Jobs to go as Little Chef closes restaurants

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SHEFFIELD-based roadside restaurant chain Little Chef is to close 67 of its 161 sites in a move expected to lead to the loss of between 500 and 600 jobs.

The sites earmarked for closure have been trading unprofitably for a number of years due to “a variety of economic and locational factors”, the company said, but remaining sites are all trading profitably.

The 500 to 600 jobs lost will be a mixture of full and part-time roles at sites across the country, and will leave a workforce of around 1,500.

Little Chef was saved by turnaround group RCapital when it fell into administration in 2007. RCapital bought the majority of the business and assets, saving 193 of the 235 restaurants and more than 3,500 jobs.

In 2008 several branches were revamped by Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal for a Channel 4 show.

The firm said the decision to close a number of its sites was “essential” to allow the company to focus on developing its remaining sites, introducing the New Concept – revamping restaurants including the “Heston-treatment” – and targeting new sites.

It said the company’s strategic plan was to expand by opening and introducing new sites and added: “Overall, Little Chef continues to trade strongly.”

Little Chef chairman Graham Sims said: “When we acquired Little Chef four years ago we inherited a number of sites with leases that were uncompetitive. Despite very hard work from some very committed colleagues we have been unable to lift the performances of these sites to a level where they are viable.”

He said the New Concept had proved a success, with 13 branches revamped so far.

“We have taken a lot of advice from Heston Blumenthal and my intent here and my objective in doing this strategic review is to enable us to invest a significant amount of money in upgrading the rest of the 94 stores.

“The new ones are performing very well. It gives us the opportunity not just of offering a sit-down restaurant, but also takeaway, and also bringing in other retail brands.”

Retro-themed gift retailer Past Times is to close nearly half of its stores, triggering hundreds of job losses.

The private equity-owned group shut 47 of its 98 stores as it battles for survival following dire trading. It is understood the move led to some 400 redundancies – nearly half of its UK workforce.