|WSJ obituary / Ron Joyce -- Tim Hortons guy ..............................................|
Feb. 8, 2019
When a Cop Bought a Doughnut Shop, Something Surprising Happened: It Thrived
Ron Joyce expanded Tim Hortons chain across Canada and into the U.S., then regretted selling it to Wendy’s
By James R. Hagerty
A hockey player and a cop team up to sell doughnuts. Neither has much business experience. What could go wrong?
In the case of Canada’s Tim Hortons fast-food chain, the combination proved surprisingly successful.
Tim Horton, a star for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a business partner opened a coffee and doughnut shop in a converted gas station in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964. It didn’t take long for a local policeman, Ron Joyce, to notice.
Mr. Joyce, who died Jan. 31 at the age of 88, bought the first franchise in what became the Tim Hortons chain and in 1967 became a partner in the parent company with Mr. Horton.
Less than two years after Mr. Horton died in a 1974 car crash, Mr. Joyce bought his widow’s share of the business, which then had 48 outlets. He expanded the chain to more than 1,000 outlets before agreeing in 1995 to sell it to Wendy’s International Inc. for about $450 million of Wendy’s stock.
He later regretted it. The price proved far too low, Mr. Joyce said, and the new owners ignored his advice. Tim Hortons is now part of Restaurant Brands International Inc., which also operates Burger King and Popeyes.
For consolation, Mr. Joyce had private jets, yachts, a champagne-colored Rolls-Royce and the Fox Harb’r golf resort he built in northern Nova Scotia. His philanthropy, including summer camps for poor children, earned him an Order of Canada award.
Poverty was something he knew firsthand. Ronald Vaughn Joyce was born Oct. 19, 1930, and grew up in the village of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. Three years later, his father, a construction worker, was killed by a barrel of oil that rolled out of a truck.
His mother was 23, had two children and was pregnant with a third. They moved into a house without electricity or running water. Ron was only so-so as a student and decided school was a waste of time. He dropped out of school at age 15, even though a girlfriend told him he would end up digging ditches, according to his 2006 memoir, “Always Fresh.”
He got a job with a construction company and was put to work digging a drainage trench. “I told you so,” the girlfriend said when she saw him in the ditch.
Looking for steadier work, he moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where he arrived broke after spending his last few dollars on beer. By 19, he was married and working in a factory. Two years later, he started a five-year hitch in the Canadian Navy, which taught him the Morse code and took him to ports from Korea to India.
Back in Hamilton, he joined the police force but found it was hard to support a growing family. He moonlighted as a truck driver and worked construction before finding something he liked better: Running a Dairy Queen.
In 1964, he spotted a former gas station that had recently been turned into a coffee and doughnut shop. After buying the franchise, he discovered it had no established recipes or operating procedures. The baker he inherited with the shop consulted a Ouija board to decide how much flour to use. By trial and error, Mr. Joyce learned to make doughnuts and coffee with a consistent quality.
No coffee snob, he sought a middle-of-the-road brew, made more tempting with a creamier cream than competitors used. The menu evolved to include soup. Some renegade franchisees started serving croissant sandwiches, and they were so popular that the parent company imposed them across the chain.
While spreading across Canada, the chain opened its first U.S. store in Pompano Beach, Fla. in 1981. Nearby, Mr. Joyce checked out a rival chain featuring topless waitresses. He was pleased when one of those servers confided that the doughnuts were bought from Tim Hortons.
After selling the chain, Mr. Joyce relished his ownership of the Fox Harb’r golf resort on the Northumberland Strait near his hometown. “The economics don’t make any sense, and they never will,” he told the Globe and Mail in 2006.
While landing near the resort in 2007, Mr. Joyce’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet crashed, leaving him with fractured vertebrae and limiting his mobility for years. “It scared the hell out of me,” he said shortly after the accident.
Mr. Joyce’s survivors include seven children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His two marriages ended in divorce. Forbes last year estimated his net worth at $1.4 billion.
Wealth didn’t bring him peace. In a 2010 interview with the Hamilton Spectator, he recalled the letdown after he achieved his dream of owning a private jet: “I know it sounds stupid, but that time became a low in my life. I had accomplished my goal.... It becomes the end of a dream and you have to find a new dream.”
Still, he counted himself lucky. “I have a quality of life economically that’s beyond my comprehension,” he said.
Write to James R. Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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