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Tim Hortons? Community-based? Not according to Lezlie Lowe.

Stock market virgin Tim Hortons swept onto the Toronto and New York Stock Exchanges last Friday like a debutante at a caffeine cotillion, raising a cool $780 million smackers with one swish of her sugar-coated petticoats.

With that kind of dough rolling around, plus the way the corporate giant has managed to knead its products into synonymy with Canadian pride (second only to Molson’s Joe Canadian campaign), it’s no shock all eyes have been on Tim Hortons. (A disclaimer: it’s killing me not to insert the apostrophe to make for correct punctuation—the founder was Tim Horton, not Tim Hortons . The corporation killed proper punctuation in 1988. Tim Hortons it is.)

CBC Radio’s The Current last week aired a segment on Tim Hortons and its supposed status as a “quintessentially Canadian institution.” To introduce the piece, producers interviewed people on the streets of Halifax. The tape was an advertising executive’s wet dream; Haligonians said Tim’s was “selling love, basically,” that buying coffee there “makes you feel proud,” and “here in the Maritimes, it’s as traditional as the sun coming up in the morning.”

It gets worse. One guy said this: “they’re on every corner. So they’re community-based.” And it hit me, just as I took my first swig of stove-brewed espresso. People don’t know the meaning of “community-based.”

Is this why it’s so difficult for independent businesses to make a go of it when corporate giants want a piece of the pie? Not just coffee, I’m talking about, but books and records and vegetables and clothes and everything else consumers can pick up at Wal-Mart.

I always thought people just didn’t care about supporting local business.

I figured people ached so desperately for the consistency of flavour in Tim Hortons’ coffee and Timbits, they chose that over products from locally owned companies which serve local customers’ needs, support local workers and manufacture with locally found goods.

I thought we were just a culture that tended toward homogeneity. What a fool! After hearing that guy on The Current, I realize we’re a pack of ignoramuses, ponderously stupid people who have made pervasiveness come to mean community-based.

Tim Hortons has about 2,500 outlets across Canada and almost 300 in the US. The company fries its doughnuts near Toronto and freezes them for shipping, even to Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Since 1995, Tim Hortons has been nearly 85 percent owned by American parent company Wendy’s (yes, that Wendy’s).

Tim Hortons a community-based business?

“That makes me crazy,” says Joyce Stevenson, co-owner of The Donut Machine.

The Donut Machine sells fair trade organic coffee and espresso. The doughnuts are, in Homer Simpson-speak, ghhhhhhh... (That’s the sound of salivation).

“There’s nothing in them you don’t have in your own cupboards,” Stevenson says. “It’s flour, it’s eggs, it’s milk. Obviously sugar doesn’t come from Canada, but the flour is from Speerville Mill in New Brunswick. Our eggs are from the Valley. Our milk is from Farmer’s Co-op.”

The Donut Machine has had a cafe on Windmill Road since 2002. Stevenson and her husband Rob expanded to Spring Garden near Robie in May 2005. Right now there’s a sign in that cafe window that says the business is for sale.

Stevenson can’t say for sure what’s happening with the Spring Garden cafe. Too bad. If only The Donut Machine could swing a few thousand more locations, maybe it would manage to be community-based too. Just like the Tim Hortons two doors away.

Where do you get your morning cup of joe? Email:


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