Little Chef: The UK roadside restaurant that once had 400 locations but has now disappeared
A trip down memory lane back to stopping on motorway and grabbing a bite at Little Chef
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If you were one to go on road trips in the latter half of the 20th century, you'll remember a red road sign inviting you in for a bite. And no, it isn't KFC or Burger King. Once one of Britain's biggest roadside names, today Little Chef is a relic of the past.
Some were also housed in unique buildings - like at Markham Moor in Nottinghamshire - where you could grab an 'Olympic Breakfast' or 'Jubilee Pancakes' while on your travels.
But when did Little Chef locations shut down and why did this happen? NationalWorld takes a trip down memory lane to find out.
The first Little Chef restaurant was built by Sam Alper - a caravan manufacturer - who wanted to design an eatery based on diners he had seen in the US. The first location opened in 1958 on Oxford Road, Reading - the same year Britain got its first motorway coincidentally - and had only 11 seats.
In the 1960s, the brand began to expand and locations were built with around four times more seating. By 1965, Little Chef had 12 restaurants.
In 1970, Little Chef's parent company Trust Houses merged with Charles Forte's hotel and catering business to become Trust House Forte and by this time, there were around 44 Little Chefs. It's here that the expansion of the brand rapidly accelerated
By 1972, the chain had 100 locations - even two in France, but these closed within a few years.
Little Chef restaurants were often found at roadside locations near Lodges that became Little Chef Lodges - today these are known as Travelodge.
Throughout the 1980s, the UK's motorways began to take shape as we know them today and Little Chef locations could be found at 'Welcome Break' service stations on motorways and A-roads.
Decline in the 2000s - why?
Following more takeovers, mergers, and even a demerger, the 2000s set Little Chef on a new path - perhaps best shown by an unsuccessful attempt the Little Chef mascot - Fat Charlie - being rebranded in a slimmed-down version.
Prior to this - under the ownership of Compass Group - the number of Little Chef restaurants began to dwindle from well over 400 to around 300 locations.
By 2005, new owners Permira said more than 100 locations that were underperforming would be closed.
The emerging fast-food model at the turn of the century was also a big factor for Little Chef's decline, along with a growing view that the chain's dishes, service and restaurants themselves weren't up to scratch.
Also, a hike in prices during the late '90s when the business was taken over by Granada led to the nickname 'Little Thief'.
Administration in 2006
In December 2006, Little Chef was taken into administration. It was bought for less than £10 millon by 'RCapital' but the fate of many locations was already sealed it seems.
Outlets at Moto services were closed between 2008 and 2010 and many of these became Costa Coffee shops.
Little Chef is well-known as having appeared on a Heston Blumenthal Channel $ special where he attempted to revamp the chain.
Things seemed o the up after this as some new restaurants took up Heston's menu investment was pumped into around 10 restaurants. In 2011, the company reported a 47% sales increase.
Unfortunately though, was too little too late.
What is it now?
Little Chef has not officially operated since 2018 and despite some last-ditch attempts to save the brand, it became another nostalgic restaurant lost to time. As they say, nothing lasts forever.
The brand is currently owned by Kout Food Group in Kuwait after it was liquidated although there's no word of a comeback.
The idea of roadside dining remains strong though and a new diner in Devon which opened only this year has cited Little Chef as a major influence.
We want to know about your memories of dining at Little Chef. Is there a particular location you frequently visited? Or a meal - good or bad - that you've never forgotten? Let us know at [email protected]