Telephone:0207 490 6700
Fax:0207 253 5822
Little Chef is a chain of roadside restaurants located primarily on A-roads in England Scotland and Wales that is currently owned by the Kuwaiti-owned Kout Food Group.
It was founded as an 11-seater diner caravan in Reading in 1958 by Sam Alper, who was inspired by a US diner caravan he saw in Leedy, Oklahoma, called ‘Little Chef’. The concept was developed through the Merchant Group (which was acquired by Trusthouses Group in 1961 and became contract caterer Gardner Merchant in 1968).
Little Chef had 44 sites in 1970 when it became part of the Trusthouse Forte (THF) empire (a merger of Trusthouses Group and Forte Holdings). THF began opening budget hotels next to Little Chefs from 1976 called Little Chef Lodges but the name is subsequently replaced by Travelodge, which makes its UK debut in 1985, by the early 1990s.
Under Forte, Little Chef expanded onto the motorway circuit (a presence that ends in 2009), introduces a handful of coffee shops and a takeaway concept called Little Chef Express. In 1986, it became a sister brand to its key rival Happy Eater (which it eventually absorbed) along with the Welcome Break motorway service areas.
Forte had almost 430 Little Chefs and 127 Travelodges in early 1996 when it lost a hostile £3.87b takeover battle with Granada Group.
Granada sold Welcome Break in 1997 (where the adjacent Little Chefs became Red Hen restaurants) and started a long-lasting partnership with Burger King on Little Chef sites. The chain reached its peak size of 439 outlets in 1999, including 100 co-sited Burger Kings.
Little Chef and Travelodge passed into the hands of Compass Group in July 2000 following Compass’s merger/demerger deal with Granada. Compass created the Little Chef Choices format by adding its own brands of Caffe Ritazza, Caffe Ritazza, Upper Crust, Wiseguys Pizza and Harry Ramsden’s brands to the food offer.
Compass sold its 368 Little Chefs and 220 Travelodges for £712m in December 2002 to venture capital firm Permira, remaining a franchisee for Little Chef sites on its Moto MSAs until 2009.
Permira stripped out the add-on brands (except for Burger King) and broke the link with Travelodge by selling the 235-strong Little Chef chain and brand name in October 2005 for £52m to the Peoples Restaurant Group (PRG).
PRG was an investment vehicle set up by the founders of the Out of Town restaurant group which ambitiously bid in the £1b auction of Compass’s SSP and Moto businesses two months later but soon ran into cash flow problems in its efforts to revitalise Little Chef. Swingeing price cuts, ill health and high rents on 65 sites it had sold and leased back to fund the roll-out of its new Coffee Tempo grab-and-go concept were blamed for a £3m annual loss and its collapse into administration in January 2007.
Venture capital group RCapital came to the rescue, agreeing to buy 196 of the 234 Little Chefs for £10m. The chain was further reduced in early 2012 when RCapital put the company through a pre-pack administration to offload toxic leases, closing 66 of the 161 remaining sites.
Rcapital famously revived the food offer in a link up with three-Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal – a makeover broadcast on a Channel 4 documentary in early 2009. Despite early sales boosts, entry into the Good Food Guide and plans to roll out the menu across the estate, lack of investment dimmed the appeal of the Blumenthal menu which was dropped from the 10 restaurants serving it in 2013.
RCapital also launched the Good to Go deli concept in 2011 and revived the Little Chef Express takeaway format (first launched in 1995) at Coffee Tempo sites in 2012.
Since acquiring 81 of the remaining 83 Little Chef restaurants in August 2013 for £15m, Kout (a UK Burger King and KFC operator) has revived the Burger King link at 15 sites and introduced the Subway sandwich brand.
The branded offer includes 26 Burger Kings (including five Burger King-only outlets) and a small but growing number of Subway franchises
Address:55 East Road, 3rd Floor