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Nitro cold brew, anyone? Inside Tim Hortons' new innovation café in downtown Toronto

The new Tim Hortons café located in downtown Toronto’s Financial District is nothing like the coffee and doughnut shop’s typical locations.

Gone are the classic touches familiar to anyone who has ever stepped into a Tim Hortons restaurant in Canada. While there are still signs of Canadiana all around – there is a loonie literally embedded in the floor – the interior decor is no longer dominantly beige. The menu is unique, the lighting is different and ads prominently displaying the latest combos and food deals are nowhere to be seen.

The 130 King Street West location is home to Tim Hortons’ first-ever “innovation café.” It is contemporary and sleek, complete with Instagrammable decor, a brew bar with latte’s on tap, and a fresh lineup of doughnuts, sandwiches, espresso drinks and coffees brewed seven different ways. Even the uniforms worn by the employees are different, swapping out the classic beige and brown with new grey and black.

The new shop officially opened to the public on Thursday. Last week, as Yahoo Finance Canada was toured through the new location, Tim Hortons’ Global Axel Schwan called the space “another interpretation” of the iconic doughnut and coffee chain’s brand.

“We wanted to create a space where we can try new things and get feedback from our guests immediately,” Schwan said in an interview.

Photo by Alicja Siekierska

“It’s about experimenting, it’s about getting feedback, and it’s, of course, about innovation.”

Located in the same building as Tim Hortons’ headquarters, the new space is a departure for a coffee chain brand known for simple double-double coffees and Timbits. On the menu at the new location – marketed by the company simply as 130 King – are a dozen new flavoured doughnuts with unique flavours such as crème brûlée, dulce-de-leche, and brown butter and sea salt. There will also be premium sandwiches, featuring bread brought in from bakeries in Toronto, and a rotating menu of soups.

Coffee drinkers will still be able to get a double-double at 130 King, alongside a slew of other new options, including espresso drinks, draft lattes served on tap, cold brews and pour overs.

Schwan said the focus of the innovation café will be to test out new menu items and, depending on the customer response, potentially roll out popular products at locations across the country. The company has no plans on opening another such location elsewhere in the country, he said.

“We are still serving the same brewed coffee that our guests are used to, we are offering the Boston Cream here, the apple fritter, so we are offering products that have been around for decades,” Schwan said.

Photo by Alicja Siekierska

“At the same time, we are trying new things, we are offering new things... I think we have found the right balance of offering products that Canadians know and love, and offering new and exciting products that we feel Canadian will fall in love with.”

The last year has seen Tim Hortons make several changes as it grapples with weaker sales.

In late April, the chief executive of Tim Hortons’ parent company Restaurant Brands International said the iconic Roll Up the Rim contest will be revamped after Tims reported weak sales in the first quarter of the year. The coffee chain also launched a loyalty program across the country in March which, as of eight weeks in, reported a scanning rate of 50 per cent per day.

There’s also been a list of new items added to menus across the country. Over the last several months, kids meals, chicken strips, $1.99 chicken sandwiches and Beyond Meat products are now available at Tims. Just this week the company announced it would be adding Beyond Meat burgers to its menu.

Tony Chapman, a marketing expert and chief executive of Tony Chapman Reactions, said the new innovation cafe is an example of the company trying to sell upstream, which he says will be “no easy task” for the brand.

“Tim Hortons is a brand entrenched in our mind as a value player, with the double double, Roll up the Rim. The soul of communities now wants to the thought of as craft, coffee (connoisseurs),” he said.

“It’s like salmon trying make a trip up a waterfall with competitors taking bites out of their core business.”

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