AJ's was a family restaurant founded in 1987 by former Happy Eater directors Allen Jones and Jane Pickard, who gave their initials to the name.
The chain operated family restaurants on A-roads in a similar vein to Little Chef and Happy Eater. Its circular logo was usually placed on a tall, diamond sign. A second logo showed a rabbit carrying a plate.
Two of their earliest branches were purchased from Roadchef, who had wanted to focus on motorways. Most others were new-builds, attached to petrol stations.
Seeing the success that Forte were having with the Little Chef brand, Granada were keen to do something similar and in 1992 they struck a deal with AJ's to open AJ's restaurants at seven of their A-road services, one Granada roadside hotel and as an extra brand at their Leigh Delamere motorway services. It was often promoted with Granada Hotel on a plate below it.
These lasted until about 1996, by which time Granada had acquired Forte and turned the AJ's restaurants at its sites to Little Chefs instead.
AJ's had hoped to have 50 restaurants, but the most they ever had was about 24. They blamed the recession in the 1990s for their target not being met. They were also critical of Forte's network coverage, saying "we are living off the leavings from a rich man's plate" and "we cannot compete".
In the mid 1990s the company stated to shrink. As well as losing the Granada sites, they sold four sites to McDonald's in 1994. The remaining restaurants were then sold to The Celebrated Group who intended to convert all the restaurants to Starvin Marvin's, but they only changed the two at Chichester.
In about 1998, Granada looked to expand Little Chef by purchasing all of Celebrated's restaurants. However, as many of them were already quite close to existing Little Chefs, the new recruits gradually closed. The one at Barton Mills lasted the longest, with its Little Chef closing in 2012.
Full details: Map of AJ's restaurants
The following restaurants were operated by AJ's:
- Barton Mills (A11)
- Buckingham (A422)
- Chichester (west and east) (A27)
- Colchester (A12)
- Colsterworth (Granada) (A1)
- Dordon (A5)
- Downham Market (A10)
- Ecton (west and east) (A45)
- Glatton (A1)
- Greetwell (A158)
- Guyhirn (A47)
- Handcross (A23)
- Hull (A63)
- Kettering (A43)
- Leigh Delamere (Granada) (M4)
- Leicester (Granada) (M1/A50)
- Monmouth (Granada west and east) (A40)
- Musselburgh (Granada) (A1)
- Newark (A1/A46)
- Northampton (A508)
- Saltash (Granada) (A38)
- Stoke Rochford (west and east) (A1)
- Stoke on Trent (Granada Hotel) (A34/A500)
- Stretham (A10)
- Tewkesbury (A435/A438)
- Warminster (Granada) (A36)
- Wyboston (A1)