What do you do after 36 years of getting up well before dawn to run a coffee shop? If you’re Rick Schroeder, you keep coming back for those 4:30 a.m. cups of coffee. It’s the work of running the Park Avenue Tim Hortons that, as of this past Monday, he has left to the next guy.
“I still own the business, but I don’t operate it,” he said.
That task falls upon Guy Pritchard, who Schroeder said will buy him out by paying him a percentage of the profits over the next five years.
Aside from the gradual transfer in ownership, Schroeder, 72, said nothing will change. For starters, he still plans on showing up regularly before the clock strikes 5 a.m. He’s got his coffee shop gang to hang out with, after all.
“I’ll still be here every day for coffee. You can’t just stop and break those habits,” he said. “I made a lot of friends here over the years.”
Furthermore, the staff won’t change, and with good reason. Schroeder says his folks are top-notch customer service people.
And they are dedicated.
“I’ve got a woman working here now who worked for me as a student. She’s a grandmother now and she’s back with us,” he said proudly. “Some staff, well, their parents worked for me.”
He said he always treated his employees with trust and respect. In his eyes, if you give it, you get it back.
“They have a job to do and they know how to do it. You have to give people respect and responsibility; treat them right,” he said. “We act like a family.”
And his main message to his “family” is “I don’t pay your wages, your customers do.”
Schroeder said he has customers who have come to the store since the time it opened. He thinks the staff are a huge reason why that’s the case.
Schroeder opened the Park Avenue Tim Hortons on Feb. 1, 1978, after putting in his 20 years with the Canadian Forces. As he returned to his hometown of Oakville and searched for his next career, one of his brothers put him in touch with Ron Joyce, owner of the Tim Hortons chain.
“The opportunity came up and we came down here,” Schroeder said.
He opened the store in partnership with two of his brothers, one a lawyer and one the owner of a construction company. But those two stayed in the Greater Toronto Area, while Schroeder ran the store.
He quickly became embedded.
“When I moved to Chatham, people made me feel so welcome. I became part of the community,” Schroeder said. “Chatham is my home. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
As for working into his 70s, he wouldn’t call himself a work-a-holic, but rather someone who likes to stay active. Schroeder actually originally pictured himself retiring many years ago.
“I always said I’d retire at the age of 55. Then I thought I’d definitely stop at 60, and then 65, and 70,” he laughed. “I’ve been working 56 years. I guess it’s time I think about doing something different.”
Schroeder said he’d like to work with local charities, something he’s done to some extent in the past. He has helped on projects with the Adult Lifestyle Centre on Merritt Avenue in Chatham, and with St. Joseph’s Church in the downtown.
Schroeder also battled, and defeated, colon cancer about a decade ago, and that reminded him to enjoy his time on the planet.
“I believe in living life to the fullest,” he said.
Schroeder and his wife Marion like to travel, and now have even more time to do so. And they like to take their kids and grandkids with them.
Aside from travel and returning to charitable work, Schroeder plans to be on the golf course on a regular basis. His favourite local course is the Blenheim Golf Club.
But a round of golf, naturally, takes place after his morning coffee.
“I like to watch the sun come up.”