Little Chef has been serving good food at Britain’s roadsides for over 50 years. The first Little Chef opened in Reading in 1958, the same year Britain got its very first motorway. From 11 seats, we’ve grown to become one of the UK’s favourite roadside restaurants with 78 Little Chef restaurants from Scotland down to Cornwall.
Read on to find out more about our history, our recent restaurant makeovers and of course our all-important food!
1958 – LITTLE CHEF IS BORN 13 OCT 1958 Our Little Chef chain of restaurants all started with Sam Alper, a Londoner who popularised caravanning in the UK after the Second World War. In the mid-1950s Alper visited America to market his company’s best-selling Sprite caravan alongside catering boss Peter Merchant who was seeking new ideas for his business. It was the era when Americans first took to the roads en masse and what most intrigued both Sam and Peter, were the diner caravans that they saw popping up at the side of some of America’s most popular highways. In 1958 we saw many historic events happen in Britain, including the first section of Motorway opening, the first Trans-Atlantic passenger jet service and the first Little Chef opening its doors to the public. Upon their return to England, Sam and Peter opened an 11-seat diner caravan in Reading, strategically located at what might be described as “the gateway to the West Country”. He called it “Little Chef” after the American diner that had first inspired him and hey presto, Little Chef brand was born!1960In the 1960s Little Chef grew bigger. By 1965 there were 12 restaurants nationwide including a site in Hyde Park, and by 1968 there were 25 restaurants scattered across the UK.
1970 – LITTLE CHEF CONTINUES TO GROW09 APR 1970Our rapid growth meant we began to attract the attention of big businesses and by 1970 Little Chef joined forces with the Trust House Forte hotel and catering empire. With this substantial backing, Little Chef chain grew even faster and between 1970 to 1976, 130 new sites had opened, totalling 174 restaurants spread between Aberdeen and Plymouth. In 1976 overnight stopovers were added to our food service with the first ‘Little Chef Lodge’ opening in Scotland. Following this milestone in Little Chef history, the Jubilee Pancake duly debuted on the menu in 1977.1980THE 1980S – LITTLE CHEF LODGE09 FEB 1980In the 1980s our growth continued as we added overnight stopovers to our food service. Little Chef Lodges were opened across the country until Forte acquired the Travelodge chain in 1990 and our Little Chef’s rooms were all rebranded under the Travelodge umbrella.
THE 1990S – LITTLE CHEF REACHES ITS PEAK01 NOV 1990In 1995 we opened a fast-food takeaway operation called “Little Chef Express” which enabled us to open inside shopping centres and airport terminals. In 1996 we were taken over by Granada, who then closed the Little Chef coffee stops, changing most to Burger King outlets. In 1994 the iconic Olympic Breakfast was added to our menu, which remains a best-seller to this day.2000THE 2000’S – LITTLE CHEF MAKES SOME CHANGES15 MAY 2000In 2007 ownership changed hands to our current owners RCapital. To celebrate we decided to team up with Heston Blumenthal, who tweaked the menu and helped develop a new look for Little Chef. For the first time in restaurant chain history, Little Chef made it into the Good Food Guide in 2010 and 2011, and we began opening our new ‘concept’ restaurants, known as “Wonderfully British”.
2012 – A NEW BEGINNING09 APR 2012In early 2012 we restructured to focus on our 80 profitable restaurants and launched a summer of big changes. We’re a proud British company, and where possible we source locally produced ingredients for our restaurants. Our new menu made a marked return to what we do best, simple and freshly cooked to order British food. Our takeaway concept was revitalised with the re-launch of Little Chef Express and we added quality freshly-ground Italian coffee to the menu thanks to our new partnership with Lavazza. To top off a fantastic year we were chosen to appear in a book about The Queen’s favourite British brands, in honour of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. cementing in history the love of Little Chef brand.2013
2013 – CHARLIE COMES TO LIFE 06 OCT 2013 To kick-start 2013 our focus turned to Charlie, with our famous mascot finally finding his voice and jumping online. Having been in the background for almost 55 years this much loved chef is back and has taken to Twitter in a bid to get ‘Britain breakfasting Little Chef style’. We have a fantastic year ahead of us, make sure you keep checking back to find out what’s next for Charlie and Little Chef!