In Praise of the Wheatmeal Bun: Feast of the M60

Feast of the M60 visits an old friend

Wimpy, Huddersfield
The Lesser Spotted Wimpy Bar, Huddersfield: outside the M25 motorway, Wimpy Bars are a rare commodity. There are only four in North West England with only one in Greater Manchester.

A recent conversation with a fellow ‘Bridge fan on the joys of the Wheatmeal Bun in The White House is partly to blame for my most recent visit to this place seen above. Yesterday, I saw the same fan (also a real ale and rail fanatic like myself) whilst en route to Huddersfield. I had every intention of calling into the said town’s Wimpy Bar, albeit for a Spicy Beanburger.

Somehow, his presence prompted my change of dinner. On being handed a menu, I then realised that Wimpy still did Wheatmeal Buns. Result (though the same couldn’t have been said of The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic’s 1-0 reverse against Solihull Moors the previous day)! Yours truly opted for the quarterpounder with chips. Quite nice it was too, though it seemed a little odd enjoying a burger in a brown bun.

Till the start of 1990s, Wimpy Bars were a common sight in most UK towns. Spun off from the Lyons Corner Houses, they took the name from the Popeye character Mr. J. Wellington Wimpy. By the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, they were the last name in fast food dining throughout the UK. In its heyday, they were taken over by United Biscuits in 1977 before being sold to Grand Metropolitan in 1989. Today, it is owned by South African company Famous Brands.

 

What’s more, the way a Wimpy meal is served is quintessentially English. Instead of disposable packaging – as used by its red-headed nemesis and rivals – cutlery, plates and mugs are the norm if you eat in. It is more laid back compared with its rivals and a more civilised way of enjoying a spicy beanburger. And they wait on you too, which is a good thing.

Three years before United Biscuits’ acquisition, McDonalds opened its first branch in Woolwich on the 12 October 1974. They counteracted this by launching counter service, where plates were eschewed in favour of disposable packaging. Counter service only restaurants were opened up, though the end of the 1980s and early 1990s saw these converted to Burger King outlets. Today, it is possible to ask for counter service McDonalds style or table service.

East of the M60 motorway, Wimpy had branches in Middleton (Arndale Centre), Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport and Ashton-under-Lyne. Oldham had two with its table service branch moving from High Street to a counter service branch on Market Place (which became a Burger King). Middleton’s and Stockport’s were converted to Burger King outlets, whereas Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch remained open till 1998, when its lease on Staveleigh Way elapsed. Today, Salford Shopping City, Pendleton, is home to Greater Manchester’s only Wimpy branch. A fifth branch in the North West of England was situated in the now closed Camelot Theme Park in Charnock Richard.

I had visited the Huddersfield branch once before, and my reasons for visiting include nostalgia value. I used to like the Ashton branch, which I frequented with my late Nana (opting for a coffee and toasted currant teacake offer – who could blame her?). Another – more so in Northern England and Scotland nowadays – elusiveness. It is also more to do with the fact I prefer to enjoy my burgers on a plate instead of on cardboard (though that option is also available).

The pace is gentler, music is set to a softer volume and – as I have noticed in my most convenient branch [Huddersfield] – older clientele, often families and 40 – 50 something diners. You don’t feel coerced in any way to leave the premises as quickly as possible unlike rival chains, and the seats are comfortable enough for you to savour your meal. The decor has leanings towards its 1970s pomp though a healthy dose of 21st century coffee shop chic.

Its sense of history isn’t lost on Wimpy’s present owners with red once again its most dominant colour. Thankfully, it has nixed the mainly yellow style with lowercase red sans-serif lettering in favour of reverting to its early 1970s logo. Whereas that appeals to the converted (Children of the 1980s like myself and a great many readers for example), it makes for a more upmarket look from the yellow fascia.

Not everything is stuck in the 1970s. Coffee wise, latte appears alongside cappuccino and bog standard filter coffee. Smoothies appear alongside its thick milkshakes, so 21st century families along with 30 something nostalgia freaks are equally appeased.

Needless to say, I was happy to find that such delights like the Bender Meal and International Grill still feature, along with the belt-busting Brown Derby. As for a return visit, given the choice of McDonalds on the corner of New Street, the adjacent Pizza Hut, Burger King on Kirkgate, or Wimpy, I would go for the latter. Perhaps I might get around to trying the Spicy Beanburger, followed by a Brown Derby and a chocolate milkshake.

The chips were far from greasy and it seemed a change to taste fries which lacked the obvious Instant Mash Potato type of taste symptomatic of rival chains’ efforts. As for the burger, reassuringly the same Wimpy quality I had experienced in the early 1990s (and a good thing for a Child of the ’80s like myself). As for the coffee, my bucket of latte was eminently drinkable – every bit as good as the expensive coffee chains.

Long may they continue to flourish alongside its more aggressive cutlery and crockery deficient rivals. If there’s one thing they ought to improve upon, free WiFi access may be a boon.

And the Wheatmeal Bun well and truly rocks.

Stuart Vallantine ordered an Original Quarterpounder on a Wheatmeal Bun with chips and a large Latte at their Huddersfield branch on 9, Cloth Hall Lane.

S.V., 10 December 2012.

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5 thoughts on “In Praise of the Wheatmeal Bun: Feast of the M60

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  1. And not just do I have a HUGE nostalgia for the above myself (hey – not just Hudds but many many moons ago in Ashton…yes with my own dear Granny!!) but WIMPY in southern Africa was a LIFESAVER (well – nearly) for this wee family for many years….en route to South Africa from Namibia we had a 1000 mile drive. Service stations? Ha! We would be lucky to find 3 petrol stations en route. Weeing by the side of the road was kind of bi-hourly…. But as for snacks on this hideous-but-beautiful route – our 80s minds were always delighted and refreshed by the marvellous MARIENTHAL Wimpy en route….tiny children welcomed with a balloon on stick and grownups with decent coffee and proper fry up brekkie.
    We utterly ADORE Wimpy!! But with special thanks to southern Africa … it goes strong there (and our friend owns the Namibia franchise!!) Macdonalds was/ is very much frowned upon for political reasons….
    Hugely happy memories. And yes Stuart – i still have many WIMPY badges from circa 1981 in the UK…..

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  2. And whilst I am here I also need to mention the SANITY SAVER of Maurea Mall WIMPY in Windhoek, Namibia (Southern Africa) and the Post Street Mall WIMPY in Windhoek, Namibia. Both stayed open until after 5pm and believe me…. what with the child friendly service, balloons and slightly extended opening hours…. this was an utter Godsend (and yes – South Africa WIMPY ace to – but By Gum NAMIBIA Wimpy rocks!!!)

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    1. Hi Tina,

      Seems like the Wimpy in Namibia was more equal than the average Wimpy. Something like this would go down a storm in the UK and – much to the delight of some drinkers – keep children out of J.D. Wetherspoon establishments. Amazed to see you know a friend with the Namibian franchise.

      Yes, my reasons for preferring Wimpy to McDonalds were on quasi-political grounds as well as the culture. Wimpy was, and is, often more laid back (also more autie friendly) from McDonalds’ and Burger King’s super-fast postmodern Fordist approach. If I’m dining in, I would prefer to have a plate instead of paper packaging. With takeaways, I would prefer a plate to a carton for the joyous devouring of a Steak Pudding with Chips, Peas and Gravy from my local chippy (George’s on Concord Way FTW, Dukinfield readers!).

      Somewhere in cyberspace, I have just found a Flickr user whose only work is vintage pin badges. There is a healthy dose of Wimpy badges in her collection (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fabpins/). Enjoy!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  3. Last time I actually came across a Wimpy (not sure if it would have been the same company) was when Megabowl used to be around as I know for a fact there used to be a Wimpy at Megabowl at Pilsworth Park 66 Leisure Park, not sure how long it lasted though as that Bowling Alley has been under a few name changes since

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    1. Hi Andrew,

      The Megabowl at Pilsworth Park 66 is now known as ‘Tenpin’, which seems to be the new name for Megabowl’s bowling alleys. I’ve just searched for the one you’ve mentioned, and it seems as if they’ve brought the catering in-house (or to another franchisee).

      The former Wimpy is now the Beach Road Café, which has no allegiance to any burger giant whatsoever. However, it does state that it’s proud to sell Costa Coffee.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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