If you looked into the rafters at your first Buffalo Sabres game and thought, “Hey, Tim Hortons bought advertising on a jersey,” this story is for you.
On Tuesday the coffee shop chain and the Buffalo Sabres announced that a statue of Tim Horton, the Hall of Fame defenseman whose eponymous restaurant chain has become one of the most well-known businesses in Western New York, will anchor a destination-caliber edition of Tim Hortons Café & Bake Shop at HarborCenter, next to the arena.
“Tim Horton the player, and Tim Horton the businessman, are very much a part of the fabric of this community, and of the Buffalo Sabres,” said Sabres president Ted Black. “Tim’s No. 2 hangs in our rafters, and Tim’s coffee, I can tell you, is part of our everyday routine.”
With that, the HarborCenter Tim Hortons seems destined to become the epicenter of Tim Hortons love in a community that could hardly love the company’s coffee and doughnuts more.
Tim Hortons is almost as ubiquitous as gas stations across Western New York. Soon, its hard-core fans will be able to take their devotion downtown, making pilgrimages to stand before the likeness of Miles Gilbert Horton, better known as Tim.
The store, at the corner of Main and Scott streets on the first floor of HarborCenter, will include limestone from the demolished Aud – where Horton played parts of two seasons – and wooden furniture that replicates the former arena’s blue seats. It also will include illustrated displays celebrating Horton’s hockey and business careers. There will be a unique logo, old-school Tim Hortons combined with the Sabres logo and colors, for the shop’s cups and dishware. Commemorative travel mugs were to be handed out to fans at Tuesday’s Sabres game against the New Jersey Devils.
Buffalo hockey fans loved Tim Horton’s hockey before they loved his restaurants. Before his name became synonymous with drive-thru coffee in Western New York and broad swaths of Canada, Tim Horton was a professional hockey player. He was a stay-at-home defenseman, which is hockey-speak for “big guy who can’t skate fast but will knock you down.”
At a Tuesday news conference, HarborCenter chief John Koelmel offered a memory from his years as a Buffalo college boy in Boston watching hockey with friends.
“When Punch Imlach brought Tim Horton to Buffalo, he instantly made us more legitimate, even in the eyes of my rabid Bruin friends, and he garnered more respect for us as a team.” Even though the Sabres still lost most of the matchups, Koelmel said, “with Tim on our side, they cut me some slack.”
Horton’s jersey hangs from the rafters at First Niagara Center because he was a well-liked defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres when he died in a car crash in 1974. After playing most of his career for Toronto, he signed with the Sabres in 1972, and helped the new franchise earn its first playoff berth the following year.
The coffee shop chain he co-founded in 1964 has become one of Canada’s most beloved exports. By the time of his death it already had expanded to 40 stores. Its first U.S. store opened on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst in 1985. By the end of 2013, it was Canada’s largest fast-food service chain, with 3,588 stores. There were 859 in the United States.
In time the HarborCenter may become known as the finest Tim Hortons in all the land, except for one crucial flaw: Is it really Timmy Hos without a drive-thru?