Next, a little geographical context. Northern Alberta is officially the most Tim-Hortons-deprived region of Canada. This has to do with Northern Alberta being the heart of Alberta's oil industry. Who wants to pour coffee for a living when you can take the same skill set and earn 10x the money in the patch? Pretty much every medium-sized town north of Edmonton has the same urban legend: that someone in town owns the Tim Hortons franchise, but they don't dare actually build the store for fear they'll get no one to staff it.
Westlock is one of those towns where the urban legend turned out to be true. Many dismissed it as a legend until they actually broke ground on the restaurant back in the fall. And with that, I decided to undertake a quest: I wanted to be the first customer.
"But Mark," many said. "You're not a coffee drinker! You've never really cared for Tim Hortons in the past! Why do you want to be first?" I wanted to be first because why not? While those who live in the big cities may shrug at the opening of yet another chain in their neighourhood, in the small towns, a big chain moving in is actually a step up. It's seen as being a pretty bid deal. And who doesn't want to be on hand for a big deal?
But in order to be the first, I had to know when it was going to open. Being a person who doesn't like to get out that much and socialize, I didn't really have a network of friends I could press for information. On Wednesday afternoon, I was out for a walk, and saw the restaurant was painfully close to completion. I walked up to the window and waved hello to the workers inside, but I was met with dirty looks. I decided, then, that it was time to use my powers of the media to get an answer.
So, the next day on my show, I put it to my listeners. I shared my desire to be the first one through the door and asked, "Does anyone know when it opens?"
My request on the station Facebook page quickly became one of our biggest posts ever. I got a few calls from people who had friends who knew friends who got hired there, and it all came back to one day: Sunday. A few heard maybe Friday, but the majority said Sunday.
Just to be safe, on Friday morning, I was up bright and early and drove by. No activity. It looked like Sunday was to be the day. I had to work late on Saturday, and as I was driving home, I decided to swing by the Tim Hortons, just to see what was going on. I pulled into the parking lot, and a clerk came running out, thinking I was her ride. Once the confusion was cleared up, I asked, "Hey, is it true you guys are opening tomorrow?" She said, "Yup. 6AM!" I went home and set my alarm for 6.
My internal clock got me up at 5:30. I tumbled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and drove to the other side of town. I arrived in the parking lot at 5:50. I jumped out of my car and saw....
Four other people ahead of me. This damn early on a Sunday morning, and I was already fifth in line.
We all patiently waited. A few clerks came out and started hanging the "Now Open" signs on all the light posts on the highway. We were all eager. I started hopping about with anticipation. A few minutes after six, the clerk came over and unlocked the door, and we bolted in. I once read that the first thing a person notices upon entering a business is what song is playing on the radio. Whether by coincidence or design, the song playing was "A Whole New World."
Two cashiers were open. The four ahead of me turned out to be all in one group, so they went to the first cashier. I went to the second. "Welcome to Westlock!" I said to to the clerk. "I know you probably live in town, but that greeting's for the whole franchise," I elaborated. She giggled. Not being a coffee drinker, and this being 6AM, I opted for one of their breakfast sandwich combos. The grilled Panini breakfast sandwich with a hash brown. And to drink, a hot chocolate. This being the first breakfast combo she did ever, the clerk had to call the supervisor over for assistance. I didn't mind. This was literally the first minutes of the business. Everyone is a trainee. I was willing to cut the employees ALL the slack. With order put in, and payment made, I went over to the pick-up area to await my breakfast.
The hot chocolate came first, and this being the age of social media, I had to tweet the experience right away.
Up at 5:30AM, but I was still fifth in line. Welcome to Westlock, @TimHortons! pic.twitter.com/spvVLGib3F
— Mark Cappis (@chaosinabox) March 23, 2014
While waiting on my sandwich, I snapped a few other pictures of the place for posterity. So nice. So clean. A flat screen TV, tuned to static. Lush booths, coffee-house style cozy armchairs and round tables. My sandwich soon came, and I made my way to a booth.
I took a moment to just savour the moment, and the sandwich. Here I was, among the first, in a shiny new fast food place. It's like it was all made just for me. I tied into my hash brown. I still think that breakfast hash browns are the greatest fast food in the history of fast food. They're just a tater tot pounded flat. From there, on to the sandwich. The processed egg, the artificial tasting sausage...yup, just a typical fast food breakfast sandwich.
I slowly sipped my hot chocolate, taking it all in. There was still quite the hustle and bustle behind the counter, as so many fresh new employees learned their jobs and fired up the ovens for the first time to meet all the demands of all the people they were anticipating. And then I looked back out the window. Being a quarter after six in the morning, it was still dark out. The cool night winds still blew. Trucks drove by on the highway, probably assuming this restaurant had been here for ever.
I finished my hot chocolate. This being Tim Hortons, I rolled up the rim. I didn't win. As I cleared my table, and tossed my trash in the trash can, I noticed that the four people who were ahead of me were still placing their order. I checked my watch. Yup, they'd been ordering for 20 minutes. They took 20 minutes to no doubt dictate to the clerk how to properly mix their mocha-soy-lattes, how many pumps of flavouring they wanted, and what picture they wanted in their foam art. Not being a coffee drinker, I don't understand coffee culture. All I know is it's very annoying when you're at a McDonald's or a Wendy's and you're stuck behind one of those guys. A friend of mine once joked that when the New World Order comes around, those with complicated coffee orders will be the first against the wall.
Honestly? That's the main reason why I'm excited about Tim Hortons coming to town. I'm hoping they'll start siphoning off business from McDonald's, and I'll no longer be stuck behind someone with a complicated coffee order and I can get to my Big Mac a little quicker.
Oh, well. At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I was the first customer who wasn't needlessly complicated.
Welcome to Westlock, Tim Hortons. I need to revise my weekly restaurant schedule to come by for a hot chocolate and a donut every once in a while.