Meet the art teacher 'obsessed' with visiting every former Happy Eater restaurant in the UK - in full uniform

Katie has visited 38 former Happy Eater branches in the south of the UK so far - all in her retro uniform from the restaurant chain

Katie Nicholls is obsessed with all things Happy Eater (@the_happy_eater_hunter)Katie Nicholls is obsessed with all things Happy Eater (@the_happy_eater_hunter)
Katie Nicholls is obsessed with all things Happy Eater (@the_happy_eater_hunter)

Happy Eater was once a popular roadside eatery in the UK in the 20th century - a true part of British nostalgia if you're of a certain age. Whether you were travelling on roads north, south, east or west, the likelihood of you being tempted to stop at a branch for a bite was always present.

One art teacher from Reigate, Surrey, has her heart set on reliving this part of British nostalgia by visiting all the former branches of this now-bygone restaurant chain. And she's doing it all in a retro waitressing uniform from the heyday of Happy Eater.

Katie Nicholls, 38, said she has an "obsession" with Happy Eater that has seen her collect elements of its merchandise and even sit down with the restaurant's former owner for a chat about its story.

She said: "We always used to travel down to Cornwall as kids and Happy Eater was part of the tradition. We'd stop at the restaurant and for me and my brother, that was a highlight. We always had fond memories of stopping there.

Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Burgh Heath  (@the_happy_eater_hunter)Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Burgh Heath  (@the_happy_eater_hunter)
Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Burgh Heath (@the_happy_eater_hunter)

"I've looked on eBay and other sites and I was surprised at the merchandise out there. Then, my sister came across a uniform from Happy Eater on there. I bought it and funnily enough, the lady who sold it lived around the corner from her. It was her old work uniform.

"I then got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about getting the uniform back to the branches. My local one was just outside of Croydon."

Katie admits she has a bit of a thing for nostalgia and is even producing Happy Eater-themed art. She even got to look at merchandise owned by the eatery's former owner Sir Michael Pickard for inspiration for her art.

Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Hooley, Croydon (@the_happy_eater_hunter)Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Hooley, Croydon (@the_happy_eater_hunter)
Katie Nicholls outside a former Happy Eater restaurant in Hooley, Croydon (@the_happy_eater_hunter)

She posts images of visiting the branches on her Instagram (@the_happy_eater_hunter) and photoshops old Happy Eater signs onto the branch buildings. So far she has visited 38 Happy Eater branches in the south but now aims to visit them all. Katie thinks she is around the halfway point at this stage.

She added: "It's really interesting to me because even back then, they seemed really out of date. They had a '70s look to them. It was really exciting when I was younger to drive past them and see the totem pole-like signs. We would always ask to go in but my dad would often say no.

"I went to meet Sir Michael Pickard in February this year and he and his wife had all the merch laid out on a table including some whiskey bottles that I didn't even know they made. I could tell they were a bit skeptical of me at first but once they saw my art, they liked it.

"I need to finish the lot and visit all the old branches. It's a nice way to see the country too. I've been quite surprised at how people are responding to it all. I think they like having those memories come back."

Before US fast-food chains started to dominate motorway services, there were two main choices for where to eat on the roads from the 1970s to the mid-1990s - Little Chef and its rival Happy Eater. NationalWorld has already explored the story and fate of Little Chef.

Katie outside a former Happy Eater in Wisley North (@the_happy_eater_hunter)Katie outside a former Happy Eater in Wisley North (@the_happy_eater_hunter)
Katie outside a former Happy Eater in Wisley North (@the_happy_eater_hunter)

Happy Eater was founded in 1972 by Michael Pickard. He left Little Chef's parent company - Trust Houses - that year after it merged with Forte. The south-east was identified as an area of focus for the business and the restaurant was also considered to be marginally more affordable than Little Chef.

menu from 1979 shows how kids could be fed at Happy Eater with meals at well under £2 and cheeseburger meals for adults were only marginally higher. In 1991, the menu at Happy Eater saw customers charged 75p for a cup of tea, and £2.90 for a burger, chips and dessert. That same year. the famous story emerged of Prime Minister John Major pictured stopping at a Little Chef on the A1 near Doncaster for a bite - a sign of its wide appeal.

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