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Happy Eater

Happy Eater
Associated names:Welcome Break, AJ's
Successors:Little Chef
Happy Eater restaurant.
The Apex Corner Happy Eater.

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.

Company History[edit]

Happy Eater signpost.
A drawing of a Happy Eater signpost.

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.


Abandoned restaurant building.
An abandoned Happy Eater.

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
078 Andover North A303
079 Andover South A303
048 Apex Corner A1 Closed circa 1994 (not converted).
098 Attleborough A11
062 Baldock A1
039 Barham A2 Closed circa 1996 (not converted).
031 Basildon A127
070 Belbroughton A491
077 Bere Regis A31
004 Betchworth A25 Closed circa 1996 (not converted).
099 Bicester A41 One of the first to become a Little Chef.
065 Birstall A62
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).
046 Burton South A38
 ??? Camel Cross A303 Closed in favour of Camel Hill Little Chef, which became a Happy Eater.
069 Cannock A5
058 Capel St Mary A12
002 Charing A20
055 Chester A41 Closed circa 1996 (not converted).
017 Chipping Norton A44
030 Codford A36
040 Colsterworth North A1
101 Colsterworth South A1
076 Colwyn Bay A55
 ??? 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).
059 Darley Dale A6
081 Daventry A45
025 Detling A249
097 Doncaster A1
045 East Dereham A47
066 Elkesley A1 Closed circa 1994 (not converted).
087 Feering A12
005 Felbridge A22 Closed circa 1996 (not converted).
 ??? Freckenham A11
096 Hailsham A22
003 Handcross A23
 ??? Henstridge A30 Former Welcome Break.
034 Hindhead (Pickard Motor Hotel) A3
006 Hogs Back A31
064 Holbech A17
010 Holmwood A24 Former Welcome Break.
012 Hooley A23
027 Horsham A24
083 Ilminster A303
015 Kennford North A38
016 Kennford South A38
009 Lamberhurst A21 Former Welcome Break.
 ??? Leicester Forest East North & South M1 Two restaurants inside the motorway services.
075 Manchester A34
024 Markham Moor A1
089 Martlesham A12
063 Membury West & East M4 Outside the motorway services. Converted circa 1992.
104 Newark A1/A17/A46
041 Newmarket North A14
042 Newmarket South A14
094 Northop Hall A55
036 Nottingham A52
093 Oakmere A556 One of the first to become a Little Chef
 ??? Ollerton A614
019 Peterborough A1
085 Picket Post A31
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.
044 Royston A505
108 Saltash A38 One of the first to become a Little Chef.
047 Sawtry North A1
051 Sawtry South A1
056 Saxmundham A12
029 Selby Fork A1
 ??? 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.
072 St Leonards A31
074 Stockbury A249
043 Swindon A419
023 Tempsford A1
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.
022 Ware A10
084 Western Avenue A40
080 Weston on the Green A34
054 Whitchurch A49
 ??? Whitemare Pool A1
018 Whitstable A299
092 Widnes A562 One of the first to become a Little Chef
057 Wisbech A47
052 Wisley North A3
053 Wisley South A3
026 Worthing A27 Junction with Cote Street.
021 York A64 One of the first to become a Little Chef