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What Was The First American Style Diner In The UK?

In the 1950s, after the end of post-war rationing, a wave of American exports changed the culinary landscape forever in a way that is still fondly remembered and shapes the landscape of Stirling restaurants to this day.

In 1954, the first American-style burger bar, the Wimpy Bar in Coventry Street, London, was established, 20 years before Mcdonald's came to the UK, 22 years before Burger King and 11 years before the first UK KFC.

Just four years later, during the peak of the American diner in the United States, the first Little Chef was opened on Oxford Road in Reading, modelled on the principle of uncompromising, unpretentious yet delicious food served in boxcar-styled modular buildings at the side of the road.

It quickly developed a following, aided by the rise of the motorway and within ten years there were over 25 Little Chef locations, a number that increased to over 174 less than a decade later.

Its appeal was the same as the roadside diners that inspired it; no matter where you are, whichever road you’re on, a diner is a place where you can find delicious food regardless of your particular taste.

Little Chef continued to expand aggressively after acquiring its only major roadside competitor, Happy Eater, in 1986, as well as other smaller rivals such as AJ’s Family Restaurants in 1998.

However, by the 2000s, all was not well at the UK’s first diner, as decades of low investment into the considerable number of establishments had caused them to feel like a relic of a bygone era.

Not helping this was that not only were actual American fast-food restaurants trading in the UK but even by the early 2000s there had been a revival of diner-style restaurants which served much better food.

With Little Chef losing millions of pounds each year, they turned to idiosyncratic chef Heston Blumenthal to revamp their menu, which whilst initially a success ultimately damaged the brand even more in the long run, and by 2018 the Little Chef brand disappeared entirely.

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