Saturday 18 February 2017

Dine out before they die out!

When Mrs Jones and I are out and about on outings, we often find ourselves looking for place to eat and I have noticed that some of the familiars are not around as much as they used to be.... Case in point, Wimpy, all the good things that we expect from a hamburger-based eating establishment on the high street but with the added bonus of having it brought over to your table on a plate and you get to eat it with a knife and fork! Very upmarket! and typically British... Funny when you consider how “Wimpy Grills” was first established by a Mr Edward Gold of Bloomington, Indiana in 1934 who later licensed the Wimpy (inspired by Popeye's pal J. Wellington Wimpy) franchise to British restaurant chain J. Lyons and Co in 1954. Lyons and Co. opened their first UK based "Wimpy Bar" at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London as a novelty, having fast-food section served within their more traditional Corner House restaurants. Sure enough it was a success and it led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger-based meals and a British institution was born. At its height in the 1970 there were 500 restaurants serving hamburgers across the UK but sadly by 1989 the number of locations had dropped to 381. It seemed that Wimpy was loosing the battle to McDonald’s (who had opened their first UK restaurant in 1974). It was also during this time that Grand Metropolitan (whom owned the rights to Burger King) had bought the rights to Wimpy, and started converting their "counter service" restaurants to the Burger King's because it had a greater global brand recognition (interestingly the first UK Burger King was opened in 1977 in the same Coventry Street premises that Wimpy started out in 1954!). In 2002 there were approximately 300 Wimpy establishments in the UK and Ireland and now in 2017 there are only 81 still in business, now I am no mathematician but I have noticed that the numbers are going down! I must stress that I am not one of these Moaning Minnies that blames the bigger chains for the decline. A quick look up and down the high street tells me that it's a jungle out there and there are several restaurants competing for our appetite and money so I (personally) don't blame the Clown, The King and Colonel for this.

Moving on from the High Street we stop off at the roadside for another classic British institution (albeit inspired by an American concept) the Little Chef. First opened near Reading in Berkshire in 1958 as travellers had started to frequent the new and expanding road networks of the United Kingdom. English caravan designer, artist and philanthropist Mr. Samuel Alper OBE (1924– 2002) inspired by the small roadside diners he had frequented in America realised his vision of a family friendly place to stop and eat that provided a break from the usual roadside eating establishment inhabited by truckers and bikers and by 1968 there were 25 Little Chef restraints located beside the UK's roads 44 by 1970 and 100 outlets by 1972! By the time they added Jubilee Pancakes to the menu in 1977 there were 174 Little Chefs up and down the country! Little Chef was doing great, it only had one real roadside competitor, Happy Eater (which had been founded in 1973 by Michael Pickard) But the competition ended in 1985 when Happy Eater owners the Imperial Group conglomerate sold its brand and 75 restaurants to Little Chef owners Trusthouse Forte (later just Forte) and so both brands ran side by side into the 1990's.

Little Chef introduced the Olympic breakfast in 1994 and a spin-off brand called "Little Chef Express" in 1995 to rival fast food outlets which had started to become more commonplace before the chains were bought up in an aggressive takeover by Granada in 1996. At its peak in 2000 there were 450 restaurants trading but all good things... In 2006, it emerged that Little Chef was undergoing serious financial problems and had lost nearly half of its branches in five years. Little Chef was taken into administration, and the company was rescued in 2007 by RCapital, a UK private equity group, which paid less than £10 million however 38 of the 235 branches were not included in the sale and were closed immediately the decline of Little Chef was blamed on the increased numbers of pub restaurants and service stations having Marks & Spencer Simply Food sections and coffee chains such as Costa and Starbucks and of course the Clown, The King and Colonel. In 2012, Little Chef announced that it planned to close 67 of its failing restaurants and year by year another restaurant would close and now at the time of writing this, with only 70 restaurants remaining it has been revealed that Little Chef is facing yet another takeover that could see it completely disappear from our roads forever! Euro Garages already in partnerships with Starbucks, Subway, Greggs and Burger King are in “advanced talks” to buy the brand and its restaurants this has left many Little Chef employees fearing for the restaurant's future! 

So Arfon, this is all very interesting but where are you going with all this?” Well, feeling some what saddened at the apparent decline of these classic eating places I, Arfon Jones, have decided to make it my mission to seek out the remaining Wimpy and Little Chef establishments I will frequent and document them on this site, we've lost Woolworths and British Home Stores and now it looks like we might loose the Bender Burger and Olympic Breakfast too! So join me in this little segment that will hopefully have you salivating and savouring your memories and encouraging you to revisit! First two.

Wimpy, 160 Streatham High Road
Streatham, London, SW16 1BJ
Conveniently adjacent to Streatham ODEON is one of the oldest Wimpys in Britain, having been open for 42 years! Nice and clean and everything you expect of a Wimpy Bar. On the first leg of my mission I had the Mega Burger comprising of a 100% beef burger, cheese, onions and ketchup finished with the the trademark bender frankfurter sausage with a side order of chips. Followed by desert the classic Brown Derby, a doughnut served with ice cream, chocolate and nuts. Very nice it was too, being an establishment that has been open and in the same hands for 42 years the staff were friendly and professional. I highly recommender a visit.

The Mega Burger (complete with trademark bender sausage) with a side order of chips. The other Wimpy classic
the Brown Derby, a doughnut served with ice cream, chocolate and nuts.


Little Chef Northop Hall, A55
Little Chef in Northop Hall located on the A55 their website informs us, “We are on the border of England and Wales which makes it easy to access lots of popular attractions with Chester Zoo and the Blue Planet aquarium less then 20 minutes away there's plenty to keep the kids entertained” (can't argue with that), “around 1 hour away from Holyhead restaurant a perfect stop off on your way from Ireland” again quite true, as the other 3 Little Chefs you once would have passed on your way to Holyhead (Penmaenmawr, Menai Bridge and Gaerwen) have long since closed. We both had the 'Early Starter' Breakfast comprising of a rasher of back bacon, British pork sausage, a griddle-fried free range egg, two hash browns and Heinz baked beans served with toast opting for the additional extra griddled tomato, mushrooms (Mrs Jones also had the black pudding slice) To once again quote their website, “Our staff here at Northop Hall are friendly and helpful. We pride ourselves on being a happy team” no argument here, very friendly staff, nothing was too much trouble. Bonus points for the free T-shirts and lollipops!

'Early Starter' Breakfast and free lollipop!

My sincere thanks to former Little Chef employee Adrian Atkins for very kindly correcting some errors and providing further information. Many thanks Adrian!


© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.


  1. Reading that has made me hungry. Think I'll make myself a fry-up. My town used to have a Wimpy, but it disappeared decades ago. (Burger King took over its premises I think, but even that's gone now.)

    1. That happens a lot, its quite an eye opener as to who owns what- so what are you having an Olympic Breakfast? ;)

  2. Nah, my idea of a fry-up is two link sausages, one lorne sausage, black pudding, bacon, two eggs, mushrooms, beans, fried tomato, tattie scone, and buttered toast. Yum!

    1. I'll have one of those as well, with a pot of tea please Kid! ;)

  3. My mother-in-law's first job was in a Wimpy. There was one in Trow when we first moved here, but it closed some years ago. (I'm afraid it wasn't very good.)

    1. It can happen, the first McDonalds I had was horrible- it took me another 4 years before I revisited! We had a decent chip shop my way and they converted it into a Wimpy and I didn't care for it much... x



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