Happy Eater

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Happy Eater
IndustryRoadside restaurant chain
FounderSir Michael Pickard
FateMerged into Little Chef
OwnerKout Food Group K.S.C.C. (trademarks)

Happy Eater was a chain of restaurants in England and Wales. Founded by Sir Michael Pickard in 1973, the chain wanted to compete against the British roadside restaurant category killer at the time, Little Chef. The chain was acquired by Little Chef's parent company, Trusthouse Forte, in 1986. In 1996, Granada purchased Trusthouse Forte, which led to a streamlining programme converting all Happy Eater sites to the Little Chef fascia by 1997.


Happy Eater restaurant (circa 1985) including children's play equipment.
An abandoned Happy Eater, near Warminster, Wiltshire, with outdoor playground equipment visible, pictured in 2007. (Both building and elephant have since been refurbished and reopened as an Indian restaurant.)[1][2]

In 1973, a former managing director of the hotel group Trusthouse Forte, Michael Pickard, founded a family-orientated roadside restaurant, aimed at competing with the established pre-eminent chain in the industry, Little Chef. The company's first major move was converting Welcome Break restaurants into Happy Eater locations in the 1970s. The restaurants offered similar fare to Little Chef, such as offering English breakfasts[3] and fish and chips. A distinctive difference to customers between the two chains was that Happy Eater provided outdoor animal-themed playground equipment for children. Outlets were mostly located in the Midlands and the South East of England, with many locations situated along the A1 road corridor.

In 1980, the brand further expanded when its 21 locations were sold to the Imperial Group. Not long after this, a partnership with Esso garages was formed, which saw a rapid increase of new roadside locations throughout the 1980s.[4] Imperial Group would expand the chain to 75 restaurants, before selling the chain in 1986 to Trusthouse Forte, who owned the Little Chef chain. Trusthouse Forte continued to expand the Happy Eater chain alongside Little Chef.[5] The chain notably received media attention in 1991 when Prime Minister John Major stopped at a Happy Eater outlet for a fried breakfast on his way to a Young Conservatives conference.[6]


In 1996, Granada purchased Forte, as it had become known, and began to streamline their business by converting the Happy Eater locations to the Little Chef brand. By 1997, all Happy Eater restaurants were either converted or closed, helping Little Chef reach its peak of 439 restaurants.[7] This would prove challenging for Little Chef, as some Happy Eater locations were originally built to compete with Little Chef, meaning now the restaurants were now directly competing with themselves. This ultimately meant Little Chef would close many locations throughout the 2000s as a result of falling profits.[8]


The 1986 film, Mona Lisa, features a scene filmed in a Happy Eater.[9] The 1989 video game Fast Food was originally intended as a promotional tool for Happy Eater. The 2007 film Rise of the Footsoldier uses a location depicting the former Basildon branch of Happy Eater, set in the late 1980s.[10] The 2020 Amazon series Truth Seekers features an abandoned Happy Eater restaurant in its fifth episode.[11] The Curse (2022) recreates a Happy Eater for a scene in its last episode.

The defunct Happy Eater brand is currently owned by Kuwaiti firm Kout Food Group, who were the last organisation to license out the Little Chef name until January 2018. The group closed its UK offices in 2020, meaning the Happy Eater trademark is now registered in Kuwait.[12]

In November 2022, Loungers announced they were launching Brightside to fill the gap in the market created by the demise of Little Chef and Happy Eater. In February 2023, their first location opened in a former Happy Eater building near Exeter.[13][14]


  1. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps.
  2. ^ "Contact- Toran Indian Cuisine". Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  3. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (31 December 1995). "Is a great English fry-up safe on the motorway?". The Independent. Archived from the original on 9 May 2022.
  4. ^ "Happy Eater - motorway services". Motorway Services Online. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  5. ^ Smith, Andrew F. (2008). Hamburger: A Global History. Reaktion Books. p. 55. ISBN 9781861896315.
  6. ^ Steafel, Eleanor (26 February 2019). "'A Nando's wing roulette with no sides?' The picture that proves MPs should never eat in public". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  7. ^ "Happy Eater - motorway services". Motorway Services Online. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  8. ^ Cannon, Finley (16 October 2022). "Every former Little Chef in Bedfordshire and what they are now". bedfordshirelive. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  9. ^ "Mona Lisa: going back to the locations of the British neo-noir, 35 years later". BFI. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  10. ^ Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) - IMDb, retrieved 4 November 2022
  11. ^ "Truth Seekers ending explained - What happened?". Digital Spy. 30 October 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  12. ^ "Search for a trade mark - Intellectual Property Office". trademarks.ipo.gov.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  13. ^ morningadvertiser.co.uk. "New Loungers concept to reinvigorate roadside dining". morningadvertiser.co.uk. Retrieved 11 December 2022.
  14. ^ kate (11 February 2023). "Brightside Opens its Doors in Exeter". Loungers. Retrieved 24 January 2024.

External links[edit]

Media related to Happy Eater at Wikimedia Commons