The Maplewood City Council has given final approval for the St. Louis area’s first Tim Hortons.
Plans call for the coffee, donut and bakery-style eatery to be built on an empty lot next to a CVS near the intersection of Big Bend Boulevard and Manchester Road.
Local development company Show Me Hospitality LLC wants to bring 40 Tim Hortons to the region by 2019, starting with the Maplewood location.
“I've been quite frankly sending letters to Tim Hortons for four years to try to get them to St. Louis. And uh, finally I was able to get their attention,” said Show Me Hospitality President Eric Sigurdson during a recent interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
Plans call for up to 15 free-standing stores in the St. Louis region that could cost up to $1.3 million each. The rest of the outlets by 2019 are earmarked for non-traditional locations including sporting arenas and corporate cafeterias.
It is part of an effort by the Canadian chain to make more of a dent in the U.S. Tim Hortons also wants to expand into markets that include Fort Wayne, Ind., and Fargo, N.D.
Raphael Thomadsen, an associate professor of marketing at Washington University's Olin School of Business, said that growth plan is facing some real challenges.
“I think part of it is they have to figure out what their positioning is — how they are planning on selling their product and they don't really know how they are planning on selling the product in the United States,” Thomadsen said.
"I think actually the opportunity for Tim Hortons to enter is to try and enter as a donut shop."
Sigurdson is stressing the company reaches beyond donuts and other pastry items.
“We do have a power breakfast offering. That’s sort of our biggest segment of the market in terms of day parts. We have soups, sandwiches, paninis, chili, some pastas.”
It’s all led by the Tim Hortons coffee business, which sells approximately two billion cups a year, according to Sigurdson.
Show Me Hospitality is entering a development deal with Tim Hortons USA armed with big plans, a large menu and a solid support system. The chain already has 6,000 locations in Canada, the U.S. and overseas in areas like Dubai.
Sigurdson, who is originally from the Canadian province of Manitoba, says he is convinced the company can make Tim Hortons a household name in St. Louis.
“I've been watching Tim Hortons evolve over the years and they've evolved from having been a donut and coffee shop to now being a very broad-menued business.”
Thomadsen isn’t so sure.
He says local brand recognition appears to be a huge challenge.
" I suspect if you went on the street and asked a typical person here, most of them wouldn't know it. If you are lucky, a few of them are hockey fans and somehow, you know, remember Tim Horton himself, but I don't think there's a strong identity there in St. Louis," Thomadsen said.
It’s also a crowded market. Starbucks is well-established locally and the St. Louis region is the home turf of Panera Bread Co., which declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
Despite the challenges, Sigurdson and his company are betting some big money that there is room in the St. Louis market for a restaurant chain that is still trying to find its way in much of the U.S., starting with what is now an empty lot near a busy intersection in Maplewood.