Tim Horton’s comes to Leicester
The Canadian megabrand lands in Leicester today and I got a sneak preview at the new Tim Horton‘s store. It is the biggest in the UK, spread over three floors. The new Leicester venue is a very clean refurbishment of a beautiful historic building. It’s in a prime location right by the clock tower. Indeed it feels a bit full circle as the building was originally a Victorian coffee house, built as part of the temperance movement.
Canadian Fast Food
I’ll be honest, not having been to Canada except for a short layover in Vancouver airport once, I hadn’t heard of the Tim Horton’s phenomenon. Built up by a Canadian ice hockey player, the fast-serve coffee shop and bakery opened its doors in 1964. Now there are thousands of restaurants in Canada, hundreds in the US and more than 20 in the UK.
It was clearly a much anticipated opening though. So I was very pleased to be invited along to the press launch last night to see what the brand was about for myself. Tim Horton’s has all the slick professionalism you would expect from a multi-national chain of this magnitude. Even Sir Peter Soulsby, the City Mayor, rocked up to welcome our new corporate overlords. Just kidding, the Tim Horton’s UK team were really approachable and friendly. They came across as genuinely enthusiastic about their brand.
What is Tim Horton’s?
The cornerstones of the brand, a nice promo video told us, are inclusivity and supporting community ventures, which I will very much hope to see here in evidence in the Leicester branch. I’ll be honest, hot coffee, iced coffee and doughnuts seemed to be more significant from what I saw. As I mentioned, the new restaurant is slick, polished and bright. Signature red splashes and bright screens advertising the delectable treats on offer draw you towards the counter, behind which a veritable ants’ nest of servers mill and rush to bring out complex orders of drinks, sweet and savoury treats and of course the signature Timbits in record time.
Even in it’s very first outing, it is clear that Tim Horton’s have their game down to a finely polished art. Although the large team (some new 40 jobs created I believe) are new on the floor, they were enthusiastic and focused and this showed in how professionally they dealt with the unending and demanding queue at the launch. I queued twice, to try a meal instore and then to get some goodies to take home. Each time the wait was not as long as I expected from the size of the queue, and once placed my order took no more than about 3 minutes to be fulfilled. I even had a very helpful team member carry my tray upstairs for me like I was some kind of Fast Food Queen – I don’t know if that level of service will be available all the time…
What can I eat at Tim Horton’s?
So Tim Horton’s made its name for a few things. Coffee first off – there is a bewildering range of coffees, iced coffees, the fabled Double Double (that’s a coffee with 2 cream and 2 sugar I believe). I had a flat white, which I hoped would give me a good indication of the quality of the coffee owing to its relative strength. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t offensive. In my great scale of coffee, (which I am just making up now) you have Starbucks, Costa, Greggs, Leicester Coffee House, Gelato Village – and I would put Tim Horton’s coffee about level with Greggs.
And I think putting Tim Horton’s at about average quality is fair and something they would probably not disagree with. It is fiercely competitively priced – perhaps a few pence below standard independent coffee shops and in some cases pounds cheaper than your Costa and their ilk. Fast and affordable is certainly a market that I can see being one to target in Leicester.
Hey Mr Doughnut Man, what you doin’?
Of course there are the baked goods, with the doughnuts and bitesized Timbits being at the top of the tree, but there are also savoury bagels, croissants, flapjacks, brownies and more. Your sweet tooth will not be short on indulgence here! I opted for some doughnuts and Timbits to takeaway to try. Again, I thought they were very tasty. In the grand scheme of doughnuts (which I am also just making up now) you have Morrisons, Greggs then Krispy Kreme/Doughnotts and I would happily place Tim Horton’s alongside those in the top spot. Some of the chocolate couverture and filling I tried wasn’t of a particularly groundbreaking quality. You’re looking at sweet with a note of chocolate, rather than deep layered chocolate flavour. But it is fast and fun food so I don’t think it’s intended for the chocolate connoisseur.
The apple fritter doughnut thing is apparently another longstanding Tim Horton’s classic. I think this was my favourite thing out of everything I tried. An unfeasible knot of dough holds fault lines of cinnamon and apple. The whole is covered with a crisp sugar glaze. It’s probably one of the less sweet options and has great flavour and texture.
What is a Timbit?
Timbits are bite-sized doughnuts. They are made with perhaps a teaspoon of batter and coming in the same wide range of flavours and types as the doughnuts – honey crullers, Christmas specials, filled doughnuts and the rest. Individual timbits come in around 39p with packs of 10, 20 and 50 also available at a lower cost per unit. So again a fast, affordable sweet hit. They are much smaller than a doughnut so there is a lot more surface area than a regular doughnut. Due to this, I found them a little greasy for my taste. I can see the appeal. You can enjoy two bites of a range of flavours instead of committing yourself to one bigger doughnut. And they are pocket-money prices. Little tip – all the regular doughnut coloured ones seem to be hollow, while the chocolate ones I tried were not!!
I was less impressed with the savoury offering. I’m not sure if it’s just because the new team were under pressure to get so many orders out. The hot chicken sandwich meal comes with potato wedges, your choice of dip and a drink (hot or cold). I really liked the mango & passionfruit cooler (a slushie essentially) but was less happy with the sandwich and the wedges. Unfortunately the chicken was overdone and so quite dry. Meanwhile the wedges were underdone. They lacked crispness and tasted a little powdery in the middle, rather than the pillowiness I was hoping for. Plus I only remembered when looking at my receipt later that I had ordered garlic aioli. As I was eating it I thought it was just a plain mayonnaise. Perhaps I got the wrong thing in the melee!
Overall then, I think Tim Horton’s is going to be very popular. It is well priced, well thought out and well run. The food hits a decent level of quality for the price point. The venue will surely be popular for teenagers out shopping together, date nights, families, even maybe a bit of hot desking as power points are readily available. Will I be back? I think perhaps I’ll give it another whirl when it is a little more established. Particularly to check how the savoury food comes out. But otherwise I’ll be more likely to stick with the friendly personal touch of our local independent scene for the majority of the time.
Of course, if you’re the same generation as me, you’ll be going in just so that you can enjoy coffee and crullers with your mates. Because Wayne’s World.
I really am just a simple creature.
This post is based on a complimentary visit to Tim Horton’s. I got an invite as their guest on the press launch. This was held the day before the official opening and my food and drink was free. My opinions on the venue and their products remain my honest thoughts.