Let the Doughnut Wars Begin
By Patrick McGeehan
Will New Yorkers prefer Timbits over Munchkins? That taste test will begin this weekend when about a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the city will be transformed into the first local outlets of Tim Hortons, the king of doughnut sellers in Canada.
The Riese Organization, the company that first visited the urban food court upon Manhattan, is ending its affiliation with Dunkin’ Donuts and hoping it can make more money with a chain named after a dead hockey player. Mr. Horton, a six-time all-star in the National Hockey League, opened a doughnut-and-coffee shop in Ontario 45 years ago. He died in a car crash 10 years later, but the chain grew on.
It now has more than 3,400 locations, including more than 500 in the United States, and its signature bite-size treats — Timbits — come in 35 varieties, including lemon-filled and sour cream glazed.
Of course, the competition will be fierce. Dunkin’ Donuts, home of the Munchkin, has at least 500 locations in the New York City area alone, said Dennis Riese, chief executive of the Riese Organization. There are 427 within 10 miles of Times Square, according to the Dunkin’ Donuts Web site. The nearest Tim Hortons is in Meriden, Conn., according to a spokesman for Riese.
That will change at 6 a.m. Monday, when commuters will be surprised to find that their usual stop for coffee and breakfast has a new name, look and menu, Mr. Riese said. He said he decided to convert 13 stores in the city, including one in Pennsylvania Station, because he hopes the broader menu of Tim Hortons will attract more customers for lunch and dinner.
Each of the restaurants has a kitchen, even though the doughnuts were made at a central commissary in Long Island City, Queens, Mr. Riese said. All of the food at the Tim Hortons, including the doughnuts, will be made on the premises, he said.
The conversion comes after a decade of contention between Riese and Dunkin’ Donuts that peaked after the New York Post published a photo of a mouse munching on a doughnut in a shop operated by Riese on 46th Street at Fifth Avenue. The chain sued Riese and the sides eventually agreed that the relationship would end this week in what Dunkin’ Donuts called a “disenfranchisement.”
The high cost of rent in Manhattan made it impossible to earn an acceptable profit from Dunkin’ Donuts, Mr. Riese said. “Dunkin’ is a great concept for a customer and a consumer,” he said, but added that “I can’t make money with them.”
Mr. Riese admitted that it will be a challenge to sell an unfamiliar chain to New Yorkers, though he said he had already done it with Godfather’s Pizza shops. He said he was betting that Tim Hortons would have more staying power than Godfather’s or Krispy Kreme, the southern doughnut chain that stormed into New York at the start of this decade but has retreated, leaving just two locations near Penn Station.
[UPDATE BELOW] Predictably, it's being called the doughnut wars: news that beloved Canadian coffee-and-doughnuts chain Tim Hortons will replace thirteen prominent NYC Dunkin' Donuts locations operated by the Riese Organization on Monday morning has all kinds of North Americans drawing battle lines in the powdered sugar. By the end of next month, sixteen Tim Hortons will be open in NYC, pitting Munchkins against Timbits (thankfully no A-holes are involved).
Riese announced on Wednesday they were splitting with Dunkin' because a contract was up; a Dunkin' spokesperson cited irreconcilable differences of sorts, stemming from a lawsuit involving a 1998 Post photo depicting a mouse dreamily chomping on a chocolate glazed in the window of a 46th Street shop.
Refering to the Tim's invasion, NY1 news anchor (and Calgary native) Pat Kiernan tells the Daily News "It's a glorious day for Canadians in the city," while the Times contemplates the sheer numbers of the more established chain, noting "There are 427 Dunkin’ Donuts within 10 miles of Times Square." Though clearly outnumbered, this may be an easier than expected fight for the scrappy, frontier-forged Tim Hortons: an Ottawa native living in New York puts it this way: “When you’re crossing the prairie and going through bear-infested territory, Tim’s is your friend.”
Let's hope (perhaps pray) the same follows when the infestation of sandwich-loving bears from Vernon finally master public transportation, visit the Statue of Liberty's Crown, and/or otherwise clog SoHo. UPDATE: On Monday morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., the new Tim Hortons in Penn Station will open by giving out 100 gallons of coffee to commuters, no questions asked. So start lining up now for your first free taste of Canadian black medicine; the T-Hos is located at north end of LIRR concourse, by the 34th Street and 7th Avenue entrance.