Happy Eater was a family restaurant chain which rivalled Little Chef. It was known for its distinctive yellow branding, animal-shaped outdoor play areas and red logo. Meals included English breakfasts and fish and chips.
Forte considered Happy Eater to be their most upmarket roadside brand they owned, with the comparatively low-rent Little Chef being the least. Childrens' badges were provided saying "I'm a Happy Eater", and in 1986 there were plans for a video game to promote the chain (this was later launched under another brand, 'Dizzy').
In 1991, the brand came to be associated with Prime Minister John Major, who was seen dining at one while on his way to a speech and reportedly visited regularly.
Happy Eater was set up in 1972 by Michael Pickard, who decided to leave the Trust Houses group when they merged with Forte in 1970.
Michael Pickard was later joined by former Trust Houses colleague Allen Jones, who had previously set up Welcome Break restaurants. Those restaurants were re-branded as Happy Eater, with the Welcome Break name retained for a future venture.
In 1980, Happy Eater and its 21 restaurants were taken over by the Imperial Group. Trusthouse Forte bought Happy Eater in 1986, at which point directors Allen Jones and Jane Pickard went on to form similar chain AJ's.
Trusthouse Forte were bought by Granada in 1995. Granada converted all the Happy Eaters to Little Chef on the basis that they make more money. However, this meant that Little Chef were now competing with themselves, which led to a mass-closure of restaurants. Ironically, this and other issues caused Little Chef to fall in to administration in 2007.
Sir Rocco Forte supposedly had a gentleman's agreement with the Whitbread Group that they would buy Happy Eater if Forte ever faced a hostile takeover, implying they wanted Happy Eater to have a long legacy. However, Forte had already started closing Happy Eaters before they were purchased, as Little Chef was more lucrative. Whitbread were interested in buying Forte but the deal fell through.
Happy Eater operated at the following locations. Note that the branch numbering was not always consecutive, or consistent. Where the restaurant became part of a signposted service area, you can tap the name for more details.
|Branch Number||Restaurant||Road (at the time)||Notes|
|048||Apex Corner||A1||Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|039||Barham||A2||Closed circa 1996 (not converted).|
|004||Betchworth||A25||Closed circa 1996 (not converted).|
|099||Bicester||A41||One of the first to become a Little Chef.|
|102||Burford||A40||Was planned to be a Little Chef.|
|065||Burgh Heath (Pickard Motor Hotel)||A217||Not converted|
|073||Burnley||M65/A671||One of the first to become a Little Chef.|
|068||Burton North||A38||Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|???||Camel Cross||A303||Closed in favour of Camel Hill Little Chef, which became a Happy Eater.|
|058||Capel St Mary||A12|
|055||Chester||A41||Closed circa 1996 (not converted).|
|???||Coombe Lane (Kingston Bypass) North||A3||One of the earliest to close (not converted).|
|???||Coombe Lane (Kingston Bypass) South||A3||One of the earliest to close (not converted).|
|061||Croxton||A45||Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|066||Elkesley||A1||Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|005||Felbridge||A22||Closed circa 1996 (not converted).|
|???||Henstridge||A30||Former Welcome Break.|
|034||Hindhead (Pickard Motor Hotel)||A3|
|010||Holmwood||A24||Former Welcome Break.|
|009||Lamberhurst||A21||Former Welcome Break.|
|???||Leicester Forest East North & South||M1||Two restaurants inside the motorway services.|
|063||Membury West & East||M4||Outside the motorway services. Converted circa 1992.|
|093||Oakmere||A556||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|067||Quarrendon||A41||Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|037||Rainton North||A1||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|038||Rainton South||A1||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|011||Rake||A3||Former Welcome Break. Closed circa 1994 (not converted).|
|100||Ross Spur||M50/A449||At the northbound motorway services.|
|108||Saltash||A38||One of the first to become a Little Chef.|
|???||Send||A3||Send Barns Lane. Possibly confused with Wisley.|
|049||Skipbridge||A59||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|082||South Cave East||A63||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|086||South Cave West||A63||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|103||Sparkford||A303||Built to replace Camel Cross.|
|071||Thirsk||A168||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|091||Todhills||A74||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|???||Tottenham Court Road||A400||Franchised restaurant.|
|080||Weston on the Green||A34|
|092||Widnes||A562||One of the first to become a Little Chef|
|026||Worthing||A27||Junction with Cote Street.|
|021||York||A64||One of the first to become a Little Chef|