Saturday, September 2, 2017
Someone asked me several months ago if there were still Wimpy burger restaurants in the United Kingdom. The answer is yes, but not a lot of them. Here's one I came across in Upminster last weekend -- the first I can recall seeing in a long, long time.
Apparently Wimpy, which in 1970 had more than 1,000 outlets in 23 countries, is down to about 80 restaurants in the UK -- from more than 500 at its peak. None of them are in central London, which is why I never see them. They tend to circle the city in more suburban locations, and they dot the landscape elsewhere in the country.
I have to confess, I still haven't eaten in one.
According to Wikipedia, Wimpy restaurants were in fact named for the Wimpy character in Popeye, way back in 1930s Chicago. Apparently the man who launched Wimpy in the United States eventually granted a license to another guy in the UK, leading to Wimpy's establishment here in 1954. (The Wimpy web site elides those earlier American roots, for some reason.)
Wimpy grew into the UK's principal burger chain before gradually being eclipsed in the '70s by McDonald's and Burger King. (In fact, many Wimpy restaurants actually became Burger Kings.) In the interim it spread to South Africa, and is now owned and franchised by a South African corporation.
A writer named Ashley Clark, in Vice, lamented the demise of Wimpy in an informative 2014 article.
"There are obviously infinitely worse things to be getting upset about than the decreasing influence of a fast food chain, but Wimpy’s broader UK predicament is nevertheless a little saddening," Clark wrote. "Its downturn is due to a combination of vigorous and ubiquitous competition, a terrible economic climate, a lust for instant gratification and the brand’s enduring lack of willingness to really assert itself in the public eye."
I almost never eat fast food, but I'm thinking one of these days I should be adventurous and give Wimpy a try. Apparently they serve a mean spicy bean burger. Our closest branch appears to be in Wembley, which is a bit of a schlep, but if I make it out that way I'll let you know.