Why are Tim Hortons suddenly closing?

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Tim Hortons has closed three of its locations in Southfield, MI in the last three months, and one location in Redford, MI making it all the more difficult to find decent hot chocolate during these cold winter months.

But beyond that, when a restaurant closes temporarily or permanently, are employees automatically transferred internally to another location, or at the very least assisted through temp agencies during this process? Are they left out to dry? Did the restaurants close because of financial, health or miscellaneous reasons?

Surely, these are just a few questions folks must be asking themselves as they drive past vacant food establishments they’re so accustomed to eating at on a daily basis.

According to Tim Hortons’ website, two locations in Southfield are temporarily closed, located at 19701 W. 12 Mile Road near Evergreen and another location at 29069 Greenfield Road. While another location at 25203 Evergreen has closed permanently. Signs placed on each drive-thru window and on the front glass door simply reads, “closed for remodeling.” No further information indicates an estimated time for reopening at any of the locations.

Certainly, the Tim Hortons on W. 12 Mile Road near Evergreen did not go unscathed in its overwhelmingly negative 1 star reviews on Yelp before its closing that took place between mid-to-late October. An anonymous customer took to Yelp and wrote this on July 1, “The service and the employees at this location absolutely suck. I have never had a good experience at this location,” (Of course, the customer doesn’t say how many times they’ve frequented this location). “The employees are unprofessional and lazy. They are often out of many items. They do not carry the variety of other nearby locations. Save your time and money and go to another location.”

Another disgruntled customer followed that up with: “I would give 0 stars if possible. We waited almost 10 minutes in line. They were out of almost everything. The cashier said they’re re-branding and the Tim Hortons website says it’s ‘temporarily closed.’ This place still has the Tim Hortons sign out front. I will not be back.”

Customer complaints are typical in every line of business, especially of food businesses since people are much more cautious about the food that goes into their mouths and how they’re serviced by restaurant workers. But certainly, bad reviews alone are not strong enough reasons to close down a franchise–unless, those complaints prompted a health inspection report, that led to the exposure of a restaurant in hot water, through violation of multiple food service establishment policies. A Sept. 4 customer review of the aforementioned Tim Hortons location alluded to this being the case.

“I hate this Tim Hortons. Need new management and employees. Employees smoking weed near drive-thru and I can smell it all through my car. This location gives Tim Hortons a bad rep!”

A customer’s word means everything. It can serve as a form of small-scale marketing, or it can be of great disservice, if it so happens to contact the ‘“food authorities,” who are responsible for issuing and revoking food licenses at operating restaurant establishments.

In a FOIA request sent to Thomas Hensel of the Oakland County Health Division, a 24-page food service inspection report documented several violations, all filed by public health sanitarians over the last two years. On May 9, sanitarian Ahmed Mazloum completed a site-visit at the Tim Hortons located on 19701 W. 12 Mile Road to follow up on a customer’s complaint. The complaint stated there were “dead insects found in [their] hash browns.” According to the report, insects were not observed inside the facility at the time of the site-visit or in customer foods. As a result, that non-illness complaint was not substantiated and subsequently dismissed.

However, in another complaint inspection filed on July 9, investigated by sanitarian Erica Faranso, it was discovered that poisonous chemicals including spray sanitizer, bleach, glass cleaner and air freshener were improperly stored in proximity to food, cup holders and lids. Employees were also cited for working with exposed food and without hair restraints. Clearly, there was great merit to the ardent words from customers in their Yelp reviews.

The biggest bombshell came on July 29 after a routine inspection conducted by Public Health Sanitarian Julia Reykdal. She revisited again on Aug. 9 for an enforcement follow-up, and proceeded to write citations for four uncorrected previous violations. In this report, it was announced under the comment section that the restaurant had lost the Tim Hortons franchise and would soon be renaming the establishment. It explains why the Tim Hortons signs have been taken off the giant sign at the front, and removed on the glassdoor entrance.

At the Greenfield Road location near W. 12 Mile, nearly 20 citations had been reported since Jan. 2019. Citations ranged from employees handling exposed food without proper hair restraints, touching their phones and hair right before touching the customer’s food. Onto, much more serious core violations based on faulty maintenance including: “self-closer on the employee restaurant door torn off, missing lights shields on the ceiling lights to the left of the drive-thru window,” and a plumbing issue with “hot water running continuously at the mop sink,” as noted by Public Health Sanitarian Technician, Erica Faranso.

Faranso conducted a site-visit on Sep. 5 regarding a non-illness complaint. Although the claim would only be partially substantiated, the comment section of this report also indicated that the facility had lost its franchise and would no longer sell Tim Hortons products or honor Tim Hortons gift cards, albeit the site did continue selling off-brand coffee and donut products. The site has remained closed since mid-to-late October.

On Sep. 24, a Tim Hortons rep. named Collette met with Public Health Rashyra Watson to discuss several violations for the 25203 Evergreen Road location. Citations included: “repair or replace the top loading cooler unit that is unable to hold TCS foods at or below 41F. Complete cold holding logs for the noted cooler.” And finally, “provide a sufficient air gap (at least one inch) between the end of the drain line and the flood of the floor drain of the dipper well.”

Several attempts were made to conduct a reinspection on Oct. 18, Nov. 25, and Dec. 2, to no avail. Watson noted in her report on Oct. 18 that the facility was observed with a “closed for remodeling” sign. On Dec. 2, the Oakland County Health Division mailed a closure confirmation letter to the owner. Prior to the franchise closing at this location, it continued operating and servicing customers. By July, the Evergreen and Greenfield locations no longer sold Tim Hortons products. In October, they were all officially closed down, two for renovation and one closed permanently.

All three restaurants that closed in Southfield are owned and operated by the same franchisee, 37-year-old Nicole Wilski, who has quite the impeccable resume as a well-respected, successful business owner in the state of Michigan.

On Oct. 25, Wilski filed for bankruptcy at the Eastern Court district on behalf of Tims Greenfield LLC, Tims Evergreen LLC, Tims 12 Mile LLC, and a few other businesses. According to legal court documents obtained through a FOIA request, Tims Greenfield LLC declined in gross revenue each fiscal year since 2017.

In 2017, the gross revenue for that location was $883,845.21. In the 2018 fiscal year, the restaurant grossed $754,726.15 and in 2019 before closing in October, the restaurant grossed $353,963.64. In addition, the total summary of liabilities were estimated up to $11.7 million for the establishment. Furthermore, the documents highlight the businesses’ financial shortcomings as a main culprit in its closing, rather than food or health violations. The “closed for remodeling” signs also indicate that the facilities will be upgraded (presumably), however, the Tim Hortons franchise won’t be returning at those locations.

In a 2013 interview for QSR magazine, Wilski talked about opening her first Checkers & Rally’s store in 2009 and eventually expanding to more than six Checkers in the Detroit area (which has since increased). Interestingly enough, Wilski’s hiring approach involved partnering with Michigan Works, a community-based hiring program, where she employed most of her 150 employees under her staff management for Checkers & Rally’s.

Wilski said: “Many of the people I’ve hired through the program have gone on to management positions for their respective stores—if not to a higher position—and have stayed fiercely loyal and dedicated to their job. There is a hard-working aspect about them that works out for everybody, including the growth of the business.

“As a business owner, I like to promote from within, and someone coming in from a program like Michigan Works who has the potential to become a manager is an employee you always want. Typically, when we open a new unit, we hire between 35 and 55 jobs for the restaurant.” Bankruptcy court documents don’t exactly indicate how many employees Wilski had on payroll, at least not for any franchise in Southfield. Without a precise number to identify how many employees were impacted by the closings, statista.com estimates that American fast food restaurants employ about 15.28 employees per establishment at one time. This typically includes managers, assistant managers, full-time and part-time store associates, and occasionally seasonal workers.

Wilski’s high praise for Michigan Works, as a trust-worthy employment assistance agency is predicated on giving back to the community through economic growth and employment opportunities for people. Temp agencies are usually the first few places people seek out to find new jobs. Upon contacting the Southfield Michigan Works office, an unnamed secretary briefly described the Warn Act, or the process of a business closing and those employees finding new work.

The WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) “is a federal mandate that requires employers to provide 60 days notice before closing a store or plant, or executing a mass layoff. But it applies only to companies with 100 or more full-time employees,” according to a 2014 Free Press article. So legally, Wilski was not obligated to inform Tim Hortons employees of the store’s closing beforehand. Unfortunately, she could not be reached for comment on this story. Based on Wilski’s track record working in the community with Michigan Works, it would be difficult to infer that those employees didn’t receive either some form of employment assistance or ample time to move on from Tim Hortons.

The fast food industry is dominated by a younger demographic willing to accept lower paid wages. On the flipside, these types of businesses experience high turnover volume. Unlike employees of Ford or GM undergoing mass layoffs, fast food workers are not usually tenured long enough, and may not qualify for unemployment benefits. The minimum eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits are to have at least 18 months of employment history and provide identity credentials. According to a 2018 study published by businessinsider, the average restaurant that has 20 employees will expect to see almost 30 different workers in the span of a year. The signs of a dying franchise include high turnover rates, daily customer complaints, and maintenance issues.

Each of these Tim Hortons exuded these signs. A safe inference would indicate that the employees were not in fact assisted with finding new work. However, based on the franchisee’s reputation, it can be inferred that it is likely employees did receive ample time to find new work. In addition, Wilski also mentioned the need for wanting employees with management skills even at the entry level. Another possibility is that employees with more tenure and a positive reputation may have been transferred to different locations. No Tim Hortons franchisee representative could be reached for comment.

Besides the local Tim Hortons in Southfield, the corporation has undergone major changes, both nationally and internationally. According to an article published by the Financial Report, “Tim Hortons sales dropped to $1.77 billion in the quarter ending Sept. 30. compared to $1.79 billion a year previous. Sales declined 0.1 per cent.” Jose Cil, CEO of RBI (Restaurant Brands International), which also owns Popeyes Chicken & Burger King, was quoted saying, “Our [third quarter] results at Tim Hortons were not where we want them to be,” speaking to investors.

Closing three consecutive Tim Hortons locations in a town with less than 75,000 people can be tough on a community like Southfield. That is true, especially in the cases of the employees working there. Conclusively, employees were not transferred internally, however, it is likely a few were incentivized for transferals to other locations, based on tenure and reputation. Although those locations are closed for remodeling, they will not be seeing a Tim Hortons sign upon its reopening. Overall, Tim Hortons as a brand has taken a slight hit in sales across the board, creating a trickle down effect to other U.S. states, particularly in Michigan. No matter if you make $9.45 or $1,995 an hour, every employee should be protected under the Warn Act to be notified at least 60 days prior to a restaurant’s closing.

It would be remiss to not mention a Tim Hortons location that opened recently in Southfield, near 13 Mile and Southfield Road. Its redesign indicates brighter times ahead for the long-standing coffee-chain.

 

NOTE: This story has been updated as of Dec. 22, 2019.

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Rayvon Delmonta
Rayvon is a senior here at UM-Dearborn. He'll be graduating with a degree in Journalism & Screen Studies. This is his first semester as a Copy Editor with the Michigan Journal. After graduation, Rayvon looks forward to working sound board operation for a radio station. Rayvon also hosts a weekly Pistons podcast on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. on crbradio.com Check him out on social media: