Off the Rail

Tim Hortons’ Leaside, Ontario, store departs from the ubiquitous Canadian icon’s standard look, referencing its historic railroad location
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Posted October 28, 2013

With more than 3400 stores across Canada, Tim Hortons, a fast casual restaurant chain known for its coffee and doughnuts, is a national icon, as tightly woven into the country’s cultural identity as ice hockey, maple syrup and beavers (and Bieber, as in pop singer Justin).

In a bid to compete with encroaching up-market coffee chains, “Tims,” as it is affectionately called, has for the past several years been giving some of its stores makeovers, switching out the familiar bright primary colors and high contrast lighting with softer, more residential design elements, in hopes of enticing customers to linger.

GFX Intl. Inc. (Grayslake, Ill.) was retained to oversee and execute the design for the Leaside, Canada, store, a new construction project located in the original maintenance yard for the Canadian Northern Railway and part of a larger municipal redevelopment initiative.

The firm was challenged to reinforce the existing brand while celebrating the historical significance of the location and communicating the life-cycle story of its coffee.

GFX designed, engineered and constructed a 3-D wall display to tell the company’s “Grow, Harvest & Roast” story. “We wanted to share Tim Hortons’ relationship with the coffee farmers,” Eric Olson, creative director, says. “They’ve worked to develop good relations with them to make both the farmers and Tim Hortons successful.”

The story is displayed in photos which were printed on whitewashed, reclaimed wood. “You see the process of the pickers and the harvesting and the roasting all the way to the poured cup,” Olson says.

The design team found inspiration from the site’s original railroad maintenance building, which has since been transformed from a dilapidated, abandoned structure into a neighboring market. Vintage props, period-specific artifacts, original photography and historical maps were researched, procured and verified before they were approved for use inside the Tim Hortons space. 

Olson and his colleagues found old images of the Leaside railroad at the Toronto public library and city archives. “We also worked with a local train museum to source railway artifacts, which we photographed,” Olson says. “We lit them and shot them like still-life art pieces and created a little art gallery [in the store].”

“It’s a neat display,” Olson modestly describes the outcome. And a timely departure for an established chain bound to stay on track as a market leader.

Project Suppliers

Retailer and Design: Tim Hortons, Toronto

Design, Signage/Graphics, Wallcoverings/Materials: GFX Intl. Inc., Grayslake, Ill.; Eric Olson, creative director/photographer; Sasha Andersen, associate designer

Architecture: K. Paul Architect Inc., Oakville, Canada

Ceilings and Flooring: Armstrong World Industries, Lancaster, Pa.

Lighting: Viso Inc., Toronto; Restoration Hardware, Corte Madera, Calif.

Furniture and Fixtures: Woodcraft, Markham, Canada; Unique Store Fixtures, Concord, Canada; ISA Intl., Toronto

Photography: Eric Olson, Graslake, Ill.