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Kim Pegula serves hot chocolate at opening of Tim Hortons

Kim Pegula, wearing a bright smile and Sabre-blue sweater served steaming-hot chocolate to some of the 50 customers this morning inside the new Tim Hortons at HarborCenter.

For those people who had been waiting in line, her smile was like a ray of much needed sunshine.

First in line were Jackson DiCarlo and Michael Stranz, both 13 of Orchard Park. The two hockey fans who arrived shortly after 5 a.m. with Jackson’s father Tom DiCarlo.

They were excited to experience a grand opening, but it was clear there was something more important on Jackson’s mind. “I’m getting the first doughnut I see,” Jackson said.

Filtering through the coffee crowd were complimentary travel mugs. The first 550 customers are the recipients of the gift, said Scott Buckley of Lewiston, regional construction manager for Tim Horton’s.

“This is a completely custom store dedicated to Tim Horton himself,” Buckley noted. “It is the only store like it."

The first Tim Hortons store built in 1964 in Hamilton, Ont. has a second-floor museum, Buckley said. Currently there are more than 820 Tim Hortons store in the United States.

A statue of Tim Horton will be unveiled this afternoon. It was draped outside the store across the way.

“His stick will be pointed directly at the store as if he’s guiding you inside,” Buckley said.

Canadian born Suzanne Taylor, 46, lives downtown. She’s been counting the days until the doors to her new favorite coffee shop opened.

“Tim Horton’s is special coffee for us in Canada,” she said. “I saw the artist’s renderings of the interior of this store with Tim Horton trivia hanging on the walls. Plus they have an actual slab of concrete from Memorial Auditorium. It’s pretty exciting to see the tribute they’re paying to Buffalo hockey.

Inside, Mark Kuntz was inching closer to the doughnut counters that held rows and rows of blue and gold frosted doughnuts.

His order?

“Ice coffee and a Sabres doughnut – if there are some left,” said Kuntz of North Buffalo. “I’m a diehard Sabres fan and I love Tim Horton’s. Put the two together and it’s an unbeatable combo.

John Koelmel, president of HarborCenter, stood with Pegula at the door of the coffee cafe.

“This begins what we’ve been talking about for a year now: a unique HarborCenter experience. This is one piece of the puzzle, and it’s a great way to start given the hockey focus and hockey culture in the area,” said Koelmel, who admitted he is not a coffee fan.

“As you can tell, I have a doughnut or two from time to time,” he said, “but I’m not a coffee guy.”