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What happened to Suffolk’s Little Chef restaurants? We take a look in Days Gone By

PUBLISHED: 18:00 22 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 23 August 2020

Jon Stone cooking up an Olympic Breakfast at the Little Chef at Barton Mills where Prince Harry stopped in 2007 Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

Jon Stone cooking up an Olympic Breakfast at the Little Chef at Barton Mills where Prince Harry stopped in 2007 Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

Were you a fan of roadside chain Little Chef? You could once tuck into a tempting fry-up at restaurants around Suffolk and Essex bearing the famous sign.

The staff who served Prince Harry at Little Chef in 2007, Vonie Falco and Jean Flack 

Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANTThe staff who served Prince Harry at Little Chef in 2007, Vonie Falco and Jean Flack Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

Did you ever stop in for one of the massive breakfasts, including sausages, bacon, eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes, baked beans, and more?

Prince Harry in 2006, a year before his visit to Little Chef in Suffolk Picture : JOHN STILLWELL / PA / WPA ROTAPrince Harry in 2006, a year before his visit to Little Chef in Suffolk Picture : JOHN STILLWELL / PA / WPA ROTA

If so, you were in good company. In 2007 a cafe at Barton Mills had a royal visitor, Prince Harry, who ordered the “huge” Olympic Breakfast.

An Olympic Breakfast - could you clear your plate, as Prince Harry is said to have done? Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANTAn Olympic Breakfast - could you clear your plate, as Prince Harry is said to have done? Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

The prince, then 22, paid his visit while he was training at the Stanta battleground, near Thetford, in 2007.

The former Little Chef on the A14 by the Orwell Bridge at Nacton was turned into a training space by Shell UK Picture: SIMON PARKER/ARCHANTThe former Little Chef on the A14 by the Orwell Bridge at Nacton was turned into a training space by Shell UK Picture: SIMON PARKER/ARCHANT

He was accompanied by a bodyguard and two fellow-soldiers - and staff said he ate everything on his plate before departing.

Chef Jon Stone at the Little Chef at Barton Mills where Prince Harry stopped for an Olympic Breakfast. 

 Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANTChef Jon Stone at the Little Chef at Barton Mills where Prince Harry stopped for an Olympic Breakfast. Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

Chef Jon Stone, who served up the meal for a royal, said: “I did not know until afterwards. When I found out I was pretty chuffed - I was really happy about it.”

The staff at the Little Chef at Barton Mills who were pleased to serve Prince Harry in 2007, from left, Jean Flack, Dave Sim, Jon Stone, Tina Harrison and Vonie Falco at the front. Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANTThe staff at the Little Chef at Barton Mills who were pleased to serve Prince Harry in 2007, from left, Jean Flack, Dave Sim, Jon Stone, Tina Harrison and Vonie Falco at the front. Picture: WENDY TURNER/ARCHANT

As well as north and south Barton Mills restaurants, over the years Little Chef also had branches at locations including Beacon Hill near Ipswich, Martlesham, Nacton, Capel St Mary (there were actually three different Little Chefs here over the years!), Colchester, Newmarket, Darsham/Saxmundham and Haughley, near Stowmarket.

The former Little Chef at Haughley - it was proposed in 2014 it should become a church Picture: PHIL MORLEY/ARCHANTThe former Little Chef at Haughley - it was proposed in 2014 it should become a church Picture: PHIL MORLEY/ARCHANT

MORE: Do you remember Littlewoods’ famous 99p breakfasts?

The chain, inspired by American diners, expanded rapidly in the 1970s and took over its rival Happy Eater - which had another memorable road sign - in the 1980s. At its peak, it had more than 400 restaurants.

The Little Chef at Beacon Hill Services in 2002 Picture: JAMIE NIBLOCK/ARCHANTThe Little Chef at Beacon Hill Services in 2002 Picture: JAMIE NIBLOCK/ARCHANT

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As well as its giant breakfasts, menu favourites included fish and chips, gammon steak with a fried egg, the meat-packed mega mixed grill and the very popular “fluffy American pancakes” with a wide choice of toppings.

However, by the 2000s its menu appeared outdated and it struggled against newer competitors,

Top chef Heston Blumenthal was brought in to reinvent the menu in 2008, adding delicacies such as braised ox cheeks and mussels in white wine sauce, but his dishes were only rolled out to a few locations and dropped a few years later.

MORE: Which was your local? Memories of Ipswich pubs in the 1970s

Gradually, many branches closed down, with the very last Little Chefs bidding farewell in 2018.

Some became independent restaurants, like Zaynab Indian Cuisine in Capel St Mary and Pancake and Waffle Shack at Barton Mills.

Others were replaced by the likes of Burger King, Greggs and McDonald’s, while more unusual uses included converting one in Nacton into a Shell training academy.

A few years it was even proposed that the former Little Chef at Haughley should be turned into a church, although this has not gone ahead.

What are your memories of Little Chef and Happy Eater? Could you finish their breakfasts? Email judy.rimmer@archant.co.uk or write to Judy Rimmer, Newsroom, 120 Princes Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 1RS.

To order copies of photos, visit our photo sales website or call Diane Townsend on 01603 772449.


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