Two Crees open their own Tim Hortons franchise

The new Tim Hortons’ outlet in Mistissini isn’t just the hottest ticket in town right now but it’s a labour of love, devotion and passion for siblings Anthony and Elaine MacLeod, the two franchisees who stand proudly behind the counter.

Hosting its grand opening on April 15, the restaurant saw lineups out the door for the entire day and the following days as the community not only embraced the new business’ presence but raised several cups of the brand’s beverages in its honour.

“We have been extremely busy since we opened and we had a huge lineup on opening day. There were lots of guests surrounding our building and congratulating us, happy that they now have a Tim Hortons,” said Anthony.

Explaining why he and his sister decided to go with the Tim Hortons brand, Anthony said it was an obvious choice because it is so well loved, not only amongst the Cree people in Eeyou Istchee but throughout Canada where it is the #1 brand.

The enthusiasm Crees have shown in the past for the brand has been very visible as many Crees could often be seen boarding Air Creebec flights with boxes of Timmy’s doughnuts on their laps to take home for their families.

Anthony said he would see this phenomena all of the time when he was living in Chisasibi, just prior to opening up the restaurant. Crees would also make detours through Roberval and Lac St-Jean to pick up treats on their way home to the inland communities. So it’s not surprising, he said that the Crees of Mistissini have been thrilled to have their own franchise.

While the opening of the restaurant is very popular, the fact that the MacLeods decided to start a franchise did come as a surprise to the community when it was announced last fall that the siblings would be leaving their regular jobs to do so. Both MacLeods had been quite successful in their previous careers with Anthony helming of the Cree entity, Gestion ADC, and Elaine as the Executive Director of the James Bay Cree Communication Society in Mistissini.

Changing their careers came from a shared desire that the MacLeods had in becoming part of something larger as well as their entrepreneurial dream of possessing their own business.

“Don’t get me wrong, we had wonderful jobs leading up to what we are doing now – moving forward with the Tim Hortons brand,” explained Anthony.

The Mistissini Tim Hortons is the latest franchise of 15 to open up on an Aboriginal reserve, according to Michael Nadeau, vice-president of Tim Hortons for Quebec and the Maritime provinces.

“What makes this community special are the individuals who are the franchisees. Both Elaine and Anthony are outstanding individuals and they are very engaged in the community. They are also business-oriented, well educated and just so passionate about everything that they do and so to me they just seemed like a good fit,” said Nadeau.

Opening up the new location was not an overnight process. In order for the MacLeods to produce the same quality of products that are found everywhere else in Canada, Anthony and Elaine had to attend the company’s Tim Hortons University.

Leaving behind their spouses in charge of their young families (five young children between the two), the MacLeods headed to Toronto for seven weeks of training to learn how to market the Tim Hortons brand to perfection.

“It was great – plus we learned all sorts of things about the products that we weren’t aware of. They taught us about the baking, the management style and how to run a restaurant and so it was a great seven weeks. We did however miss our families.”

Anthony said they knew that they were in the right place as he affectionately recalls being welcomed into the Timmy family upon arrival.

For Anthony, Tim Hortons wasn’t just the right fit because of the products but they were also attracted by the corporation’s community ethic.

“When you have a Tim Hortons brand like this, you have the coffee but everyone seems to forget that there is a whole other (charitable) chapter to this company. We are really looking forward to participating in this foundation with our guests here in Mistissini,” said Anthony.

Those familiar with Tim Hortons may already know about the children’s summer camps that the brand sponsors but it is only one of several programs supported by the corporation.

“We continue to be a part of the Aboriginal communities as much as we can and in this particular case, when you think about Mistissini, this year two children from that community will now be able to participate at any one of our six camps across North America. The Tim Hortons Foundation really believes in youth and so now children from Mistissini will be able to go every year because there is a Tim Hortons in the community,” said Nadeau.

Timmy’s also sponsors leadership programs for Aboriginal youth from aged 13, up until high school graduation, with the hope that the corporation can help youth become stronger leaders in their communities.

According to Nadeau, their youth programs are a small part of a larger operation and commitment to community involvement, no matter what Canadian community they are in.

“We are a Canadian brand that fits everywhere and with everybody and I can’t say it more than that. We are proud to be everywhere and we are proud to serve everyone in this country, wherever they are. I don’t see why we wouldn’t. To me, depending on the size of the community, I don’t treat any area differently from another,” said Nadeau.

Nadeau, who has been with Tim Hortons for 18 years, feels that he no longer just works for the corporation but sees it as a way of life. Mistissini was an ideal location for the company because it was the right model that fit with the right community and had the right partners. The company also has outlets as far as Iqaluit and even has locations in Dubai.

As for making the new outlet a reflection of Mistissini, Anthony said there are a number of options they are looking at for the future. For example, many franchises on Aboriginal reserves are decorated with murals depicting images of their community. They are also looking at possibly incorporating the use of Cree syllabics in different signage within the restaurant. And, while most of their employees are trilingual, when Cree Elders come in to order they are respectfully addressed in Cree when placing their orders.

When asked whether he would recommend opening up another Tim Hortons in a different Cree community, Anthony responded simply that that is really more between the individual and the company.

But, as for he and his sister, Anthony said, “Elaine and I are both having a great time right now with this. We have great team members and wonderful support from Tim Hortons and TDL Group. We are very happy with what we have.”