Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tim Hortons could be an easy sell in Florida thanks to Canadian tourists, Burger King

If Burger King can structure its company right, the Miami-based fast food chain could lead to a whopper of a Tim Hortons expansion in Florida.

Burger King confirmed Tuesday that it is making a pitch to buy Canada's Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop for $11 billion to leverage the brand's coffee and breakfast market. It's probably best because did anyone really think that burgers for breakfast was going to work?

I've always thought that Tim Hortons would be a genius move for a business in Florida despite having to slug it out with Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, especially here in the Bradenton area.

In the last year, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined attracted about 100,000 Canadian tourists. That's just some of the 3.7 million Canadians who visited Florida. Have you not seen how many Ontario license plates roam these roads during winter? Sometimes I felt like I had to check to make sure I wasn't being tricked into thinking that I lived in the southernmost province of the Great White North.

Plus, we have a good chunk of Canadian transplants who now live here year-round. I remember first meeting Schroeder-Manatee Ranch's Todd Pokrywa last year and we struck up a brief chat about the love of Tim Hortons, or Timmy's. The Canadian native had his stash of Tim Hortons coffee in his office for a Cup of Joe that reminds him of home.

It might mean a gift basket from relatives up north or ordering online for some to get Tim Horton. The U.S. locations are predominately in the Great Lakes region stretching from Michigan to New York. For now, if you want to get a fix of Tim Hortons, you'll have to go to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and BB&T Center where a small stand sells only coffee. Sorry, no Timbits or sandwiches there.

These folks would surely line up for a box of Timbits while hoping the butter tarts are added back to the menu.

There are foodies out there who would ask why have another chain restaurant given the area's bevy of good independent restaurants, some of those being fast food. That foodtopia is never going to arrive. Vacationers often crave the familiar and affordable.

Tim Hortons made a concerted push this past year to get more American franchisees, airing prime-time ads during the National Hockey League's outdoor games earlier this year. So, they're trying. It's going to take a franchisee signing for multiple locations to make it work, and that means a lot of capital. That's where Burger King's executives could help their Tim Hortons counterparts in navigating site selection and Florida regulations as well as connecting with investors and existing Burger King franchisees looking for something new.

You'd think someone would hit up one of the retired NHLers and coaches living part time in the area including Scotty Bowman, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt or Bobby Clarke who might have a warm place in their hearts for Tim Hortons. But really, I'd ask Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett.

Why him? Bennett once operated Dunkin' Donuts franchises and he co-owns the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. The ice rink has a vacancy where restaurants have come and gone, the latest being a steakhouse. Bennett would like a national chain to go in there, and why not Tim Hortons? There's a fixed, dedicated audience because hockey demographics easily cross with Tim Hortons. If the space is too big, stick an urgent care in there to handle all the bumps and bruises from the ice rink, and that space would be humming.

I'd ask Mike what he would think of this, but he was tied up at the Primary Election on Tuesday looking to count votes instead of coffee beans.

Even if he doesn't go with it, I wonder if the model Timmy's uses in America's snowiest city would work here, where the coffee shop partners in the same space with ColdStone Creamery -- like Dunkin' puts a Baskin Robins in its store.

I'm rooting for the brand in Florida because it brings back some good memories of when I played travel hockey in high school and we had a chance to stop off and try a Tim Hortons. We didn't have any in Maryland. I was impressed with the clean layout and how breakfast entrees would be served with a glass plate and silverware.

I don't think I ended up trying a Tim Hortons doughnut until I interned at the Erie Times-News in 2006. At the time, Timmy's flooded the market in Erie, Pa., and there seemed to be one on every corner. Somebody brought them into work one day and I wasn't impressed at first. But then I tried it again and there's something about them that makes them worthwhile. Maybe it's the special lard, I don't know.

If Timmy's ever comes to Florida, it won't have a problem finding a familiar audience.

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