Tim Hortons closes some U.S. restaurants

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TORONTO – Turns out not everyone has time for Tim Hortons, especially in the United States.

The coffee and doughnut chain took surprise measures this week when it pulled the plug on some restaurants in New York and Maine as part of a performance review.

The closures sparked plenty of attention from local news outlets, which reported that employees said they were not given any notice and in some cases diners were kicked out of restaurants when the lights turned off in the middle of the day.

Tim Hortons did not respond to questions about how the stores were closed and would not say how many locations were affected.

It said in a statement the closures were part of a move to strengthen the Tim Hortons brand.

“We are supporting our restaurant owners in their transition and remain excited about the opportunities to expand the iconic Tim Hortons brand in the U.S.,” the company said in an email Friday.

The move comes weeks after new leadership at Tim Hortons emphasized growing the company’s presence south of the border.

In October, Tim Hortons announced a partnership with U.S. developer Seven Invest to open more than 150 Tim Hortons coffee shops in the Cincinnati area over the next decade.

The chief executive of Restaurant Brands (TSX:QSR), which owns Burger King and bought Tim Hortons last year, said the expansion plan was “the first of many such agreements” in the pipeline for the Tim Hortons brand as it looked to expand internationally.

Despite being one of the most iconic brands in Canada, Tim Hortons has struggled for more than a decade to gain a stronghold in the U.S. market in the face of heavy competition from more established brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.

In 2009, the company tried to buck those trends with a splashy rollout of locations in high-traffic spots like Times Square and Broadway in Manhattan.

The next year, Tim Hortons pulled out of the northeastern U.S. — the first time in its history that it did so — closing 54 stores in New England, where average sales volumes were about half of those in other U.S. markets, the company said at the time.