The prospect of Burger King buying Tim Hortons may not mean much in other parts of the country, but in Western New York, it’s a whopper of a development.
Tim Hortons’ launched its stateside expansion here, opening its first U.S. store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst in 1985. Since then, it has cultivated a loyal following who affectionately refer to the chain as Timmy’s and keep its drive-thrus buzzing.
Western New York has a special connection with Tim Hortons’ namesake founder, who was a defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres from 1972 until his death in a car crash in 1974.
This fall, a Sabres-branded specialty location is scheduled to open in downtown’s HarborCenter, complete with tributes to Horton’s life and a retrospective of Buffalo’s history.
So it was no surprise Tim Hortons customers had strong opinions about the future of the company should Burger King’s owner, 3G Capital of Brazil, get its hands on it.
“They’d better never, ever change the coffee,” said Julie LaFontaine, a Tim Hortons customer from North Buffalo.
“If they’re smart they won’t touch Tim Hortons – they’ll leave it how it is,” said Shaun Moore of Buffalo. “I don’t want them to mess it up.”
If anything, several customers at both restaurants thought Tim Hortons could teach Burger King a thing or two.
“They could keep the fast, friendly service,” said Geraldine Graziano, of the Town of Tonawanda.
Ulysses Harrell, of Rochester, hoped to see better specialty coffees and bagels added to the Burger King menu.
Garrett Brzozowiec, of Lancaster, hopes Burger King would learn how to speed up its drive-thru times, something Tim Hortons has perfected.
Other than that?
“I don’t know. Maybe a doughnut burger?” Brzozowiec said.
If a deal does go through, consumers likely won’t see any major changes on the local level – at least not for a while.
“The smartest, easiest, quickest thing they could do would be to serve Tim Hortons coffee. Coffee is something Burger King has been missing,” said Arun Jain, a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management.
The acquisition would be similar to Starbucks’ 2012 acquisition of loose-leaf tea purveyor Teavana. Teavana has maintained its distinct retail presence, while Starbucks has added Teavana teas to its drink lineup.
It’s also possible that combination Tim Hortons and Wendy’s locations – such as the one on Grand Island – could be replaced by Tim Hortons/Burger King mashups, though Grand Island’s is already situated across the street from a Burger King.
Jain said an acquisition would be a “brilliant move” for Burger King that could help it “leapfrog over McDonald’s.”
Burger King has struggled with its breakfast menu and specialty coffee items, while Tim Hortons has made a concerted effort to attract more traffic beyond its peak breakfast hours. An acquisition could be a synergistic win for both, Jain said.
Today, Tim Hortons has 225 stores in Western New York, 61 of which have opened in just the last three years.
Capitalizing on its proximity to Canada, Tim Hortons leveraged its Western New York foothold to grow its American operations to a total of 866 restaurants in 10 states.