Paul Wilson: Hortons head office takes over sacred Store No. 1 in Hamilton

As every man, woman and child in Hamilton knows, the Hortons empire began on Ottawa Street North. Now, as the 50th anniversary approaches, the corporation has taken over that first store.
The first Hortons opened in a converted garage on Ottawa Street at Dunsmure on May 17, 1964. Now, a big birthday looming, head office has taken over the store. (Tim Hortons )

Dave Sauve, former Ticat president, owns seven Tim Hortons in Hamilton. And one of them has been the sacred Store No. 1, Ottawa North at Dunsmure.

It was there, in that converted garage in the spring of 1964, that the doughnut chain was born. It grew and grew. Last year, Canadians spent $6 billion at Tim Hortons.

Sauve has owned that first store for 23 years. He got it from the son of Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce.

But Sauve always knew that one day he would be surrendering that modest shop. "It wasn’t a question of if, just when... There’s no company of this size that doesn’t own its original store."

And now it is done. Without no fanfare, the store on Ottawa was transferred to head office this spring. The cradle of the cruller is now in corporate hands.

Why now?

But Hortons waited a very long time to do this. Why now?

"I think if you do the math, you’ll see," Sauve says.

Hamilton cop Ron Joyce, left, and hardrock NHLer Tim Horton started their doughnut empire right here. (Tim Hortons )

An anniversary looms. Horton’s turns 50 in two years. Chances are good the company will do something significant with the Ottawa Street store.

"There’s nothing I can share with you at this point," says Alexandra Cygal, manager of public affairs at headquarters in Oakville. "We’re still in planning mode."

But Sauve says there are many options.

Bring back the counter

That first store is not a top performer. "It is what it is," he says. "There’s no drive-thru and it’s small."

Small, yes. So how do you honour the history in those compact quarters?

Maybe you bring back the old uniforms, Sauve says. Maybe you resurrect the original mustard-coloured Arborite counter and swivel stools. (That first counter ended up in a loyal customer’s basement bar in central Hamilton.)

"Maybe it’s coffee and everything Hortons," Sauve says. "T-shirts, hats... maybe there’s a cut-out of Tim Horton and you can get your picture with him."

All good ideas. For the last decade or so, the first store has featured a couple of display cases full of memorabilia. But other than that, it looks like all the others.

Done right, it should feel like 1964 in there, music and all. Hey, how about some 50-year-old prices too?

That's Florence, a favourite waitress, in a grainy video tour of the first store more than 20 years ago. (Cable 14)

Meet Florence the waitress

I must be nuts, but here’s a tour of that first store more than 20 years ago.

I was writing StreetBeat at the time at The Spec, but did a volunteer gig with Cable 14.

About five years ago, an outfit in Toronto came across our grainy report on the Hortons legend and posted part of it on YouTube.

You will see me with a great deal of hair. And you will meet Florence, the perfect Hortons' waitress.

The sit-down counter was still there then. They’d give you a coffee and a doughnut for $1.30. There were 400 Hortons at that time. Now there are more than 4,000.

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