So its goodbye to Little Chef and hello Starbucks as Ely catches up with changing face of roadside catering

24th October 2017

It’s been a familiar part of the Ely landscape for many years Little Chef has finally disappeared.

The Little Chef restaurant within the BP complex on the A10/A142 junction has become a Starbucks coffee shop.

The restaurant, off Witchford Road, has recently operated alongside a drive through Burger King, which itself closed for a period before re-opening.

Starbucks has put together a package of proposed changes to the layout and design that have been approved by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Little Chef, Ely, advertised itself as “a great place to stop off when visiting the area – we’re also close to the Norfolk Broads and Sandringham” but times and fortunes for the roadside diner have changed.

Little Chef started with Sam Alper, a Londoner who popularised caravanning in the UK after the Second World War.

In the mid-1950s Alper visited America to market his Sprite caravan alongside catering boss Peter Merchant who was seeking new ideas for his business.

It was the era when Americans first took to the roads en masse and what most intrigued both Sam and Peter, were the diner caravans that they saw popping up at the side of some of America’s most popular highways.

Upon their return to England, Sam and Peter opened an 11-seat diner caravan in Reading, strategically located at what might be described as “the gateway to the West Country”. He called it “Little Chef” after the American diner that had first inspired him and hey presto, Little Chef brand was born!

The company’s rapid growth meant they began to attract the attention of big businesses and by 1970 Little Chef joined forces with the Trust House Forte hotel and catering empire.

With this substantial backing, Little Chef chain grew even faster and between 1970 to 1976, 130 new sites had opened, totalling 174 restaurants spread between Aberdeen and Plymouth.

In 2007 ownership changed hands to RCapital and a partnership with Heston Blumenthal was formed to give Little Chef a make over.

It was later owned by a Kuwait investment company before being sold earlier this year to Blackburn based Euro Garages.

The roadside retailer operates convenience outlets for big-name food and drink brands including 67 Starbucks drive-to and drive-thru restaurants, 145 Subway sub-stations and 99 Gregg’s bakeries.