Forgotten Fast Food Joints of the Last Half Century: A Feast of the M60 Not So Perfect Ten

Rivals and pretenders to the throne to rotund beefeaters and auburn permed mascots

In most major towns, you are most likely to see a McDonalds restaurant. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there may be also be a Burger King or – rarer still – a Wimpy. Ashton-under-Lyne only has one of the three burger joints within its town centre, whereas at one point it had all three burger bars, franchised by McDonalds, Burger King and Wimpy (that was between 1995 and 1998).

Today, the only credible alternatives to the franchised outlets are locally owned cafés – something which Ashton has plenty of, most of which holding their own. Right until the end of the 1980s, there was numerous rival joints trying to unseat the American franchised chain, or Grand Metropolitan’s Popeye inspired one.

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1. Bumpers Family Restaurant, various Mainstop supermarkets across the UK prior to 1981:

In the late 1970s, British American Tobacco Industries expanded its retail portfolio with the International Stores chain among them. Another one of their subsidiaries was Mainstop Supermarkets, whose modern stores had the same creature comforts of the hypermarket, albeit in town centre locations. Reorganisation in 1981 saw some Mainstop stores being sold to Morrisons, with the remainder becoming International Stores, then Presto supermarkets.

In line with popular 1970s supermarket design, Mainstop’s stores had an instore café, only that it wasn’t an instore café in the dictionary definition. Instead they were concessions of Bumpers Family Restaurant, a burger bar chain. The Southport branch’s Bumpers was deemed “a brown and yellow plastic nightmare of a place” according to one poster on a local history forum. It became a Morrisons, though after the Bradfordian chain’s acquisition of Safeway, it became a Waitrose with the Lancashire town’s Safeway store becoming a Morrisons.

2. Big Bite burger bar, Co-op Shopping Giant, Oldham:

Emerging at around the same time as Mainstop was the Co-op’s Shopping Giant chain. A new store in Oldham was opened in May 1980 with its own ice cream stand, Handybank, petrol station and chemist as well as the instore café. Again, as with BAT Industries’ Mainstop stores, they opted for the burger bar card.

Co-op’s burger bars were known as ‘Big Bite’. The Oldham branch was next to the chemist beside the escalators. I never went in though was often curious about the place. From my scant observations, there was an abundance of 1970s brown, cream and yellow. It seemed to have had an ambience of Arndale Bus Station about it. Its logo was a knock-off version of the Wimpy one, albeit in brown.

3. Wyn’s Burger Bar, Guide Lane, Audenshaw:

Before drive-thru restaurants became part of the UK’s carchitectural [sic] fabric, Audenshaw had its very off-centre burger bar in the form of Wyn’s beside The Sun Inn pub. In an advert inside a Stalybridge Celtic programme from the 1986-87 season, its specialities included curried beef as well as burgers and hot dogs. By the end of the 1980s, Wyn’s closed and lay empty for a number of years before becoming offices. Today, its present occupants are Benchmark, a logistics firm.

4. Pizzaland, various locations throughout the UK:

Prior to today’s Pizza Express and Pizza Hut hegemony, Pizzaland expanded throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were owned by United Biscuits, and opened their first outlet outside London, in Deansgate, Manchester. By November 1996, Whitbread took over the chain converting many of them to Pizza Huts.

Pizzaland shops were branded with a casual sans serif font and a green fascia. The late 1980s saw a more Latin American styled red and green logo.

5. Casey Jones Burger Bars, various British Rail mainline stations:

Whilst Wimpy was doing quite nicely in most town centre, long before McDonalds began to make a nationwide impact, British Rail succumbed to the fast food fad in some mainline railway stations. 1980 saw the emergence of the Casey Jones chain. Part of British Rail’s British Transport Hotels subsidiary, it became part of the spun-off Travellers’ Fare in 1983, fattened up and griddled for possible privatisation. By the late 1980s, it became part of Compass Catering.

In 1994, the Casey Jones burger bars were converted to Burger King franchises. Neither Casey Jones nor Travellers’ Fare exist, with the resultant privatisations leading to Ritazza and Upper Crust being commonplace on most mainline stations.

6. Benjys Sandwich Bars, various parts of the UK in bricks and mortar or mobile form:

Benjys could have, and should have been big, offering low priced sandwiches to cost-conscious workers. As well as franchising bricks and mortar outlets, it offered a mobile option known as the Vanchise. The latter idea was that Benjy’s could come to your workplace. They began a family company formed in 1989 and expanded in London and South East. Manchester’s branch was in Piccadilly Plaza by Mosley Street Metrolink station.

By 2006, they went into administration before collapsing the following year. However, the company’s low priced sandwich policy would be resurrected by the Sayers chain of bakeries in the North West by 2010. Some Sayers branches were converted to the Pound Bakery format, offering cheap sandwiches and pastry products. In Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockport, local chain Sandwich Pound is also faithful to Benjys’ original vision.

7. Doctor Beak/Wimpy Chicken, motorway services throughout the UK:

Whereas KFC and strong local chains more or less stitched up the fried chicken market, Wimpy was a late entrant to that field. In 1999, it launched Doctor Beak on two Roadchef motorway services in Bristol and Reading. In 2003, they expanded further and relaunched the chain as Wimpy Chicken. In later years, they became standard Wimpy outlets.

8. Captain’s Table Fish Restaurants, selected UK motorway services:

Before the 1980s, it was possible to eat anything at a motorway services other than burgers or greasy breakfasts. Among the early motorway service operators was frozen food company Ross. They had four motorway services at Leicester Forest on the M1, Hartshead Moor on the M62, Membury on the M4, and Michaelwood on the M5. Their original aim was partly as a shop window for their frozen food products.

Their Captain’s Table restaurants were popular with motorists with the one on Leicester Forest being awarded five stars in an AA survey. By the early 1980s, they were sold to Welcome Break.

9. The Golden Egg restaurants, throughout the UK:

When Lyons refurbished their Corner Houses into ‘exciting’ dining concepts, they tried a variety of formats. Only two had some staying power beyond the 1950s. One was Wimpy, whereas the other one was The Golden Egg. Unlike its Popeye inspired sibling, The Golden Egg restaurants offered inexpensive breakfasts, in the same way J.D. Wetherspoon houses do today though without the beer. Reginald and Philip Kaye formed the chain which was part of many a major town till the early 1980s. Their grandsons would form Prezzos.

10. King John’s Restaurant, King’s Hall Shopping Centre, Oldham:

For our final entry we return to Oldham. Opposite the new Co-op Shopping Giant in 1980 (complete with Big Bite), its older building became King’s Hall Shopping Centre. Like its new fangled sibling, that too sold ice cream and hamburgers.

The top floor of King’s Hall Shopping Centre was King John’s Restaurant, a Wimpy style cafeteria for people who enjoyed climbing stairs. In the early 1980s, the hall’s range of market style shopping added to the café’s popularity. McDonalds didn’t get a look in to Oldham till 1983 when the former Yates’ Wine Lodge on High Street became one. Today, the whole of King’s Hall is now Shoemarket, leaving King John’s restaurant a memory among many Oldhamers brought up in the 1980s.

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Any More Suggestions?

Were you old enough to remember other fast food outlets which have succumbed to the current order? Did you ever try the burgers at Big Bite in Oldham’s Co-op Shopping Giant, or at Casey Jones’ on Manchester Piccadilly railway station? Or does anyone even remember Bumpers’ burger bar at Mainstop? Feel free to comment and reminisce about the days when fast food and hamburgers started to make an impact.

Mine’s a beanburger on Staveleigh Way before I love you and leave you…

S.V., 16 July 2012.

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13 thoughts on “Forgotten Fast Food Joints of the Last Half Century: A Feast of the M60 Not So Perfect Ten

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  1. Really enjoyed that…am fascinated by fast food chains and supermarkets. About 9 years ago my friend from Ilkley told me how the McDonald’s at the top of Briggate in Leeds was a Wendy’s in the 90s (?) for a period, then I read up on it and it seems they experimented in the UK in about 6 locations! Wow! Also I find it very interesting how McDonald’s seemed to quietly drop their McCafe concept about 5 years ago whereas in Germany it is still very popular – I visited Hamburg last year and most McDonald’s there had one!

    I noticed a couple of months ago that Burger King in Leicester Square has a cafe section now! And the large KFC near it has shut down, which I find surprising. Funny how BK+KFC shut+open branches seemingly with abandon, frequently, I guess the franchising system maybe isn’t so strict as McD’s. I remember the KFC at the corner of Portland and Oxford St in Manchester, funny when it became Philpott’s and the one in Picc Station of course which only recently became The Hourglass bar. I hated that one as pigeons would fly over and often join me at my table threatening my clean dining area!

    I loved McDonald’s cola (before Coca-Cola!), the old style packaging and 80s-look restaurants. About 2 years ago I had the idea of writing a big article/blog about the remaining 80s-interiored branches like Salford Crescent, Ardwick and Stockport Merseyway – much more exciting, inspiring than the new “prison bar” aesthetic which I detest! Don’t know what you think of it and do you know of any branches that do still have such interiors? Was gutted when suddenly those 3 did not have them any more! Twisty spinny chairs, Barbie-pink interiors (at Ardwick), fake plants in sand, so many great features!

    I was also a very proud member of the BK Kids’ Club in the 90s, I’m from Blackburn and our branch near the Ice Arena opened in the mid-90s (’95 I guess but not sure!). It was extremely exciting, I used to go every week with my Dad sometimes we’d drive thru for the novelty. I loved getting newsletters in the post and coupons for free food items! And wearing cardboard King crowns!

    Dave x

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    1. Hi David,

      I had only heard of Wendy’s through American cultural references and the Wikipedia concerning their brief sojourn in the UK.

      As for BK+KFC+Wimpy axis, the counter service fast food outlets became Burger King franchises (source: Wimpy’s website) in 1989. The table service Wimpy bars remained as Wimpy bars, though reduced in number. For example, the Wimpy in Oldham later became a Burger King, though there was at one time another outlet further down High Street next to Barclays Bank. They were owned by United Biscuits from 1977 to 1990, with the table service Wimpy bars sold to Grand Metropolitan (who also had interests in Wilson’s Brewery at one point).

      Therefore, you are probably right to some extent about the franchises. An Altrinchamian franchisee had the Ashton branch along with a few others in Greater Manchester, and they closed as a result of the franchisee going into liquidation.

      I too remember the early 1980s McDonalds outlets, with the faux marble frontage, bright tiled interiors and mainly plastic seats. On the very rare occasions I have ever been to a McDonalds, I remember the one on Market Street (which is now a Barclays Bank), where a pigeon plopped on my head during my only visit in April 1988. Furthermore, I’ve done the drive-thru one on Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield twice and gave a wide berth to the one on the northern part of the Arndale Centre (more or less where Manchester’s second Waterstones branch is today).

      I never bothered about these clubs, such as the BK Club, or the joys of buying a Happy Meal. I was happier with the local cafés. The nearest I ever got to swallowing the King’s Hamburger was entering a colouring competition for Wimpy in 1988.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. Thanks for all your comments! More interesting reading! I’m surprised you’ve not been in many McDonald’s, but I love your knowledge of many varied chains and patronage to them. Great seeing pic of Manchester’s Pizzaland, I never came to one/saw one here but always went in Durham whilst visiting my sister at uni in the mid-90s. They did a takeaway kids’ meal for £1.99 iirc which included a pizza (delicious), drink and garlic bread. I often got that as was such a fussy eater would not eat at fish and chips cafes with my parents!

        I am thrilled to finally know which outlet on Market St was McDonald’s as I remember visiting it in 2000 and trying my 1st ever McFlurry there – they had just launched. Knew it was in the Barclays area but wasn’t sure exactly where! I am still very surprised McD’s haven’t opened another branch in the city centre as I always think 2 proper branches isn’t enough (Arndale food court shuts early + is mixed with other outlets and the Victoria station/arena one drives me mad as it’s always FREEZING!!! No heating and so open. And the St. Ann’s Square one shuts early and shuts its downstairs area very early. Also amazed a new KFC hasn’t opened now there’s only one in the Arndale!

        Also thrilled by the Virgin records picture, am I right in thinking that became one of the 2/3 HMVs we had? Under bridge opposite big Boots? I remember the Virgin in the Middle of Market St in what is now Adidas, sad when that closed and it took years and years for the new one to open in the Arndale in what is now Superdry! And that one was originally destined for the unit that’s now Urban Outfitters.

        D

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      2. Hi David,

        That must have been a nice change from the usual burger based offerings of most children’s meals. As for McDonalds outlets in Manchester, you’ve forgotten the one on the corner of Oxford Street which had the 1980s corporate livery till about 2010. Perhaps the rents on Market Street are too high for them to commit to a replacement unit. The former UCP Restaurant and Schuh store would be good, if it wasn’t so close to the food court.

        Manchester’s last Virgin Megastore in the Arndale Centre was Zavvi (for about two minutes) before becoming HMV. There was also a second branch on King Street, later branded as a V-Shop. Our Price occupied the present Superdrug unit, formerly a Lyons Corner House which – I think – became the city’s first Wimpy bar. The Virgin unit photographed in 1984 has been split into two units, one of which a travel agent.

        At present, there are actually more branches of Subway than there are McDonalds. Ditto the above with Greggs, Starbucks Coffee and Tesco Expresses, compared with the city’s solitary KFC. Even so, it has one more Taco Bell than in Ashton-under-Lyne (whose KFC is on Ashton Moss).

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

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    1. Hi Alex,

      I’ve never seen your Pizzaland picture before, though I have seen countless other shots of Manchester’s Pizzaland by means of my personal cache of pre-deregulation and early deregulation bus pictures. Interestingly, the branch of Wimpy seen in the second image became a Carphone Warehouse, the same fate true of Ashton-under-Lyne’s Burger King in The Arcades.

      I’ve visited the Wimpy in Huddersfield a few times, owing to their tea or coffee with a toasted teacake offer (and the ability to try a Bender Meal). Their website – reassuringly – and quite rightly – looks like something from the 1980s, had HTML5 and CSS3 been around then. Sadly, they don’t seem to do Wheatmeal Buns, though the International Grill and the Brown Derby are alive and well!

      The link is http://www.wimpy.uk.com.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. A very interesting read, there!

    I can add a few more for you. Croydon, that great marketing laboratory in South London, was home to PDQ, a mid-late ’80s spinoff of Pizzaland. PDQ’s USP was selling pizza by the slice, a hitherto unheard-of concept in the UK before that; you wanted pizza, you bought a whole pizza. It was actually quite successful, particularly amongst lunching office workers.

    Starburger and Jenny’s spring to mind too. These were sub-Wimpy chains, usually occupying the same locale as a Wimpy that had lost its franchise. The menu was largely the same, albeit vastly inferior. In Ireland, you had Mr Burger – burger and chips, 99p. Vastly, stomach-spasmingly awful.

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    1. Some worthwhile contributions, Ant.

      It is hard to imagine how selling pizza by the slice was quite exotic at one point. Today, the likes of Greggs sell it by the slice, though I doubt as if they may compare well with PDQs, Pizza Hut or Pizza Express.

      I first got wind of ‘Starburger’ on Grange Hill, where a few scenes were shot in a Starburger in the 1987 series of Phil Redmond’s school drama. On first impression I thought ‘it was a knock-off Wimpy’, mocked up for the BBC’s purpose to avoid product placement. How right I was when your observations confirmed that. As for Jenny’s, I only knew of its existence through Wikipedia and YouTube (the latter by means of London Weekend and Thames Television ad break clips). As for Mr. Burger, that doesn’t ring any bells to me.

      For your nostalgic value and the benefit of fellow readers, here are a couple of pictures, one of a Starburger in Chelmsford and a Jenny’s Burgers in the Elephant and Castle precinct:

      http://www.localdatasearch.com/chelmsford/town_centre/take_away_food_shops/starburger-12010329

      http://www.london-se1.co.uk/restaurants/info/190/jennys-burgers

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’ve never heard of them, probably because they might not have reached my neck of the woods. I have also found very little about them on the internet apart from a reference on a Crystal Palace Fans’ forum. According to the said forum, Croydon’s was opposite its Marks and Spencer store and closed down by the environmental health department.

      Free soft drink refills would be a good selling point today, especially with WiFi being a popular feature of most fast food joints.

      Good shout!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  3. Can anyone help with remembering a sandwich shop on the corner of Deansgate and Peter St in the late 70’s? I worked over the road in Overseas House on Quay St and we used it regularly. It had the word American in its name – I keep thinking it was the American Rye but I don’t think that’s quite right (they used to sell a variety of rye breads) and it was decked out in the colours and style of the American flag. We used to get toasted tea cakes, doughnuts and lots of tasty stuff there, although is don’t think it lasted long. This has been bugging me for ages and I can’t find a reference to it anywhere!

    Like

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