By Donna Jean MacKinnon and Photos by Ashley Hutcheson
Energy to Spare
Coffee queen of Simcoe County energized to succeed at every life stage.
Jan Trude, businesswoman extraordinaire, believes in old-fashioned values like doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. While she may not be a household name across Canada, Jan sure is around Collingwood where she is owner of nine thriving Tim Hortons’ stores. Yes, the profits pour in from her donut outlets and as they rise more money ends up supporting local philanthropic projects.
In fact, in 2012 Jan received the Order of Collingwood for her “contribution to the improvement of social, cultural and recreational conditions in Collingwood.” One of Jan’s more amusing brain waves was participating in the annual Collingwood Elvis Festival. For 15 years Jan and her staff sold King Kookies, as a fundraiser, at the Elvis shindig. These kookies had heads with frosted Elvis features. King Kookie sales generated over $100,000 for the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital.
Alas, kookies are no more but Jan and the Tim Hortons chain are now purveying Smile Cookies as a charitable project. Jan’s rise as Coffee Queen in Simcoe County began, in 1984, when Don Vancise, a Collingwood entrepreneur, planned to open the town’s firstTim Hortons’ store on FirstAvenue. Relatives of Jan had mentioned her to Vancise. The upshot: Vancise offered her a job as store manager. “Don did not want anything to do with the operating of the store, so he handed it over to me with a promise of 10 per cent bonus on any profit,” says Jan, who had no idea this offer would turn out to be a bonanza for her.
Now an international brand, in 1964, hockey player Tim Horton (1930-1974) and a partner opened the first Tim Hortons donut outlet in Hamilton, Ontario. Horton played 24 seasons in the National Hockey League — a stellar career that ended when he crashed his car and died. The investigation revealed drugs and alcohol were factors.(For the record: In 2014 Tim Hortons merged with the Miami-based Burger King as Restaurant Brands International (RBI).
Both chains are owned by 3G Capital, a mega-investment firm with headquarters in Brazil and New York.) Within a year of opening the Collingwood store, Tim Hortons offered Vancise and Jan a chance to buy an inaugural franchise in Barrie. “Don was worried about the operations and offered me 50 per cent ownership to stay on,” recalls Jan. “My husband and I had no money so we put a second mortgage on our small cottage.” In some ways, Jan’s story is a classic rags-to-riches tale.
Her mother was from an Ontario farm family and her father’s family, the Switzers had deep roots in Collingwood. Janet Switzer’s teenaged years were not easy. Her father, a welder by trade, suddenly died from a heart attack, when Jan was 16, leaving her mother with two children to support. “My mother was 36 and thank God, she had just gotten her driver’s licence. Of course, no wills and inheritance in those days,” Jan says. “As I witnessed her struggles, I decided I was going to be financially successful.”
Jan is proud of her father, Peter Switzer (1930-1973), who was a talented hockey and baseball player. Today, he is remembered in the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame. (An interesting coincidence: Both hockey players, Horton and Switzer, were born in 1930.) AndJan’s grandmother, Janet Currie Switzer, after attending Collingwood collegiate went into training at the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, graduating in 1928 as a Registered Nurse. (Last summer at a Rotary Club event, Jan wore a handsome heirloom thistle brooch, that had belonged to her Granny.) As a sporty teenager, Jan won many accolades for her exceptional athletic prowess.
“My great love at school was sports, sports and more sports. I won the Simcoe County track and field girls’ award five years in a row. I actually held the 100 metre sprint record, for Collingwood Collegiate, from 1975 until a couple of years ago.” In retrospect, Jan suspects, sports were her emotional outlet and gave her a sense of control and accomplishment. However, Jan admits she had difficulty adjusting to the discipline of school.
She enrolled in a psychology course at the University of Western Ontario, but lost interest and left without a B.A. Later Jan took a Recreation Leadership course at Fanshawe College and graduated, in 1980, with a diploma. This qualification led to a job as Regional Marketing Manager with Mother’s restaurants, based in Peterborough. At Mother’s, Jan’s job was to coordinate programs for economically disadvantaged groups.
“The company’s management was ahead of their time. Mother’s was involved in the community” says Jan, who agrees that her apprenticeship, at Mother’s, prepared her for her future as a major Tim Hortons’ restaurant owner. (Mother’s Pizza, once a popular Ontario chain, disappeared in the 1990s.) In the evenings, in Peterborough, Jan waitressed for extra money. There, one night, she met Constable John Trude, when he answered a fire alarm call.
After that, Trude appeared every night at the restaurant. They married in 1982 and relocated in the Collingwood area to be near Jan’s widowed mother. When Jan agreed to run the Barrie franchise, for Vancise, her first son Billy Trude was three-months-old and together they commuted to Barrie. “Billy and I drove to Barrie to learn about the franchise. It was fun. At 1 a.m., I would put Billy in the car seat and set him down in the dough area” recalls Jan.
“I was the baker. We did everything by hand. After mixing the dough and leaving it to rise, we cut out the donuts, put them in fryers and stirred them with sticks. For the fritters, we even peeled the apples that we bought from local farmers. Then we glazed the donuts by hand. You could smell the aroma a block away.” Jan claims Billy Trude has donut yeast in his blood. No wonder he turned out to be a police officer. When her second son was born, in 1987, Jan was off work a mere week.
By 1990, Vancise and Jan were 50-50 partners and continuing to buy franchises. “We met once a year. Don was a silent partner. He gave me free rein and Tim Hortons just dealt with me. In 2010, I started to buy out Don,” Jan says, adding that Don was her mentor. The following year, Vancise, who had been somewhat of a fairy godfather to Jan, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and in 2014, he ended his own life.
At 59, Jan still has a sturdy athletic body and, as she did on the track, she continues to rise to every challenge that comes her way. Competitiveness is in her blood. And so is the habit of dogged work. Jane Tilley, who like Jan is involved in many fundraisers in Collingwood, describes Jan as a handson person who rolls up her sleeves and does whatever job needs to be done. “Jan is tireless and throws herself whole-heartedly into every endeavour. You can rely on her 100 per cent,” says Tilley, adding Jan is also a fun person to be around.
Jan certainly appears upbeat and a bundle of energy as she darts from one Timmy’s outlet to another, overseeing her 250 or so team members while keeping several philanthropic balls in the air. She explains the fast food business is highly competitive and because this business is evolving “fast and furious” vendors, like her, must keep on their toes and offer new taste profiles that appeal to a society-on-the-run. Right now, potato wedges, iced cappuccino and steak wraps are flying off the shelves, according to Jan.
“But even with all the new technologies involved in production, the formula remains simple. Our restaurants are all about fast service and quick delivery at the best possible prices. As an aside, last summer, while Jan was telling her story seated beside her pool, the Trudes’ new German shepherd pup gaily bounced about, nipping at things and introducing a modicum of mayhem into their garden retreat. Puppy Trudy is Jan’s latest project.
Is Trudy Trude going to obedience school? You bet! After the puppy diversion, Jan explained she does have administrative help in her office, but her biggest concern is staffing her restaurants. “We are open 24 hours every day, so I always have to have a core of reliable employees and extra staffing for the tourist season — especially for the Elvis fest when 100,000 people come to town,”Jan says, adding her employees are great and 30 of them have been with her for over 25 years.
Jan doesn’t hesitate to hire people with disabilities and mental challenges. Because they feel needed, these hirees become faithful and dependable employees, according to Jan. “Bert, who is limited, is a cleaner and one girl, who never finished grade nine, was hired as a baker. She’s so happy. She turned 20 in November and we made a big deal of her birthday.” Jan’s strategy for keeping staff is “empowering” her people and making them feel important.
As an employer, she contributes to RRSPs for staffers with over five years of service. She also offers scholarships to encourage workers to go on to university. Last year this giveaway amounted to some $20,000. Come summer, Jan organizes a picnic for staff and their families and at Christmas she hosts a shindig, featuring a turkey dinner. Also, nearing Christmas, employees are encouraged to discreetly submit names of co-workers who are struggling financially.
About December 20, Jan delivers boxes, filled with Christmas fare to 17 homes — early enough so recipients can enjoy the entire Christmas season without worry. Jan, sensitive to the circumstances of her employees, observed that although they were living under ski hills, most of them had never skied. She knew as minimum wage earners, they couldn’t afford skis. Meanwhile all the “rich people from Toronto” were skiing from their fancy clubs. “This always bothered me. So, I asked a Toronto friend to encourage affluent skiers to donate used equipment that we could give away.”
That friend is Julie Buckley, a member of theAlpine Ski Club. “Jan challenged me: ‘You city idiots don’t do anything for the community.’ So, I asked around Alpine about donating equipment, but members were not helpful,”recalls Buckley. Step in Allen Phillips a manager at Squire John’s, a local ski outfitter. Phillips posted signs, asking for donations. Ski and snowboarding equipment poured in and, to date, this initiative has outfitted over 500 grateful skiers. The give-away occurs in October at the Tim Hortons store on First Street. The gear is there for the taking and Squire John’s donates its expertise to fit recipients.
“Big Brothers-Sisters and the local youth centre get first dibs. We also inform the schools,” Buckley says. “People, who come in, realize we have high-quality equipment, so some insist on paying something.” As a close friend, Buckley echoes Tilley when she describes Jan as very generous to the community and as a great employer who helps where ever there is need. “Jan is also astute in business. And she has a wonderful sense of humour. She always sees the bright side of things.”
Jan makes no bones about loving her community and giving back is high priority. Every June all the money from one day of coffee sales, goes to children’s camps. Last year Canadian Hortons’ franchisees raised $12.6 million. Of this, Jan’s restaurants realized $30,000 thus enabling 16 disadvantaged Collingwood kids to camp for 10 days. Jan describes this as a life-changing experience for them — especially the farm camp, near Brantford, where they are introduced to healthy food, horses and livestock. Jan was tickled to receive a pencil-printed thank you note from a young camper. Haily tells Janet Trude, she played “hide-n-go seen” and says she learned that you “accomplish more if you work as a team.”
For the past 16 years, Jan and her team have organized an in-house golf tournament. So far, this event has netted $350,000. A non-profit organization, such as the Theatre Collingwood or a United Way project, is chosen as recipient of the golf money. Last August, the tournament raised $28,000 — a gift that went to the Southern Georgian Bay Rotary Club. In the future, the golf day will help fund the local hospice. Jan, who is a Rotarian also served on the Collingwood hospital board for two years, reckons she along with her staff and the support of local volunteers, raise about $100,000 annually for community charities. “Because we, as a business, are constantly giving back, this inspires our team and builds company morale,” Jan says.
Busy as she is purveying fast food and with her charitable projects, Jan’s real life revolves around her close-knit family. The Trude sons both served in the Canadian military. Billy Trude spent five years in the military police patrolling the Pakistan border. Today he is in the OPP, in a special unit, and Graham Trude, a veteran of Afghanistan, is now an OPP constable in Orangeville. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. After Afghanistan, Graham’s first policing assignment was with the Nishnawabe-Aski Police Service in Northern Ontario. There he witnessed glue sniffing and other degenerate excesses found in isolated northern communities.
Graham discovered there was an arena, but no skates for the children, so he contacted Mum. Enough skates and hockey gear was collected in Collingwood, to outfit about 100 kids. Jan shipped it all to the reservation, by plane. Graham, also a country musician, wrote Remember, a song dedicated to a friend killed in Afghanistan. In collaboration with the Good Brothers, he performed this song at a Remembrance Day concert, organized as a fundraiser for injured soldiers. Jan confesses she engineered the marriages of her boys. She introduced Billy Trude to Sarah Davie, an accountant in Jan’s office. The pair married. Later Jan eyeballed Kim Pham, owner of the cleverly named A.B. See Optical. Soon Kim and Graham married.
Jan dreams of turning her Tim Hortons’ empire into a family business. Currently John Trude’s daughter, with Jan’s help, owns two franchises in Wasaga. This year Sarah Trude and Jan partnered in an outlet, attached to a Collingwood gas bar. Meanwhile Jan is grooming Kim Trude for restaurant ownership. When not playing matchmaker, Jan plays golf, skis, hikes and works out with a trainer three times weekly.
Also, she is spending more time with her husband. In June 2016, after 30 years of policing service in the Collingwood area, John Trude retired as then Detachment Commander of Collingwood/The Blue Mountains OPP. Added to all this, Jan has set an important challenge for herself. “My goal is to complete my B.A. by age 60. Talk about a lifelong learner.” How does Jan fit everything in? Discipline. Up at five a.m. and finishing the day at nine p.m.