Before sunrise each morning, Ian Hardy orders orange pekoe tea at his Toronto neighborhood’s Tim Hortons — “the best place in the world.” He returns at 9 a.m., after driving his 4-year-old son to preschool. And again at 2 p.m., before picking him up.
“I’m obsessed with Tim Hortons,” says Hardy, 40, a Web editor who runs the unofficial fan site Inside Timmies. “I don’t want to see it change. No one here does.”
He learned early Tuesday that Burger King had announced plans to buy the beloved Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain for about $11 billion after a friend e-mailed him the press release. On behalf of panicked devotees everywhere, Hardy studied the language.
“They claim the companies will operate separately, but the stuff about leveraging each others’ ‘best practices’ makes me nervous,” he said. “I hope they stay true to what they believe in: community, family, hockey.”
So far, most of the discussion in the United States has focused on Burger King’s tax obligations and another big American company’s decision to relocate its headquarters. But in Canada, the immediate concern is cultural.
Internationally, fans worry: Will Burger King destroy a Canadian treasure?
Hey Canadians, I know you love Tim Hortons….if you haven’t heard…Burger King is buying it. I apologize in advance on behalf of America
— Milonakis (@AndyMilonakis) August 26, 2014
.@BurgerKing if you mess up Tim Hortons I swear I’m boycotting you for the rest of my life
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) August 26, 2014
The amount of anxiety I’m feeling about this Burger King/Tim Hortons merger is unreal. Don’t mess with my coffee.
— Angela Vacanti (@AngelaVacanti1) August 26, 2014
I love that Canadians are acting like the acquisition of Tim Hortons might as well be a full-on American annexation. — Amanda Foley (@_AmandaFoley) August 26, 2014
Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton, the chain’s founder, opened the first store 50 years ago in Hamilton, Ontario. He played 25 seasons for four different National Hockey League teams and worked summers building the business. There are now more than 4,500 locations.
Horton, who was 44 when he died n a car crash in 1974, is hailed as a national hero. That’s part of the chain’s allure, Hardy says. The wholesome culture is more important than the food. (Though the chocolate Timbits, he adds, are delectable.) Tim Hortons seems to have become in some Canadian neighborhoods what Starbucks has tried to achieve everywhere: a business of community — or, in Howard Schultz’s words, The Third Place.
“There’s one on every corner,” Hardy says. “It’s a place to visit people, hang out and feel at home.”
A TV commercial released earlier this month captures this sentiment in song:
There is a Tim Hortons that everyone knows/
The friendly familiar place down the road/
The first stop on the road trip/
Where we go to celebrate life’s wins.
“We’re obsessed,” said Amanda Foley, a 24-year-old Nova Scotia native who worked for the chain as a teenager. “Every single Canadian I know on social media has made a comment. It’s kind of a big deal to us.”
Torontoist writer Desmond Cole — who “personally despises” Tim Hortons — said any real fear over the merger is silly. Wendy’s previously owned the chain, he noted. The doughnut holes didn’t shrink.
“Despite the fact that we all buy U.S. brands, watch U.S. television and likely know more about American history than our own, we’d never pass on an opportunity to fret about the big bad Americans coming to take us over,” Cole said. “It’s tradition.”
Those least worried, it seems, are Tim Hortons employees. The pay, menu and daily routine won’t change, they’ve heard — at least not yet.
Jean Sebastien, 24, works at the store in Sainte-Adèle, Quebec, a village of 12,000 in the Laurentian Mountains. Two years ago, it was the 500th store to open in the region. He learned Tuesday about the Burger King merger in an e-mail, but he wasn’t surprised or worried. No one will tamper with something that works so well, Sebastien thought.
“Everything’s the same here today,” he said. “We’ve seen the same regular customers. We have about 100.”