Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The sad tale of the Little Chef

Little Chef sad

Although the sight of a Little Chef restaurant at the side of a Scottish, or even north of England for that matter, road has been a rare and almost non-existent thing for many years now, news that the once popular place to have a break in my travels may soon disappear altogether was still deeply disappointing.

To make it worse, this demise is reported to be due to junk food pedlars like McDonalds, and grossly overpriced coffee touts such as Costa Coffee. Places I would no less set foot in or spend even a penny of my hard-earned lest it keep then in business for a second longer.

When I was on the road in the past, I was lucky enough to be shown many of the truck stops where you could get a decent fry-up and a mug of tea just about any time of the day or night if you knew where to look just off the beaten track. When they weren’t handy, or I had to ferry customers or colleagues who didn’t fancy rubbing shoulders with truck drivers, then the Little Chef provided a handy and convenient escape, where the food wasn’t likely to kill you, and you weren’t supporting some American slave-labour camp owner that catered for mindless brainwashed sheep, and started that process of indoctrination by grooming kids left in front of televisions to keep them quiet, and where they were enticed with free toys and offers to pester their parents with. The ads may be banned now, but it seems there’s still a way around that, and the kiddy bribes still flow freely.

I won’t argue that Little Chef food was gourmet, or that it wasn’t standardised, but it was always fresh and clean, affordable, and dependable, regardless of where you were in the country. Despite the apparent standardisation, it was also possible to see much of it being cooked in front of you, not dropping off the end of a conveyor line, in a bag.

When heading south, it also made motorway services bearable. Apart from not charging the inflated prices of such places, its food was still prepared to order, unlike the majority of food outlets alongside, where the food was cooked in bulk, then shovelled into trays and left out in a self-service area to be tossed around by others, and dried out on hotplates and under hot lamps for hours if it was quiet.

Nor will I argue that when it went downhill, the quality didn’t suffer, but it was still better than zombie-burger central, even at its worst in the Little Chefs on my routes.

It was even possible to take advantage of them, and eat and drink at a discount. We had one just along the road from our offices, and a change of management style had us commit to an early morning meeting to plan the day before business started. To avoid distractions, we met in the Little Chef, and it would be fair to say that we drank whatever profit they might have made from out daily visits, as we made full use of their “Never-ending drinks” offer before we left.

It’s sad to read that we are now in a time where the fast-food brands have the power to buy a business like Little Chef for no other reason than to wipe the brand off the map. All they want is the real estate and the remaining locations, the successful spots left after the company went into administration in 2007, and its numbers fell from 234 go just 83, and staff from 4,000 to 1,100. Painful perhaps, but the changes did make it profitable.

If the company name does disappear, it will mark the end of more than 50 years of trading in the UK, which began with an 11-seat restaurant in Reading in 1958.

And ultimately left only 2 Little Chefs in Scotland.

Via Little Chef brand in danger, owners warn

Little Chef

Things didn’t get any better after I slightly “adjusted” an old graphic of the Little Chef logo, when I discovered it had been subject to a revamp as well:

Little Chef rebrand

Little Chef rebrand

Found on Top 22 Logo Rebranding of 2011 | Designfreebies this suggests the change took place prior to 2011.

To be fair, while many rebrands and new logos leave one pondering the question “WHY?”, this one is can’t be classed as the usual sort of dog’s dinner which replaces a recognisable logo with a meaningless blob that many such exercises produce. Although we don’t know if the company did this in-house, or was charged tens of thousands of £££ for this little change by a design consultancy, as seems to be standard for such things in recent years, but more usually when public money is being handed out.

Still,without carrying something to explain his appearance, I can’t help thinking  the new “Chef” looks a little odd, compared to the original.

Update

Little Chef was back in the news three months after I noted the above, which wrote the above shortly after the company was put up for sale in April and the owners had warned about its future.

According to the BBC, the Little Chef restaurant chain (said to have some 1,100 employees) has been sold to a Kuwaiti-owned business (the UK arm of Kout Food Group) for about £15 million.

While that may be good news, I’m left wondering, given my observation that (when I was using their halts regularly) they were a welcome escape from those peddling zombie-burgers, and the Little Chef’s demise was at least in part due to the presence of such dens…

I feat for what will become of what is left of Little Chef, as Kout food Group already runs more than 40 Burger King and KFC outlets in the UK (as well as the Maison Blanc brand).

It’s hard to picture Kout not absorbing the Little Chef sites, and cloning more Burger Kings and churning out their standardised factory fodder.

On the other hand, it would be rather nice if this quote meant what it actually said:

Kout “has exciting plans to revitalise the Little Chef brand,” said Fadwa al-Homaizi, the chairwoman of Kout’s UK arm.

“Little Chef will benefit from a process of brand renewal in keeping with current trends, supported by traditional British values,” she added.

Via Little Chef in £15m Kuwaiti sale

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May 27, 2013 - Posted by | Civilian | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. if Heston Blumenthal couldn’t pull the little chef out of the doldrums no one could,,I agree its due to these French motorway chains buying all of our motorway stops, infiltrating them with plastic burger bars(Im talking about the burgers there, not the furniture), rip off coffee shops, and diabolical motorway cafe food at inflated prices,,I too spent my earlier years on the road, enjoying the camaraderie of the transport cafe, and little chefs too.Now I can think of one little chef outside edinburgh. And a fantastic transport cafe on the A30/303. whats happened to our lives, to get rid of heritage sites like these?

    Like

    Comment by mike hassett | May 27, 2013


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