Tim Hortons is finally setting up shop in Iqaluit, one of the last places in Canada where the iconic coffee-and-donut shop chain doesn't have a foothold in the local market.
Tim Hortons officials announced this week that it's teaming up with the North West Company to open three kiosks in Nunavut's capital city starting in early December, creating the chain's northernmost franchise.
As a result, many Iqaluit residents and visitors can soon discontinue the long-held tradition of toting boxes of donuts, Timbits and beverages with them on flights from Yellowknife, Ottawa or Montreal.
"We heard stories, repeated stories, [about people] on the daily flights to Ottawa to Iqaluit … bringing dozens of donuts," Nick Javor, Tim Hortons senior vice-president of corporate affairs, told CBC News.
"We said, 'Wow, wouldn't be great to bring the Tim Hortons concept to the last true remaining part of Canada where we are not with a presence?'"
There are more than 3,000 Tim Hortons stores across Canada, including locations in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
A historic fur trading company turned retailer, the North West Company owns the NorthMart general store and two Quick Stop convenience stores in the city of about 7,000
The kiosks that will be set up in those three stores will feature a basic Tim Hortons menu, according to officials. The chain will run its local bakery from the NorthMart store.
"We've taken our time on this," said Michael McMullen, executive vice-president of the North West Company's northern Canada retail division.
"We've done due diligence, and we've got the right format and market coverage, considered the traffic, considered the recycling, considered the cost. I think both companies came to this and said, 'We want to do this right, we don't want to do it quick.'"
Splitting up the Iqaluit Tim Hortons franchise into three kiosks will prevent traffic from piling up in front of NorthMart, McMullen said, adding that the smaller kiosks would also be easier to staff.
Feeling the 'Tims effect'
Rumours of the Tim Hortons arrival have been swirling for years in Iqaluit, which has several independent coffee shops — including one owned by Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik called the Grind and Brew.
Brian Twerdin, Sheutiapik's partner and the Grind and Brew's manager, said their shop is feeling the "Tims effect" even before the chain has landed in the city.
"Knowing that they were probably coming, we tried to diversify," Twerdin told CBC News on Thursday.
"We still have the coffee shop, but now we do the pizza … kind of restaurant thing to kind of offset that," he said. "But I think it will still have some impact on, like I say, the coffee shops that are in town."
But news of the chain's opening had local coffee enthusiasts like Sarah Deneester — a customer at Fantasy Palace, another Iqaluit coffee shop — proclaiming continued loyalty to the existing establishments.
"I think that we're not going to give up on Fantasy Palace," Deneester said.
"We come here every day, sometimes even twice a day. Maybe we'll stop in for the odd Timbit or donut, since we miss that," she added. "But the coffee's good here, and we love the people."
Litter a concern
Some critics have already brought up environmental concerns, pointing to longstanding complaints about discarded Tim Hortons cups littering communities where the chain has an outlet.
"We already have a problem with Tim Hortons cups being the signature waste of Canada — or the signature litter, I guess you'd say — of Canada, from coast to coast," said Larry Lack of St. Andrews, N.B., an outspoken critic of Tim Hortons litter nationwide.
"This will make it coast to coast to coast if it starts to be accepted there without something being done about the problem of Tim Hortons litter, particularly the cups," he said.
Tim Hortons officials say the chain's disposable cups are now recyclable or can be composted — but only in cities where municipal recycling and composting programs are available, which rules out Iqaluit.
The North West Company's McMullen said the Iqaluit franchise is working on a litter-reduction plan in advance of its grand opening.
North West Company officials said they will also hold a charity event during the Tim Hortons grand opening, carrying on the coffee chain's tradition of community involvement.