Like many Canadian chains, Tim Hortons was once considered an American import. Its success led the company to open stores in Canada more quickly than expected. By 1992, Canada had dozens of corporate-owned Tim Hortons, compared to barely one dozen in the United States.
But that growth trajectory has been interrupted by a long, slow decline. Over the past decade, Tim Hortons grew slightly faster in the United States than in Canada — the two countries had the same population growth during that period — but only slightly: an average of 5.3 percent in Canada and 5.4 percent in the United States. And by 2017, it remained by far the largest chain in Canada, with 11,405 corporate-owned and franchised locations. By the end of last year, the United States had more than 5,200 Tim Hortons locations. By the end of 2020, the company plans to open 100 stores in the United States per year.
Long established in U.S. malls and college towns, Tim Hortons is now growing faster in less conventional retail locations. In the second quarter of 2017, Tim Hortons opened 135 stores in and around Canada, compared to 12 U.S. stores. Only three of the U.S. locations were in major cities, the rest were in suburban and rural areas. And less than 2 percent of the U.S. restaurants were located downtown.
The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Neither the company nor its franchisees — which are more closely associated with the brand — explain why the brand is growing so unevenly between its two sides of the border.
At the middle, it’s unclear if the growth in the U.S. will be more rapid, or slower, than in Canada. But there is one thing that seems certain: the type of restaurant, location and atmosphere in the United States will likely differ markedly from its Canadian counterpart.