The untold truth of Tim Hortons

Fans of Tim Hortons are definite, die-hard fans of Timmie's. All coffee shops inspire a certain amount of brand loyalty, but Hortons inspires loyalty on a whole different scale. Their Timbits are legendary, their coffee is the subject of a weird urban legend (that we'll get to the bottom of), and Roll-up-the-Rim season can give Christmas a run for its money when it comes to sheer excitement. What's left to know about this Canadian icon? Lots!

It started with a haircut

Tim Hortons wasn't always the coffee-and-donut icon it is today. All fans know Horton was a real person, a hockey player who suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and the Buffalo Sabres. According to Historica Canada, Tim Horton always had a desire to get into the restaurant business, but it was only when he met a Montreal businessman named Jim Charade that he got the chance. Charade owned a donut joint only two doors down from Horton's go-to barber, and the pair formed Timanjim, Ltd. the same year they met.

They started out with four restaurants, including one serving coffee and doughnuts and another serving up burgers and chicken. It wasn't just Tim Hortons to begin with, either, it was Tim Horton Do-nut. The very first restaurant was opened in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964, and their first franchisee was a 21-year-old Toronto bank clerk. The road to franchising was always rocky, though, and it wasn't until they found their third franchisee — Ron Joyce — that they also found the man who would ultimately run the entire company after Charade's exit and Horton's death.

The founder's death has an uncomfortable connection with drunk driving

Tim Horton was killed in a car accident on February 21, 1974, when he was heading to Buffalo after playing for the Sabres in a match against his former Leafs teammates. According to the Ottawa Citizen, it wasn't until 2005 that details of his autopsy were released, and they revealed some uncomfortable things about this hockey icon.

Horton had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, along with a drug called Dexamyl. (It was a legal prescription drug at the time, a mix of barbiturates and dextro-amphetamines.) That's about the time you might have noticed photos of Horton disappearing out of his restaurants, and it wasn't until 2014 there was a public movement to try to put them back in. While some defended his actions by saying the drug was legal at the time and he was taking it in order to stay competitive with guys half his age, the other defense of his actions — that there wasn't as much of a stigma against drunk driving then as there is today — still doesn't make any of it right, and his death is uncomfortably problematic.

The majority of their coffee isn't Canadian at all

Tim Hortons might have a reputation as being the coffee company from America's friendly northern neighbor, but when it comes to their coffee, there's a surprising source. All that coffee that goes into those famous double-doubles is actually roasted, packaged, and shipped from the States. It comes through a processing plant in Rochester, New York, to be precise, and that's sort of appropriate. It's not too far from Buffalo, where Horton spent some of his career donning his skates for the Sabres.

The Democrat & Chronicle got an inside look at the processing plant, which sprawls over 40,000 square feet and only employs 37 people to make all the coffee Hortons stores across the US and parts of Canada need (some Canadian stores are supplied by a Canadian processing facility). How much coffee comes out of Rochester? A whopping 20 to 30 million pounds every year.

Corporate is involved with a huge fight with their franchisees

If you think owning a Timmie's franchise must be a fun gig, you might be surprised at some of the conflicts going on behind the scenes. In October 2017, franchisees filed an $850 million class action lawsuit against Restaurant Brands International Inc., the Brazilian-based company that now oversees Tim Hortons franchises. According to the suit (via the Financial Post), the group was resorting to bullying and intimidation tactics to force troublesome owners out of their franchises. Why were they being viewed as troublesome? Because some had organized into an association to deal specifically with the difficulties franchisees were having with those corporate overseers. The association had filed a class action lawsuit back in June of 2017, too, looking for $500 million over alleged mismanagement of advertising funds and continuously rising costs passed on to the franchisees.

As for corporate's side of the story, they alleged the association had spilled valuable trade secrets, and that was the reason they were being served with default notices on their franchises, although The Star reported board members were denying they had done any such thing.

No, there's not anything added to the coffee to make it more addicting

People who love Tim Hortons really, really love Tim Hortons, and if you're used to picking up a coffee on your way to work, you'll feel it if you're forced to skip a morning. That's given rise to a ton of rumors there's something added to their coffee to make it extra addicting, and theories range from having it super-caffeinated to even dosed with nicotine or MSG.

None of it is true, and you can rest assured knowing it's just an urban legend. It's so prevalent a legend Tim Hortons even addresses it on their official FAQ, and The Torontoist adds that not only would adding nicotine to coffee be illegal, but also pretty dangerous. They tried to track down the source of the urban legend and while they didn't find that, they did find Tim Hortons isn't the only one to be the target of that exact same story. McDonald's was even accused to adding nicotine to their burgers to make them more addictive — if you needed more proof it's an urban legend, there it is.

Why is there no apostrophe?

Let's address the elephant in the room: why isn't it called Tim Horton's? That missing apostrophe is annoying! When Tim Hortons announced locations in Cleveland, WKYC finally answered the question for us — and the answer's a doozy, because it actually started with the French and Indian War. 

When France was kicked out of what's now Quebec, there was a ton of tension. The people living there still embraced their French culture, but their British overlords weren't too fond of the idea. From the 1760s up until 1977, Great Britain imposed their English-speaking ways on a French population, but when pro-French residents took back French as their language, they also introduced a bill stating signs and advertising had to be in French. That apostrophe is English, so it was effectively illegal. Rather than confuse matters with a restaurant advertised in two different ways, they just got rid of the apostrophe everywhere.

Their policy of giving law enforcement free coffee led to a lawsuit

Tim Hortons typically gives free coffee to law enforcement, and that seems like something most people can get behind. But in 2006, The Globe and Mail reported that it had gotten them in trouble at least once, when former employees who were fired amid charges of theft filed charges of their own.

Charlene Walsh and Amanda MacNeil sued both Tim Hortons and six members of the Toronto police department, saying the restaurant had bribed law enforcement with free coffee and doughnuts, and they then conspired to bring charges — which were ultimately dropped due to a lack of evidence — against her, solely so Tim Hortons has a reason to fire her rather than paying for her maternity leave.

Tim Hortons denied the claims, and two years later Canoe reported the case had been thrown out of court.

There are a ton of "secret" menu items

A lot of restaurants have so-called secret menus, but Tim Hortons has a different kind of secret menu. It's pretty much whatever you can imagine, and the Food Network shared some of their secret menu hacks. They range anywhere from asking to have your donut warmed up to adding a hash brown patty to your breakfast sandwich, adding chocolate whipped cream to your coffee, or having your favorite sandwich made on a croissant instead of the usual bread.

Did you also know you can get any of those sandwiches grilled? Or that you can substitute chocolate milk for regular milk in any of your coffees, hot or cold? And don't forget they have hot chocolate, too, and half-hot chocolate, half-coffee might be your new go-to drink for those long winter months. Seriously, the sky's the limit, and they're totally down with you getting creative with their menu.

They made the donut mentioned on How I Met Your Mother

Tim Hortons fans were psyched when they got a mention on How I Met Your Mother, and when Jason Priestley claimed to have invented a donut, Tim Hortons not only took the joke in stride, but Digital Spy says they went ahead and created it.

He called it "The Priestley," and so did Tim Hortons when they made a limited edition of the donut. Essentially a Timbit inside a strawberry vanilla donut, they Tweeted him to make sure he knew about it. Priestley responded, saying it was the proudest day of his life, too — and we believe it, because how awesome is that?

"Double-double" made it into the dictionary

Any Tim Hortons fan knows what a double-double is, even if you don't order it yourself. You'll also be happy to know that it's become such an iconic thing that in 2004, CBC News reported "double-double" was among the new words included in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

That's a pretty big deal, too. While you usually think of a dictionary as documenting a huge number of words you're just never going to use, Katherine Barber, editor-in-chief of the book, says their goal was to create a dictionary that "accurately reflects how Canadians speak and write in the 21st century". Based on how many times a day people across the country are asking for a double-double, we'd say it's a completely legit addition.

And in case you're one of the few that doesn't know: A "double-double" is a coffee with two creams and two sugars. 

They got in trouble for making a poppy donut

In 2017, a Calgary Tim Hortons got into a bit of trouble for taking the Remembrance Day symbol of the poppy and turning it into a donut. According to CBC News, customers were pretty outraged at what they called the insensitive use of the symbol that's supposed to be used to represent respect for armed forces veterans. Others said it was pretty terrible they were making money off the symbol, and while the Calgary Poppy Fund and Veterans' Food bank general manager John Rathwell said that while he wished they'd gotten permission to use the trademarked symbol, there were no hard feelings.

"It was all good intentions, I understand. Nobody was out to hurt anybody," Rathwell stated. For their part, Tim Hortons said 100 percent of poppy donut sale proceeds would be matched by the chain then donated to the Royal Canadian Legion.

They're the reason the chicken crosses the road

We finally know the answer to why the chicken crosses the road — it's to get to Tim Hortons. In what's possibly the most Canadian story ever, CBC News reported on a New Brunswick chicken that crosses a busy street every day to spend some time picking up crumbs at a neighboring Tim Hortons. Witnesses said the chicken was pretty regular, showed up every afternoon at about 1, and while locals know to keep an eye out for the chicken (and sometimes escort her back across the street where she came from), she seems to know enough to look both ways and cross only when it's safe. She pokes around in the parking lot, presumably gets her daily donut crumb fix, and wanders off again. The call of Tim Hortons is very, very real, and even if they're not adding anything addicting to their coffee and donuts, it's undeniable how devoted their fans are — human or chicken.