TORONTO – Turns out not everyone has time for Tim Hortons, especially in the United States.
The coffee and doughnut chain took surprise measures this week when it pulled the plug on some restaurants in New York and Maine as part of a performance review.
The closures sparked plenty of attention from local news outlets, which reported that employees said they were not given any notice and in some cases diners were kicked out of restaurants when the lights were turned off in the middle of the day.
Tim Hortons declined to comment on how the stores were closed and would not say how many locations were affected.
It said in a statement the closures were part of a move to strengthen the Tim Hortons brand.
“We are supporting our restaurant owners in their transition and remain excited about the opportunities to expand the iconic Tim Hortons brand in the U.S.,” the company said in an email Friday.
The move comes weeks after new leadership at Tim Hortons emphasized effort to grow the company’s presence south of the border.
In October, Tim Hortons announced a partnership with U.S. developer Seven Invest to open more than 150 Tim Hortons coffee shops in the Cincinnati area over the next decade.
The chief executive of Restaurant Brands (TSX:QSR), which owns Burger King and bought Tim Hortons last year, said the expansion plan was “the first of many such agreements” in the pipeline for Tim Hortons as it looks to expand internationally.
“It gives you an indication of the scale we want to get to in the U.S. and also the direction we’re going, moving into … markets where we already have a footprint, and doing so in an aggressive manner,” CEO Daniel Schwartz said in an interview.
Despite being one of the most iconic brands in Canada, Tim Hortons has struggled in the U.S. market in the face of heavy competition from more established brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.
But it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
In 1996, the company opened its first U.S. restaurant in Ohio, around the time of its merger with burger chain Wendy’s. It slowly added more locations in other parts of the state, as well as Michigan and New York.
Within two years, Tim Hortons was struggling as its U.S. locations fell short of sales goals. While there were brief periods of improvements, the chain never really caught fire with Americans.
In 2009, Tim Hortons tried to buck those trends with a splashy rollout in high-traffic spots like Times Square and Broadway in Manhattan.
The next year, Tim Hortons pulled out of the northeastern U.S. by closing 54 stores in New England, where average sales volumes were about half of those in other U.S. markets, the company said at the time.
By 2014 the company had about 859 restaurants in the United States.
When Restaurant Brands took over, it decided to stop breaking out the number of Tim Hortons in each country.
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