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Happy Eater

Happy Eater
Locations:up to 85
Associated names:Welcome Break, AJ's, Esso
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 its slightly unwell-looking red mascot. Meals included English breakfasts and fish and chips.

Forte considered Happy Eater to be the 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 then-Prime Minister John Major, who was seen dining at one while on his way to a speech and reportedly visited regularly.

Company History

Happy Eater signpost.
The 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.

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. Happy Eater expanded by opening sites in partnership with Esso. The number of restaurants grew to 85 before the Imperial Group were acquired by Hanson Trust in 1986, which sold its hospitality chains to Trusthouse Forte. By now Allen Jones and Jane Pickard had left and went on to form a similar chain, AJ's.

With 220 Little Chef restaurants already open, the Monopoly and Mergers Commission were called in to investigate the purchase. They concluded that a merger of the two was no threat to the public interest, as it would be easy for a new firm to enter the industry. Forte continued to grow both Little Chef and its imitation Happy Eater, but Little Chef appeared to take priority.


Trusthouse Forte were bought by Granada in 1995, who described both restaurant chains as "tired". Granada believed in the power of a strong brand and economies of scale, so they decided to convert all the Happy Eaters to Little Chef.

This meant that Little Chef were now competing with themselves, which eventually led to a mass-closure of restaurants.

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. What is definitely true is that Forte were planning to quit the roadside restaurant industry, and were in advanced talks with Whitbread to sell both Happy Eater and Little Chef, which fell apart when Granada got there first.

A chain of restaurants in Mauritius now operates under the 'Happy Eater' name, with a very similar logo. They say they were founded in 1996. The rights to the Happy Eater name in the UK continue to be owned by Kout Food Group (after they took over Little Chef), despite frequent Wikipedia rumours that Happy Eater has been sold again.


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