DND ends plan for mobile Tim Horton's outlets

OTTAWA – The Department of National Defence is abandoning plans for three mobile, deployable Tim Hortons outlets, denying Canadian troops that familiar taste of home on future overseas missions.

As Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan was winding down in 2011, military officials proposed making it standard practice to have trailer-sized units on hand to sling coffee and donuts to soldiers.

A Tim’s outlet at Kandahar Airfield, which operated for five years, generated $7.1 million in gross profit, much of which was plowed back into military support and services programs after expenses were paid.

The proposal to have trailers ready to go for other extended deployments was energetically endorsed by the country’s overseas commander, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

“The potential availability of a Tim Hortons outlet for future missions will give … additional flexibility to enhance the physical and emotional well-being of deployed personnel with a little taste from home,” said a memo dated Dec. 14, 2011, which asked Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare for his blessing.

Plans were so far advanced that the military’s support services unit had planned to begin construction of the trailers sometime in January 2012, but they were cancelled before any work was started.

A defence spokeswoman, Lt. Michele Tremblay, said the coffee houses were “no longer required.”

The proposal was initially drafted in the context of setting up a Tim’s outlet to serve the 950 troops taking part in the Kabul training mission, she said.

The idea was abandoned when it was weighed against the $100,000 per trailer cost of construction, and the fact the units could be assembled within two months should future commanders decide they want one, Tremblay added.

The support services unit operates semi-independently from National Defence and is not funded by taxpayers.

Even still, National Defence has been faced with an ever-tightening budget noose with some estimates projecting a cut of up to $2.5 billion — from a projected $19-billion annual appropriation — by 2014.

A spokeswoman at Tim Hortons corporate office was asked to comment, but was not immediately available.

Operating the overseas outlets wouldn’t have been cheap. The briefing note said each trailer would produce up to $300,000 per year in expenses, but that costs would be more than offset by the profit.

All of the proceeds from the Kandahar location went to military community and family support programs after Tim Hortons waived the fees and operating costs typically associated with a franchise.

During its time, the uniquely Canadian chain was wildly popular in Kandahar, rivalling the California-based Green Bean franchise, which poured coffee on 55 U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

The wait for Tim’s among coalition soldiers often stretched to 45 minutes when the outlet was in its heyday at the air base’s popular boardwalk, where other American contractors served up Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut and other comfort foods to soldiers far from home.

At one point, the airfield even hosted an alcohol-free version of the popular TGI Fridays franchise — a complete sports bar in the desert, right down to the menus and tablecloths.

But the proliferation of such creature comforts soon ran afoul of hardcore commanders, such as former U.S. general and NATO commander Stanley McChrystal, who ordered the shops closed.

He pointed out troops at the more sparsely outfitted combat outposts outside Kandahar Airfield didn’t have access to the same level of luxury, and that the outlets were a drain on war transport and resources.

Other than the Tim Hortons outlet, most of the shops were closed, only to be replaced by others after McChrystal was relieved and sent home in June 2010.

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