THE iconic glow of Little Chef restaurants along Dorset roads are now a distant memory.

Inspired by American diners, the chain was started in 1958 to build new roadside restaurants alongside newly built British motorways and A-roads.

Not only were they a place to grab a meal for tired travellers, but they were often based near petrol stations and hotels.

Diners could pull in to tuck into an Olympic Breakfast, a big baguette or sample some Jubilee Pancakes.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane, its website and food menu are still online to browse.

At its peak, the chain had 439 restaurants but the brand began to decline in the early 2000s.

Bournemouth Echo: The breakfast at Little ChefThe breakfast at Little Chef

By 2005, half of its locations were closed.

The chain went into administration in 2007 and TV chef Heston Blumenthal attempted to revive the struggling brand by changing its menu.

Unprofitable and struggling restaurants were slowly closed down over the years.

Euro Garages purchased the business, but were later unable to use the Little Chef branding and more restaurants were either closed, rebranded or were taken on by other food chains.

Here's what happened to every Little Chef in and around Dorset since they all closed.


Bournemouth Echo: The former Little Chef in Shaftesbury. Picture: GoogleThe former Little Chef in Shaftesbury. Picture: Google

Based on the A350, this branch opened its doors for the first time in 1987.

Despite the roadside restaurant chain being rescued from closure by specialist turnaround group RCapital, this branch shut its doors in 2007.

It was placed on the market soon after the building closed down and later became a KFC.


Bournemouth Echo: This Little Chef is now a KFC. Picture: GoogleThis Little Chef is now a KFC. Picture: Google

Opened in the 1970s, this branch was based on the A35 in Somerford.

The restaurant enjoyed its links to large towns such as Christchurch and Bournemouth and served many hungry commuters and holidaymakers over the years.

The branch stopped trading by 2005 as it was deemed unprofitable and was unable to compete with neighbouring budget restaurants.

It also didn’t help that the Little Chef could only be directly accessed by southbound traffic, which made other more accessible restaurants a better option.

The site was demolished and made way for a KFC.

St Leonards

Bournemouth Echo: Little Chef, St Leonards. Picture: GoogleLittle Chef, St Leonards. Picture: Google

Just over the Dorset border was a branch alongside the A31 in St Leonards near Ringwood.

Forte first got their hands on the building between 1968 and 1972 and it was the third Little Chef restaurant to open on the A31.

It was a well chosen site considering that there were no other Little Chefs on this section of the A31 to be found nearby, therefore it helped to increase their presence in the area.

Travelodge was granted permission to open at the site, but Little Chef owners came up with the idea of merging both lodge and restaurant into the same building. This was done by incorporating the Little Chef into the bottom corner of the Travelodge.

In 2002, the Little Chef received the "New Choices" format, created by Compass to offer menus from their other brands - Caffe Ritazza, Harry Ramsdens and Upper Crust - alongside the Little Chef offering.

In December 2017, Ringwood closed following the takeover by Euro Garages. It later re-opened as a Greggs in January 2018 and was soon joined by a Subway shortly after.

The roadside restaurant was one of the 67 of its 161 sites that closed its doors in January 2012.

A meeting was held at which staff were informed that their jobs would be going when it closed.

The sites earmarked for closure have been trading unprofitably for a number of years due to “a variety of economic and locational factors”, the company said at the time.

Winterbourne Abbas

Bournemouth Echo: The former Little Chef at Winterbourne Abbas, opposite the A35. Picture: GoogleThe former Little Chef at Winterbourne Abbas, opposite the A35. Picture: Google

Based on the A35 in Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester, it was the longest serving branches in Dorset.

Owner Forte took over an existing roadside site in order to save time, money and construction costs.

Despite operating as a standalone site in a relatively rural area, Winterbourne Abbas proved to be a busy site.

The Little Chef was subject to multiple refits over the many decades, including a major refurbishment, with a similar design to the Wonderfully British and Heston Blumenthal refurbishments which occurred between 2008 and 2011.

However, trouble came in 2017 when forecourt giant, EG Group, purchased the Little Chef chain.

This transaction would result in the closure of all Little Chef restaurants across the country, due to EG's rights to the Little Chef brand expiring in January 2018.

Winterbourne Abbas was the first to close in February 2017, due to the lease nearing its expiration date and EG refusing to renew it.

The site is currently the home of a car dealership called Dorchester Collection.

Winterbourne Zelston, Bere Regis

Bournemouth Echo: The former Little Chef was a popular branch on the A31The former Little Chef was a popular branch on the A31

Little Chef was based on the A31 and was a welcome sight for many hungry travellers for more than 20 years.

The Red Post service area was originally home to a petrol filling station and a Happy Eater but when then owners Forte saw that Little Chef was the more lucrative brand, the restaurant was transformed into a Little Chef.

The branch made the headlines in March 2011 after armed robbers targeted the Little Chef and tied two staff members up during the raid.

Little Chef was joined by a Subway outlet in August 2014, but in the following years saw the demise of the Little Chef brand.

In 2017, Euro Garages took over the Little Chef chain and throughout the year, a majority of the restaurants were converted into brands such as Starbucks and Subway.

By January 2018, only half of the Little Chef restaurants remaining were converted, leaving around 35 to 40 Little Chefs still trading.

Bournemouth Echo: Police outside the raided Little Chef. Picture: Dorset EchoPolice outside the raided Little Chef. Picture: Dorset Echo

Euro Garages was unable to use the Little Chef name and instead created the EG Diner brand, and Bere Regis was one of the first of these to open.

But by Summer 2018, the EG Diner ceased trading and Subway remained open.

The BP filling station later closed its doors in late 2018, followed by the closure of the Subway in March 2019, leaving a now-abandoned eyesore on the side of the A31.

It’s currently the home of a gourmet burger van and the forecourt is used by a food to go company.

Euro Garages has been granted permission to demolish the entire site and build a larger forecourt in place of the former one and Little Chef, and build a Starbucks Drive Thru on the former car park.