History of Roadchef
The old design of many of their services.
Roadchef was set up in 1973 as a joint venture between Lindley Catering Investments and Galleon World Travel, and was known as "Galleon RoadChef" for quite a while and often abbreviated to just "Galleon".
See also: Roadchef Logo History
Roadchef's first service area was Killington Lake, where only small facilities were required. Roadchef's style was to use one large restaurant instead of the two or three which other operators had been using.
After this Roadchef grew quickly, picking up contracts for Taunton Deane, Sandbach, Bothwell/Hamilton and Rownhams. The latter three all had very low traffic levels, and caused them problems, especially with the high rent they had offered to buy themselves into the market.
To stand out from their rivals, in 1976 Roadchef increased the price of their fuel but offered 50p off food or 20p off mail with each sale.
Prior Report and Aspirations
In the Prior Report of 1978, Roadchef complained they were rookie operators leaving them heavily in debt compared to their established rivals. The Department for Transport agreed to change some regulations to help businesses like them, but had considered allowing them to fall on their own sword.
Weirdly, Roadchef's complaint was that there were too many services, despite their plans to build more. They were particularly concerned about new hypermarkets opening; they wanted their services to double up as shopping centres and entertainment venues, citing WHSmith as an example of someone they wanted to run their shops.
In particular, limits on fuel prices would have ended Roadchef's voucher system.
1980s and 1990s
After a management buyout in 1983, new managing director Patrick Gee wanted Roadchef to be a company owned by his employees, but died before this vision could be fulfilled.
Under Ingram Hill, Roadchef started to grow rapidly again, and became engaged in several takeovers including Harthill. They rebuilt this and several other services, creating a similar style used across the board, which from the outside looked slightly like a farm. This included building three amenity buildings on a-roads, all of which can be identified by their tainted brown windows.
In 1998 they acquired three services from Blue Boar (including the oldest in the country, Watford Gap) and Take-a-Break's only, Strensham, in a move which cost £80m overall. Although this didn't push them too far forward on the league table, it did take a big name from the industry.
Their restaurant at the time was called Orchards, and was praised for its attractive décor, with its trellises and plants. The services were also commended for their soft lighting and quiet atmosphere.
As Roadchef started to roll out the RoadChef Lodge to its services, it started taking an interest in following Forte and Granada into providing budget hotels away from the motorway.
Roadchef received planning permission for motels by the NEC and Wembley. Their service station hotels were later branded Travel Inn.
In 1998, claiming he couldn't offer the financial backing his rivals had managing director Ingram Hill sold Roadchef to Nikko Europe but kept the hotel chain. Unable to set up another service station operator, he opened his hotels under the name Ingram Hotel.
Ingram Hill was praised for his contribution to growing Roadchef, and for negotiating an extremely good sale price which, it was reported, would result in bonuses for staff. In 2011 it was reported that money had been diverted away from the staff who ought to have received it, and they were paid back.
Roadchef set about rebuilding several more of their oldest services, now using a largely-glass structure. This was followed by the construction of the state-of-the-art Norton Canes, using one large, airy building with fountains outside.
In 2008 Roadchef had a series of difficult financial problems and sold Winchester services. They also shook off unprofitable Harthill.
Like other operators, they introduced several new brands to their services such as WHSmith and another attempt at McDonald's, the former replacing reStore. They also replaced Wimpy with their own branded The Burger Company and they experimented with Pasty Presto and Soho Coffee Co.
In 2003 Roadchef started sponsoring several haulage firms in order to generate publicity.
Roadchef offer a free BT WiFi service for all customers, something which proved popular and was later followed up on by other operators.
In 2009, Roadchef celebrated the 50th anniversary of their Watford Gap services.
In October 2010, they confirmed plans regenerate the company's entire estate until 2015. The first two years saw £12 million spent on redeveloping the catering facilities at ten key sites. At the same time, Roadchef also signed a 20 year agreement with McDonald's following the successful trial at Strensham.
They also said confirmed all their RestBite outlets were going to be changed to Hot Food Co., following the successful trials at Strensham, Northampton and Watford Gap. This never happened as they have introduced a new brand called Fresh Food Café which replaced the Hot Food Co. outlets.
Finally, Roadchef also confirmed that all of their Costa outlets were going to be moved to larger units or be upgraded. In February 2013, Roadchef confirmed that they will be upgrading all of their RestBite restaurants but at the moment, with Fresh Food Cafe generally being the favoured replacement. The refurbished sites do without dark units, and instead offer one large food court.
After some years of reports that they would be sold by their then parent company Delek, they were acquired by Antin Infrastructure Partners (Antin IP) on 30 September 2014.
In 2014 Roadchef acquired a new facility at Sutton Scotney, and began a programme of refurbishment.