Nations Fresh Foods: Where East Meets West!

While Whole Foods Market (often called Whole Paycheck) is the darling of most urbanists across North America (me included) I might have just found a better option. 

Back in 2013, my Mom spoke of a new grocery store opening up in Hamilton’s downtown Jackson Square shopping centre.  She checked it out for me, but wasn’t impressed when the customer service people didn’t speak English.  She was so disgusted she didn’t even remember the name of the store. Since then I have never heard anything about an innovative new flagship grocery store in Hamilton.

Hamilton has had a downtown Farmers’ Market since 1837 and is where I like to go whenever I am in town.  However, on my recent visit, my Mom suggested I also check it the now not so new Jackson Square grocery store, which is on the same mega block as the Famers’ Market, Central Library and First Ontario Arena.

WOW

I was immediately blown away by its size and vibe - even on a Monday morning there was a great mix of people shopping in the huge (55,000 square feet) store.

I had to look to find the name of the store as the entrance is from the middle of a ‘70s indoor mall, so there is no big box signage.  Eventually, I figured out it was Nations Fresh Foods.  I had never heard of it. Where have I been? Later I checked with some other urban retail colleagues and they hadn’t heard of it either. 

Turns out the parent company is Brampton based Ocean Fresh Foods Market and Nations is their upscale grocery store concept with two stores, with a third opening in Toronto later in 2016.  The motto for their stores is “Where East meets West” which means they offer food and produce as well as take-home cooked meals from around the world. While the stores have an European design the aisles are filled with products from around the world to serve southern Ontario market one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world.

Both Quality AND Affordability!

At the entrance was a lovely coffee station with pastries and gelato – I immediately thought my love of evening walks for gelato in Florence.  

The more I wandered, the more impressed I became with the selection. I loved the wall of teas, the seafood market full of live fish, the huge in store bakery, large sushi station and very fresh-looking fruits and vegetables.

I am told Nations carries lots of exotic foods like mungosteen, rambutan and dragonfruit; this is definitely not your average grocery store.

And the prices were good - three chocolate croissants for $1.99, artisan breads for $2.69.  Reviews of the store on the Internet were overwhelmingly positive - many saying they preferred it to Whole Foods.   Several people commented that Nations offers good quality at affordable prices; this almost never happens for other grocery stores.

While Nations’ by-line is “Where East Meets West,” I think I would use “Where old world meets new world.” 

Last Word

While I doubt Nations is looking at expanding to Western Canada anytime soon, a Nations’ grocery store would be a welcome addition in Calgary.  Perhaps as part a new development planned on the old Calgary Co-op site in the Beltline.  It would be perfect for the proposed mega development in Chinatown.  Eau Claire Market, University District or Currie would also be ideal locations.

I can’t help but think if Nations’ flagship store was in downtown Vancouver or Toronto, the urban planning world would be all over it as “god’s gift to urban villages,” but because it is in downtown Hamilton, it has been effectively ignored.

Oh, and after our visit, even my Mom was impressed enough to say maybe she would give Nations a second chance.

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Hamilton: The Timbit City!

Everyday Tourist says Tim Hortons missed a great opportunity to create a real museum and tourist attraction on the site of their first store in Hamilton, Ontario.

Hamilton has had a few nicknames over the years - the “Ambitious City,” “Steeltown” and more recently, “The Hammer.”  However, I’m surprised the City hasn’t be branded the “Timbit City” given the iconic Canadian coffee and donut empire Tim Hortons was launched in Hamilton, back in 1964.

Today, the Tim Hortons empire has grown to 4,000 stores across Canada. It dominates Canada’s coffee culture much like Starbucks does south of the border. 

The first Tim Hortons was on Ottawa Street North in Hamilton, Ontario was a former ESSO gas station.

The new two storey Tim Hortons on the same corner with a statue of Tim out front and parking at the side.

Tim's Timeline

1964: Tim Horton (an all-star NHL hockey player) opens the first store in a converted service station on Hamilton’s Ottawa Street N, not far from the city’s iconic steel mills. You could get a coffee and a donut for 25 cents and a dozen donuts was 69 cents.

1967: Tim Horton and Ron Joyce, a Hamilton police officer become partners and open the first franchise Tim Hortons. 

1974: Horton dies in a tragic car accident and Joyce purchases Horton’s shares for about $1 million and assumes full control of the then 40 stores in the Tim Hortons empire.

1976: The Timbit is introduced and becomes a Canadian icon in and of itself. Canadians have eaten enough Timbits to stretch to the moon and back almost 5 times.

2014: The original Tim Hortons at the corner of Ottawa Street and Dunsmure Road is torn down and replaced with a two-story modern coffee shop with a museum on the second floor.

If you are Tim Hortons’ junkie, or even in the area and in the mood for a “double-double with a dutchie, or perhaps looking to learn more about this Canadian success story – stop in for a visit.

Read: Horton: A Corporate Ghost

At the top of the stairs, you are welcomed by a replica Tim Horton counter with all of their iconic donuts. 

  The second floor's Memory Lane is a showcase of Tim Horton memorabilia and historical photo collage of Tim Horton and Hamilton images. 

The second floor's Memory Lane is a showcase of Tim Horton memorabilia and historical photo collage of Tim Horton and Hamilton images. 

  Ron Joyce on the left and Tim Horton on the right.

Ron Joyce on the left and Tim Horton on the right.

Tim is probably rolling over in his grave?

Recently touring the new coffee shop, it still baffles me why Tim Hortons didn’t restore Store #1 back to its original configuration it as a museum and open a new flagship store somewhere near by along Ottawa Street. There are many opportunities as the street is full of empty or underutilized spaces.

Nonetheless, the museum is interesting with its Tim Hortons artifacts and memorabilia, as well as some vintage photocollages of mid-century Hamilton. However it lacks the authenticity that would have come from restoring the original store as a museum. 

Read: Hamilton’s James Street North: A Hidden Gem

Service with a smile.

One of the many window displays. 

Game misconduct?

To add insult to injury, as part of Tim Hortons 50th Anniversary celebrations in May 2014, a temporary replica of Store #1 complete with its original Toronto Maple Leaf blue colours (Tim Horton played for the Leafs from 1952 to 1970) - was created, but oh no not in Hamilton, but in front of Young & Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.  I call a “game misconduct.”  

The least they could have done was have two simultaneous pop-ups Store #1, one in Toronto and one in Hamilton.

Read: Cities of Opportunity: Hamilton/Calgary

Last Word

Shame on you, Tim Hortons!  Yes, I know you are good to Hamilton in other ways (like sponsoring the new Tim Hortons Field for the Ticats) and your Tim Horton camps for children, but you missed a golden opportunity to honour your “roots” by creating a real tourist attraction for the City of Hamilton and Tim Hortons. 

It would seem in the eyes of Tim Hortons leadership team, Toronto is the donut and Hamilton is the Timbit! Tim Hortons could have created something special in Hamilton like Starbucks has done in Seattle.

Read: Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building