What happened to Suffolk’s Little Chef restaurants? We take a look in Days Gone By
PUBLISHED: 18:00 22 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 23 August 2020
Were you a fan of roadside chain Little Chef? You could once tuck into a tempting fry-up at restaurants around Suffolk and Essex bearing the famous sign.
Did you ever stop in for one of the massive breakfasts, including sausages, bacon, eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes, baked beans, and more?
If so, you were in good company. In 2007 a cafe at Barton Mills had a royal visitor, Prince Harry, who ordered the “huge” Olympic Breakfast.
The prince, then 22, paid his visit while he was training at the Stanta battleground, near Thetford, in 2007.
He was accompanied by a bodyguard and two fellow-soldiers - and staff said he ate everything on his plate before departing.
Chef Jon Stone, who served up the meal for a royal, said: “I did not know until afterwards. When I found out I was pretty chuffed - I was really happy about it.”
As well as north and south Barton Mills restaurants, over the years Little Chef also had branches at locations including Beacon Hill near Ipswich, Martlesham, Nacton, Capel St Mary (there were actually three different Little Chefs here over the years!), Colchester, Newmarket, Darsham/Saxmundham and Haughley, near Stowmarket.
MORE: Do you remember Littlewoods’ famous 99p breakfasts?
The chain, inspired by American diners, expanded rapidly in the 1970s and took over its rival Happy Eater - which had another memorable road sign - in the 1980s. At its peak, it had more than 400 restaurants.
You may also want to watch:
As well as its giant breakfasts, menu favourites included fish and chips, gammon steak with a fried egg, the meat-packed mega mixed grill and the very popular “fluffy American pancakes” with a wide choice of toppings.
However, by the 2000s its menu appeared outdated and it struggled against newer competitors,
Top chef Heston Blumenthal was brought in to reinvent the menu in 2008, adding delicacies such as braised ox cheeks and mussels in white wine sauce, but his dishes were only rolled out to a few locations and dropped a few years later.
MORE: Which was your local? Memories of Ipswich pubs in the 1970s
Gradually, many branches closed down, with the very last Little Chefs bidding farewell in 2018.
Some became independent restaurants, like Zaynab Indian Cuisine in Capel St Mary and Pancake and Waffle Shack at Barton Mills.
Others were replaced by the likes of Burger King, Greggs and McDonald’s, while more unusual uses included converting one in Nacton into a Shell training academy.
A few years it was even proposed that the former Little Chef at Haughley should be turned into a church, although this has not gone ahead.
What are your memories of Little Chef and Happy Eater? Could you finish their breakfasts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Judy Rimmer, Newsroom, 120 Princes Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 1RS.
To order copies of photos, visit our photo sales website or call Diane Townsend on 01603 772449.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box above for details.