A barista carefully crafts your drink, using a pour-over coffee maker and single origin coffee beans. Nearby, a pastry chef puts the finishing touches on a crème brûlée doughnut, using a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar on top of the handcrafted dessert.
Is this the latest hipster coffee house on Ossington Ave.? The tail end of a meal at a four-star restaurant?
Er, Tim Hortons, actually.
More specifically, the newest Timmies’ location in the Exchange Tower at King St. and University Ave., set to open on July 25 in the heart of Toronto’s financial district.
In addition to high-end “dream doughnuts,” such as crème brûlée, maple-bacon and a doughnut glazed with hibiscus, there will be seven different coffee-serving methods, including draft lattes, and the time-consuming pour-over method, prized by connoisseurs for producing a richer-tasting brew. There will also be seven milk options, including non-dairy alternatives like almond, soy and oat milk.
The sandwiches will also be more upscale than the traditional offerings, including a Tuscan Caprese sandwich and a Muffuletta. The soups, too, will get a makeover, with options including Thai green curry chicken, Moroccan vegetable and roasted red pepper with Gouda. Most of the doughnuts will be baked on-site (not frozen), and yes, your crème brûlée creation will indeed be finished off on the spot with a blowtorch (though not, for safety reasons, at the counter).
Those new doughnuts won’t come cheap though — while standard Tim Hortons doughnuts go for 89 cents to $1.59, the new ones will set you back $1.99 each.
The new 24-hour 130 King St.W. location — in the same building as the company’s headquarters — will have a 98-inch 4K video screen featuring iconic hockey moments, lamps resembling hockey helmets, and even wireless charging stations built into the seating.
It will be part high-end showcase, part research-and-development lab, said Axel Schwan, chief marketing officer at Tim Hortons.
“This is so close to our headquarters. We will get feedback from customers instantly,” said Schwan in an interview with the Star, adding that the new store has been about a year in the making. If any of the new doughnuts, coffees or sandwiches are wildly successful, they could be rolled out to the broader market, a Tim Hortons spokesperson confirmed.
The new concept looks like a bid to compete more directly with Starbucks, but Schwan insisted it’s not a case of Tim Hortons chasing after deeper-pocketed, financial district customers. Many of them are already Timmies customers, Schwan argued.
“You go to the traditional store with the drive-through on the weekend, and to this one during your working life,” said Schwan.
If it all seems a little much for the double-double and cruller crowd, don’t worry — you’ll still be able to get your Timmie’s standbys. It also won’t be so glitzy that it’s unrecognizable.
“You will know and feel that this is a Tim Hortons,” said Schwan.
That balancing act — between doing something new and not scaring off your existing customers — is crucial for any retailer, particularly one as well-known as Tim Hortons, said marketing expert David Kincaid.
“Any time you shift off of your core brand proposition, there’s a risk,” said Kincaid, CEO of Level5 Brand Advisors. That risk is in changing things too much, too quickly, or pushing things into the wrong markets, Kincaid added.
“If they do it wisely, they can grow the strength of the brand. Look at McDonald’s, with McCafe. Or when they started adding healthier options like salads. They did that a bit at a time, and it’s really helped grow the brand,” said Kincaid.
Getting in higher-end offerings can also result in higher revenue if done right, Kincaid added.
“You do want to get people to trade up,” said Kincaid.
But adding fancy new products, or changing the look and feel of your stores doesn’t have to mean abandoning your history, said veteran retail consultant John Williams, founder of J.C. Williams Group.
“It doesn’t mean you have to abandon what you’ve done in the past. Coke still has Coke Classic,” said Williams.
Finding the right market for new products also matters, or plans can backfire. Picking your spots matters, Kincaid said.
“They’re not going to go into a small-town coffee and doughnut market and start offering these. They’re piloting this. The pilot gives them an informed market reaction,” said Kincaid.
Still, if alienating your traditional customers is a potential risk, standing still is a much bigger one, said Williams.
“The biggest risk is if they don’t do anything. Society is changing so rapidly, retailers who do not continuously experiment will not survive,” said Williams.
Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer