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A former Tim Hortons executive has taken the helm of the Great White North Franchisee Association, a once-adversarial group of store owners who accused the coffee chain of bullying and intimidation in a public two-year battle.
Nick Javor, former senior vice-president of development at Tim’s, has joined the association as its paid, full-time executive director — a new position for the group, which has until now primarily been led by franchisees.
Javor spent 20 years at Tim Hortons’ head office before leaving the company in 2015, shortly after the Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital purchased the iconic Canadian coffee chain and formed the fast-food conglomerate Restaurant Brands International Inc.
His appointment is the first major move for the association since it settled two class-action lawsuits against Tim Hortons this spring, bringing their protracted public spat to an apparent end. It’s not yet clear how hiring a veteran Tim’s executive will affect the association’s relationship with RBI, which has long refused to recognize the Great White North group.
Javor didn’t respond when asked whether he has been in contact with RBI since taking the position early last month. In a statement on Monday, he said he hoped to find “common ground” with the chain and its franchisee advisory board.
“I have been around franchising long enough to know that working in a collaborative, professional and respectful way is the recipe for success,” he said.
When asked about Javor’s new role, Duncan Fulton, RBI’s chief corporate officer who handles franchisee relations, reiterated that the company did not recognize the Great White North group.
“The only restaurant owner group we work with is the one that was set up in 1982 and has served us well for 37 years — our owner advisory board,” he said, noting that Tim Hortons’ roughly 1,500 franchisees elected 19 members to the board last month. “We have never recognized other associations that have formed because they do not represent all the interests of our owners — like our elected advisory board of owners does.”
The class-action lawsuit initiated by Great White North had accused the coffee chain’s Ontario-based operator TDL Group Corp Ltd. of using intimidation to stop store owners from participating in the association, as well as of mismanaging money that franchisees contributed to an advertising fund.
In a settlement, approved by an Ontario superior court judge earlier this year, the chain agreed to contribute $10 million to the advertising fund over two years and another $2 million to cover the legal and administrative costs of the franchisees’ suit. Tim’s also agreed not to discourage franchisees from joining a franchisee association.
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In the sole objection to the settlement, Great White North board member Eric Sanderson told court he feared for the future of the franchisee association, since the agreement fails to mention or recognize Great White North.
“This should be a deal breaker in my view,” Sanderson, a Tim’s franchisee in Manitoba, wrote in a letter to Judge Edward Morgan. “We have worked too hard over the past two years to let the Association fall into obscurity.”
In approving the settlement, Judge Morgan said Sanderson’s letter raised “legitimate concerns” — though not the type “that undermine settlement agreements.” No franchisees opted out of the settlement agreement.
“He worries … that the present board members may never be replaced because none of the other franchisees will want to play a role that is adversarial to the Defendant,” Morgan wrote.
But, Morgan also noted that association’s counsel said Great White North “is being re-energized by funding infused by the settlement.”
The agreement, Morgan wrote, was “envisioned as starting a new era of positive business relations between Tim Hortons’ franchisees and franchisor.”
Tim Hortons has looked to move beyond the dispute with its Winning Together plan, rolling out a series of initiatives and product launches aimed at boosting sagging sales — including a kids’ menu, a loyalty program and a Beyond Meat line of sandwiches.
In a call with investors late last month, RBI chief executive Jose Cil said the company was “happy to have a healthy relationship with our owners.”