Bits of Tim's

Always Fresh fails to deliver on its title.

Unless there's a fresh scandal brewing, most business memoirs end up in the remainder bin quickly. But if there's one man who can buck that trend, it's Ron Joyce. After all, Joyce is Tim Hortons, and Canadians love Tim Hortons coffee, so they might just pick up Always Fresh: The Untold Story of Tim Hortons by the Man Who Created a Canadian Empire (HarperCollins, $32.95) for a little light reading with their double-double. Always Fresh is part memoir, part business book, but it doesn't quite deliver on its title. Joyce says he was persuaded to tell the story of Tim Hortons because he's the only one who knows all of it. That's certainly true, but a great book needs more than a simple retelling of facts. It needs drama, suspense, something unexpected, and that's tough to find here.

So let the record show that Joyce is the real brains behind the rise of Tim Hortons. Not the now-dead pro-hockey player whose name is on each of the nearly 3,000 restaurants. Not Paul House, the current CEO and president of the chain, whom Maclean's credited in 2005 with turning a “dumpy chain of 200 doughnut shops into the best food-service brand in Canada.” And certainly not Wendy's International Inc., the floundering burger chain that suckled at the teat of Tim Hortons for a decade before spinning it off earlier this year in a desperate attempt to save itself.

Joyce doesn't seem too caught up in his own tale. That would explain the relative shortness of his book, which at 241 pages of well-spaced type is hardly a weighty tome. It would also help explain why the juiciest bits of Joyce's life get short shrift. Certainly, Joyce had an interesting ride while building Tim Hortons from a bumbling one-off Hamilton coffee shop into one of the most successful franchise chains in the world, arguably becoming Canada's most famous brand name in the process. But there's little new in this straightforward retelling, and the more salacious details of Joyce's life get glossed over. For example, there's plenty of gossip about Joyce's relationship with Tim Horton's widow in–and out of–the boardroom, but he neatly manages to sidestep the details. Perhaps that's because Joyce is a pretty nice guy. Perhaps it's because one of his sons, Ron Jr., is married to one of Horton's daughters, Jeri-Lyn. Perhaps it's none of our business, but then why mention it at all, even in passing?

Nor is there quite the vitriol you'd expect over Joyce's sellout to Wendy's in 1996, a move he has repeatedly said was the worst mistake of his life. Joyce criticizes the way Wendy's kept its crumbling food empire afloat by using Tim Hortons cash flow, but he's much more opinionated in interviews, pointing out that Wendy's structure–or lack thereof–was and remains a key factor in its troubles. “You can't be a franchisor and a competitor in my opinion. That's just my philosophy,” says Joyce. “I've always thought that the customer was the franchisee and if you made them successful, wow, rocket science stuff, you're successful.”

When offered, that kind of straightforward advice is what makes Always Fresh interesting–but not required–reading. Hard work begets success. Common sense beats business school teachings every time. There's little room for sentimentality in the boardroom. Good lessons, all. Certainly Joyce doesn't display much emotion about Tim Hortons today. When Wendy's completely divested itself of Tim Hortons, which now trades on the TSX as a stand-alone company, Joyce didn't buy a single share. “Tim Hortons doesn't meet the criteria I'm looking for,” he says. “It doesn't meet my criteria of dividends and cash flow.”

Unfortunately, Always Fresh leaves you wanting a bit more of Joyce's directness, but it is a quick read that won't upset your stomach while you sip your coffee.