RoadChef is the UK’s third largest motorway service area (MSA) operator after Moto and Welcome Break and is currently owned by Antin Infrastructure Partners, a European infrastructure fund.
Its network of single and dual sites on motorways and major trunk roads across Scotland, England and Wales includes the UK’s first MSA, Watford Gap, which Blue Boar opened in November 1959 and which RoadChef acquired in 1998 as part of its biggest buy to date.
Originally called Galleon RoadChef, the group was founded in 1972 as a joint venture between Lindley Catering Investments and Galleon World Travel.
It was sold to its management team in 1983, to Japanese investment bank Nikko Principal Investments for £175m in 1998 and then to Israeli property group Delek Real Estate for £425m (£375m plus debt) in 2007. Delek offloaded RoadChef to pay off its debts in late 2014, when current owner Antin snapped up the network for around £153m.
Along with petrol, the MSAs offer a mix of catering, budget accommodation (Days Inn), retail and business centre (Regus Express) services.
The first RoadChef Lodge motels opened in the late 1980s and by 1995 had formed a marketing partnership with Greenall’s Premier Lodge brand. Plans announced in 1997 to build a chain of five franchised Holiday Inn Express hotels close to motorways made a rebrand of the seven existing RoadChef Lodges to this name likely.
However, Whitbread took over the operation of the lodges in 2000 under its Travel Inn brand (which changed to Premier Travel Inn after Whitbread bought Greenall’s Premier Lodge chain from new owner Spirit Group in 2004, and contracted to Premier Inn in 2007). In 2010, RoadChef switched its 14 hotels to Wyndham’s Days Inn brand in a bid to lift disappointing sales.
In-house brands initially dominated the catering offer. The early Food Fayre free-flow, self-service restaurants (which incorporated concepts such as Spaghetti Junction, Pizza Pasta and Hot Range) were renamed On Route in 2004 and Restbite in 2007.
RoadChef’s Café Continental, introduced in 1996, was replaced by the franchised Costa Coffee brand from 2000. However, its first third-party brand was Wimpy, launched in 1994 as Wimpy’s first MSA outlet and its first Express kiosk. It was joined in 1999 by a UK-exclusive chicken offer (Dr Beak’s Chicken/Wimpy Chicken) which disappeared by 2007.
The Wimpy name was replaced initially by the in-house Burger Company brand in spring 2010 and more recently by McDonald’s following a successful trial in 2008 and the signing of the fast-food giant’s first corporate franchise agreement.
RoadChef embarked on a major revamp of its own-brand offering from 2010, most notably replacing the free-flow ‘servery tray rail’ Restbite restaurants with new concepts with a single ordering point – initially with the Hot Food Company and subsequently with the Fresh Food Café brand piloted in 2012.
Some MSAs also offer franchised brands such as Krispy Kreme, Pasty Presto, Chozen Noodle, and Soho Coffee.
Chief executive Simon Turl
Number of MSAs 30 sites across 21 locations in England, Scotland and Wales
Number of hotels 15 co-located Days Inn budget hotels
Staff more than 3,200
Customers more than 44 million a year
Annandale Water A74/M (J16), Johstonebridge, Dumfriesshire
Bothwell, M74 southbound out of Glasgow (J4-5)
Chester, M56 at J14 (single site)
Clacket Lane West and East, M25 (J5-6), Westerham Surrey
Durham A1/M) (J61/A177) 1
Hamilton, M74 northbound into Glasgow (J5-6), Lanarkshire
Killington Lake M6 southbound(J36-37), Kendal, Cumbria
Magor, M4 (J23a), Caldicot, Monmouthshire
Maidstone, M20 (J8), Kent
Northampton North and South M1 (J15a)
Norton Canes, M6 Toll (J6-7), Cannock, Staffordshire
Pont Abraham, M4 (J49), Llanedi, Swansea
Rownhams East and West, M27 (J3-4), Southampton, Hampshire
Sandbach North and South, M6 (J16-17), Cheshire
Sedgemoor (South), M5 (J21-22), Somerset
Stafford (South), M6 (J14-15), Staffordshire
Strensham North and South M5 (J7-8), Worcestershire
Sutton Scotney North and South, A34, Winchester, Hampshire
Taunton Deane North and South, M5 (J25-J26), Trull, Somerset
Tibshelf North and South, M1 (J28-29), Alfreton, Derbyshire
Watford Gap North and South, M1 (J16-17), Northampton
Brands - catering
Own-brands Fresh Food Café, Restbite, Hot Food Company, The Burger Company
Franchised brands Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, Pasty Presto, Chozen Noodle, Soho Coffee
Brands – other
Retail brands WH Smith, Cotton Traders, Fonebitz
Business centres Regus Express
Source: RoadChef website
Norton Canes [Motorway Services]