Canadian chain Tim Hortons began in 1964 and has grown to 125 stores just in Michigan, including 93 in Metro Detroit. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Jennifer Youssef  of The Detroit News reports that as Starbucks Corp. shutters stores in Michigan — seven closed last year and 11 more are on the chopping block — Canada’s Tim Hortons Inc. is moving in to serve coffee-drinkers left in the lurch.

Tim Hortons has 125 stores in Michigan, including 93 in Metro Detroit, and plans to open more here, though officials wouldn’t disclose details of the expansion plan. The company also has stores in Flint, Saginaw and Lansing. It employs about 2,000 workers in the state.

Two weeks ago, the Canadian company signed an agreement with the Red Wings for the exclusive “pouring rights” at Joe Louis Arena, meaning only Tim Hortons can serve coffee there, said David Morelli, director of public affairs for the company based in Oakville, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. Last year, it signed a similar deal with The Palace of Auburn Hills.

The company has existed since 1964 and has been growing steadily, Morelli said. Store sales in 2008, the latest annual figures available, topped $4 billion.

It’s uncommon for national restaurant chains to be expanding in Michigan now, said Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association. But Tim Hortons’ emphasis on value is a quality Michigan customers are demanding.

“There’s something they see in Michigan that says ‘This is right for us,’ ” Deloney said. “Success is a gamble, but companies will do their research and do whatever they can to compete.”

“They’re placing a bet on Michigan and I hope their bet pays off,” he said.

Company officials are confident the coffee and baked goods chain will do well in the Michigan market. David Clanachan, Tim Hortons chief operations officer for the United States and internationally, said he was aware that Starbucks closed three stores in Detroit last year and also announced in 2009 that it would close 18 stores in the state, but he is confident Tim Hortons won’t face the same fate.

Unlike Starbucks, which has limited food choices, he said, Tim Hortons has “the right menu mix” of breakfast foods, soups and other lunch items, as well as coffee, all for an affordable price. Plus, the company already has many loyal customers in Michigan and retail space that was previously occupied by other businesses is available for Tim Hortons stores to move in, he said.

“We’re very positive about our position in the Michigan market and our progression there,” he said. “We think we fit the bill.”

Walter Bender, owner of four Tim Hortons stores in Metro Detroit, fell in love with the eatery as a high school student in Detroit and used to cross the border into Canada to go there. He opened his first store in 2008 in Warren and has two in Detroit — both of which have moved into space vacated by Starbucks — and one in Harper Woods.

“It’s been going great,” said Bender, who employs about 70 people. “Business is growing, it’s picking up every day.”

He said he has a “very loyal” customer base and new customers stop into his stores all the time, he said. Customers are always commenting on how good the food and coffee taste and what a good value they got, he said.

“I’m living a dream,” he said.

 From The Detroit News: