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Holey War: Watertown doughnut competition heated up by planned franchise locations

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A holey war has emerged in the city on Coffeen and Arsenal streets, pitting doughnuts from Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop against those from Dunkin’ Donuts.

And get ready, sweet tooths, because the doughnut wars have just begun. Setting up shop next to competitors, both franchises have planned locations inside convenience stores that are undergoing expansion projects.

Tim Hortons will launch a full-service restaurant with drive-thru window at the Express Mart convenience store under construction at 1268 Arsenal St., which will replace the smaller store at the Mobil gas station there. That Tim Hortons, approved by the city Planning Board, will be less than a quarter-mile away from the Dunkin’ Donuts at 1250 Arsenal St.

In a similar stroke of business, Dunkin’ Donuts will launch a quick-stop location with drive-thru window in the Quickslee convenience store with Mobil station at 1279 Coffeen St., which will be expanded by 1,800 square feet according to a plan approved in November by the city Planning Board. That building is owned by Pemm LLC, Avon. Plans for the Dunkin’ Donuts shop there were confirmed by Roy E. Clark of Fulton, franchise co-owner of locations in Watertown on Arsenal and Washington streets, and one at Fort Drum.

Set to open this year, the Dunkin’ Donuts shop will be just across the I-81 bridge from the new Tim Hortons that opened in November inside the Nice N Easy convenience store on Route 12F.

On Thursday, customers at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Arsenal Street and Tim Hortons on Coffeen Street had a mixed reaction to the news of more shops. Some were loyalists who go only to their favorite franchise. Others go to both.

“I am a Dunkin’ Donuts person,” boldly declared Timothy C. Derr at the store Thursday after buying three doughnuts and a coffee. “I’ve hated Tim Hortons’ coffee ever since I tried it as a student at the University of Buffalo and have never gone back. Since then, I’ve watched them creep across the landscape by opening more shops. To be honest, I think the doughnuts are just better here and coffee is in better shape.”

The 27-year-old from Altmar was making a trip to visit friends in Watertown and Malone, who also have an inclination for doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts over Tim Hortons. He was surprised to learn the franchises were opening shops nearby, suspecting it could be a case of overkill.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to have four doughnut shops in a mile radius,” Mr. Derr said.

While the Dunkin’ Donuts on Arsenal Street gets its doughnuts shipped fresh every morning from Syracuse, the Tim Hortons off Coffeen Street makes doughnuts daily from scratch, employees reported. Capri T. Richardson, an employee at Dunkin’ Donuts, said she has a penchant for certain menu items offered by the two franchises.

“The chocolate-glazed doughnuts at Tim Hortons are way better than ours, and I like their smoothies,” the 24-year-old said, adding that her older sister is employed at the Tim Hortons at Nice N Easy. “But we have more menu items and a better variety. The only thing they have on us is they make doughnuts at the store every morning.”

People are still getting used to the presence of Tim Hortons in Watertown, and Mrs. Richardson said she thinks it will take at least a year before the franchise will become as popular as Dunkin’ Donuts.

Reading a newspaper spread on a table Thursday morning at Dunkin’ Donuts was Brownville resident John R. Peckham, a World War II and Korean War veteran who wore a Navy ball cap and eyeglasses. He said the two new franchise locations won’t spur him to change his routine.

“I went by Tim Hortons this morning on my way here,” said the 87-year-old, who was eating a breakfast sandwich. “It’s quite a nice store there, but I like the coffee here and have gotten used to this place.”

While about a half-dozen customers were at Dunkin’ Donuts Thursday, the Tim Hortons on Coffeen Street had more than a dozen seated at its dining area. Eating sandwiches for an early lunch were National Grid employees James K. Haberman and Levi Paquin. Mr. Haberman has gone exclusively to Tim Hortons since it opened this past fall, steering clear of Dunkin’ Donuts.

“I used to go to Dunkin’ Donuts all the time, but I’ve had the coffee here and it tastes better,” said Mr. Haberman, who went on to praise the sandwiches. “You certainly have a lot more choices at Dunkin’ Donuts, but that doesn’t mean I want to go there. I might if I eventually get sick of Tim Hortons.”

Mr. Paquin added, “The last four times I had Dunkin’ Donuts coffee it tasted burnt, and I like it better here. They also gave workers free coffee and doughnuts” during the recent lake-effect snowstorm.

Crystyn A. Lasley and her friend Teresa B. McIntosh made a stop at Tim Hortons after playing racquetball at the Fairgrounds YMCA off Coffeen Street.

Mrs. Lasley — a Tim Hortons loyalist — seemed to be recruiting her friend by showing her evidence of the franchise’s superiority. It was Ms. McIntosh’s first time at Tim Hortons.

But Ms. McIntosh, a frequent customer at Dunkin’ Donuts, showed some skepticism after taking the first sip of her mocha latte, which she ordered with a chocolate-dipped doughnut.

“It’s actually not as chocolatey as I thought it would be,” the Adams Center resident said. She likes the prospect of having more options in the city when franchises open additional locations.

“Where I go is probably going to depend on what neighborhood I’m in,” she said.

Mrs. Lasley was pleased to hear Tim Hortons will open on Arsenal Street, but the Watertown resident doesn’t plan to be a Dunkin’ Donuts customer again. Her older sister, who lives in Alberta, Canada, first introduced her to Tim Hortons. The Canadian franchise was founded in Ontario in 1964.

“I think their doughnuts and coffee are better and prices are cheaper here,” she said. “I think having a few more options here will be good. It could be more convenient to stop at the Tim Hortons on Arsenal Street because of the grocery stores nearby.”

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