Little Chef announced today it would be closing 67 of its 161 sites across the UK leading to the losses of up to 600 jobs.
Graham Sims, chairman of the roadside restaurant chain said sites earmarked for closure had been trading unprofitably for years due to a range of 'economic and locational factors' such as road layout changes and higher fuel costs leading to less customers passing.
The former BP retail managing director, who joined the company in October last year, said the decision had not been 'taken lightly' but was essential to be able to develop existing profitable sites across the estate.
He 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.
"Consequently, following a thorough review in which we considered all the options it is with regret that we have had to close a number of sites."
Sims said the company hoped to find alternative employment within the group for employees at the closing sites. Jobs affected are a mixture of full and part-time roles.
"We will do everything in our power to help every individual find alternative employment within the Little Chef organisation," he said. "I know this will be tough and an uncertain time for many people in our team.
"Although the decision to close the sites was not taken lightly, it was essential to complete this action in order to allow the company to focus its capital resources on developing the remaining portfolio of sites, introducing the New Concept – which has been highly successful– and targeting new sites".
In an interview with BigHospitality last November , Sims said the company was going to review each site in order to 'refresh and re-establish' the brand which he said had 'gone through the doldrums' in recent years, but had not mentioned closure.
Nineteen Little Chef sites, eight of which were already closed, were put on the market in November last year following a review of the estate. Ninety-four sites remain trading.
Sims said the company would look to expand its business by opening and introducing new sites over the coming years while pushing forward with its 'New Concept' which includes installing electric car charging points at restaurants, developing more takeaway options, changing seating arrangements and offering customers free Wi-Fi.
"By closing these sites we will be able to focus our attention on protecting over 1500 of our colleagues’ jobs and enabling our investments to be targeted on our remaining strong sites and to develop our brand and our New Concept - towards which the customer response has been very positive,” he said.