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Bradford man prompts coffee chain to rethink its menu for diabetic community

Bradford man with diabetes prompts Country Style to rethink its menu after refusing to modify drink order
Country Style_Bradford
Country Style in Bradford recently changed ownership.

Local resident Tom Fines recently visited the Country Style in Bradford for his weekly sub and coffee; however, his order was met with difficulty when he was denied modifications to his drink.

Fines has been a diabetic for 30 years and suffers from a wide range of health-related issues and complications. On June 2, Fines visited the Country Style store located at 396 Holland St. West and ordered an iced coffee.

Being a diabetic, Fines asked to have the pre-made sugar base removed from the coffee (a sweetened creamy mix using natural and artificial flavours added to help dilute the stronger taste of coffee used in iced coffees), but was baffled when the cashier informed him they could not remove it for him.

“They refused to serve me because it’s against company policy to alter drinks,' states Fines. “But they did offer to make me a hot coffee with a sweetener.”

Fines did not want a hot coffee and asked again why Country Style staff could not make him an iced coffee without the base. He was then told that the altered drink is “not on their menu, so they don’t offer it”.

Fines paid for his sub and left. He contacted both the owner of the store, Manoj Thomas, and Country Style’s head office via email to inform all parties about the incident.

“How prevalent is diabetes in this world right now?" says Fines, noting that other coffee chains who sell iced coffees will remove the base for dietary restrictions. “This is the only place that won’t do it.”

Country Style’s head office was quick to respond to Fines' email, letting him know his drink order was a ‘new product’ and that any franchise will always do their ‘due diligence prior to introducing a new product’.

“I know it sounds as simple as pouring coffee over ice, however, there are operational standards that need to be in place and it needs to be included on our menu to satisfy regulations from the Health Department,” responded Kerry Blakey, business development manager with MTY Group which oversees the Country Style franchises.

Approximately one day later, Mr. Thomas the new owner of the Bradford Country Style also replied to Fines' email, beginning with an apology for the "uncomfortable situation" at his location.

“We are a franchisee [who] follow the operational guidelines and the standards set out by our brand leadership, and we also train our staff to adhere to it so that every customer will have a better customer experience based on the operational standards set forth by Country Style,” Thomas wrote to Fines.

Both Blakey and Thomas told Fines they would take his feedback into consideration, but Fines was not happy with their answer.

“They aren’t saying ‘we made a mistake’… [but] I obviously can’t have the sugar,” notes Fines. “To be told ‘no, it’s company policy’… I’m just not going to go back there.”

He adds, “if someone comes in and declares a medical condition and wants something different, they should be able to accommodate. If I wanted a bagel with butter but they tell me they only serve it with cream cheese, it’s basically the same thing – equal access to equal products, that’s what this is about.”

Fines emphasizes that diabetics are very limited to what they can order and often have a difficult time finding products to consume that will not send blood sugar levels skyrocketing.

“If I want something [cold] to drink, like frozen drinks, slushies, etc., there’s like three items I can drink with a sweetener,” explains Fines. “I can’t have pop because it bothers my kidneys. I’m limited on what I can get compared to everyone else – they have like 25-30 different options. I’m not asking for the world, I’m just asking for one item.”

Fines wanted to share his experience for other diabetics while educating the franchise on the difficulties surrounding the disease. He says he must test his blood levels over five times a day and is on two different types of insulin.

In addition to his diabetes, Fines has heart complications (he had quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2011), and has kidney failure and has been on a kidney transplant waitlist since 2018. As such, Fines has dialysis access ‘ports’ on his lower-left side of his abdomen, and a second one underneath his right collar bone for hemodialysis. 

He takes 17 different prescription medications and vitamins every day to help with his diabetes and ongoing medical issues.

“I have four percent kidney function for both kidneys left,” he says. “The ports help remove the toxins so I am prepared for a transplant someday.”

Fines is also hoping for a new pancreas with his kidney transplant – a surgery that would eliminate his kidney issues and diabetes altogether.

“I have no choice, I must cut out anything sugary or starchy, anything that will easily convert into sugars in my body,” he explains.

BradfordToday reached out to Country Style’s head office and spoke with Jason Brading, chief operating officer, quick service restaurants with MTY Group. He explained how the signature Country Style iced coffee ‘brew’ is made:

“There are two ways to offer iced coffee: a pre-made product that is made in the plants – coffee, dairy, sugar – and sent to the stores. The staff only pour it over the ice – we’ve been using it now for over 10 years,” shares Brading, adding the development of the mix’s taste was based on ‘loyal customer flavour-profile’ (similar to a double-double). “The other way is to double-brew a batch of coffee – because it weakens when pouring over ice – then chill it, and add anything the customer wants, however, this would take a couple hours.”

Brading adds that he can appreciate how people look at these ‘iced coffees’; pouring coffee over ice. However, he insists ‘it’s going to taste like water’ if it is not done properly.

Both Brading and Thomas from Country Style in Bradford have agreed to reach out to Fines personally, and Fines informed BradfordToday he welcomes friendly discussions with Country Style to help make changes for the diabetic community.

“I’m a believer that if one person voices a concern, there will be others, so we will look at this again and pull our culinary team together on this,” says Brading. “We will table the idea and look into it, see what we can do for the community and for Mr. Fines. I completely understand his frustrations, I would be frustrated too, it’s unfortunate and we will rectify this.”