant manager — had already opened a donut shop called Your Donuts on Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario in 1962. He wanted to compete with the American-based Mister Donut and Dunkin’ Donut chains that were setting up shop, along with Canada’s Country Style Donuts.

The story goes that after meeting Tim Horton (who sold a car to him in his off-season role as car salesman), it occurred to Mr. Charade that adding “star power” to his enterprise could be good for sales. So it was that he and Tim Horton joined forces and “Your Donuts” was renamed “Tim Horton Donuts.” Puzzlingly, though, the partners subsequently got busy opening a chain of hamburger restaurants in and around Toronto. The picture you see here is one of those; more hamburger stand than restaurant.

But why hamburgers rather than donuts? One factor may have been that donuts represented only about 4.5 percent of the Canadian fast-food market at the time while hamburgers accounted for 29 percent. But perhaps more importantly, it turned out that Tim Horton was much more enthusiastic about hamburgers than donuts. So maybe that preference had to be appeased by Mr. Charade to secure Mr. Horton’s involvement. In any event, Tim Horton Hamburgers kind of took off (briefly), while Tim Horton Donuts was slower out of the gate.

The first Tim Horton Donut franchise eventually opened on Hamilton’s Ottawa Street in 1964 (which I guess is what timhortons.com refers to as the company’s founding year).

But it wasn’t until 1965 that Ron Joyce became involved, eventually taking over the Ottawa Street “Tim’s,” partnering with Tim Horton in 1966 according to some reports and 1967 according to others, and ultimately spearheading the company’s spectacular future growth.

Jim Charade, meanwhile, more visionary than manager, resigned from the company in 1966 seeing none of its success. He was rehired on a couple of occasions, however, before finally being let go when the company was acquired by US-based Wendy’s. Mr. Charade passed away in 2009.

As his son suggested in a Globe and Mail interview, Mr. Charade was like the “fifth Beatle,” although unlike drummer Pete Best, it seems he never really managed to adapt to his missed opportunity and the lack of recognition for his contribution.

So that’s some of the back-story to the Tim Horton Hamburger stand in North Bay. They didn’t last long; wonder if the burgers were any good…

Trivia:

Ron Joyce’s son Ron Jr. married Tim Horton’s daughter Jeri-Lynn. They run two Tim Horton franchises.

Tim Hortons restaurants used to have an apostrophe – Tim Horton’s. That apparently didn’t satisfy Quebec language laws, so the apostrophe was dropped. There may still be some locations where signage was not replaced. So take a picture if you see a Tim Horton’s!

As of June 30, 2013, there are 4,304 system-wide Tim Hortons restaurants, including 3,468 in Canada, 807 in the United States and 29 in the Gulf Cooperation Council

Obituary, Jim Charade

The Donut: A Canadian History, by Steve Penfold, University of Toronto Press, 2008

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