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.