How A Hockey Player Became Canada's Starbucks

By Jack Ripley | May 29, 2024

Always Fresh

Imagine a hockey player trading his skates for a coffee apron—sounds improbable, right? Yet, this is the fascinating journey of Tim Horton, whose name has become synonymous with Canada's favorite coffee and donut chain. Known for his prowess on the ice, Tim Horton was a celebrated NHL star before he ventured into the world of business, founding the iconic Tim Hortons in 1964. This article explores how Horton's entrepreneurial spirit and love for coffee led to the creation of a brand that now rivals Starbucks in Canadian hearts. From humble beginnings to becoming a cultural phenomenon, discover how a hockey legend transformed into a coffee mogul, brewing up a legacy that continues to warm the hearts and cups of millions.

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Left: Tim Horton touting his famous donuts. Right: Horton's 1962 Toronto Maple Leafs hockey card. Sources: Twitter; eBay

For most Americans Tim Hortons is only a name that we’ve heard in passing. Is it a coffee shop? A donut store? Do they sell guys named Tim? It’s a shame that so few Americans know the true greatness of Tim Hortons, Canada’s largest quick service coffee and donut chain that’s been in business for more than 50 years.

Originally opened by, you guessed it, hockey player Tim Horton, the initial incarnation of this spot was just a place where Tim could get a donut and cup of coffee. Sold for a dime a pop, the donuts became immensely popular and more stores followed. Thanks to his impressive skills on the ice and his donut business Tim Horton is arguably the most famous person in Canadian history, but Americans don’t know anything about him. It’s time to change that.

Tim Horton, hot on the ice and in the restaurant biz

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Before he was a successful businessman Tim Horton was a hotshot defenseman who played professional hockey for 24 seasons. During his time in the NHL he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres. His first game as a member of the Maple Leafs was on March 26, 1950. More than a decade later he opened the first Tim Horton’s Donuts on May 17, 1964.

This wasn’t Horton’s first entrepreneurial venture; prior to opening his donut shop in Hamilton, Ontario, he also owned a hamburger restaurant and a Studebaker dealership in Toronto. It’s safe to say that Horton wasn’t looking to get away from hockey -- he loved being on the ice -- but with a wife and four daughters he was thinking of a way to take care of them when hockey was no longer an option.