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Wimpy is the brand name of a multinational chain of fast food restaurants that is currently headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa.

History

File:Wimpy in Huddersfield.jpg

A Wimpy restaurant in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

File:Ryde Union Street Wimpy Restaurant.JPG

A Wimpy restaurant in Ryde, Isle of Wight with the previous logo.

Origins in the United States

Originally called Wimpy Grills, the Wimpy brand was created in 1934 by Edward Gold when he opened his first location in Bloomington, Indiana.[1][2] The name was inspired by the character of J. Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons created by E. C. Segar. Although the Wimpy name is most closely identified with the city of Chicago, Gold did not open his first Chicago area location until 2 years later in 1936 and after opening units in five other Midwestern cities.[3] By 1947, the Chicago Tribune reported that the chain had 26 units and expected to sell 8 million hamburgers annually in the Chicago area.[4]

According to a 1978 Chicago Tribune article, Gold's company Wimpy Grills Inc. of Chicago had a maximum of 25 locations in the United States at its height but only seven locations remained at the time of his death in 1977.[5] According to the Chicago Tribune, when Gold died in 1978, the chain vanished within the United States because no one had purchased the rights and trademark to the Wimpy name from Gold's estate.[5]

Wimpy's International

In 1954, Gold sold a licence to J. Lyons and Co to use the Wimpy name in the United Kingdom.[6][7] Subsequently, in 1957, Wimpy Grills Inc. of Chicago formed a joint company with Lyons called Wimpy's International Inc, based in Chicago, to operate Wimpy Grills in the rest of the world.[8] The joint company eventually grew to 1,500 locations and Gold later sold his share to Lyons prior to his death.[5] After obtaining full control of the international licensing outside of the United States, Lyons and its successors handled global franchising through their UK-based subsidiary Wimpy International Ltd. until Wimpy UK became a subsidiary of South Africa-based Famous Brands in 2007.

United Kingdom

Lyons obtained a licence to use the Wimpy brand in the United Kingdom from Edward Gold's Chicago-based Wimpy Grills, Inc.[6][7] and, in 1954, the first "Wimpy Bar" Lyons was established at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London.[9][10] Originally the bar was a special fast-food section within the more traditional Corner House restaurants, but the success soon led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger-based meals.

In 1955 newspaper column, Art Buchwald, syndicated writer for the Washington Post, wrote about the recent opening of a "Wimpy's Hamburger Parlor" on Coventry Street and about the influence of American culture on the British.[10] "Food served at the table within ten minutes of ordering and with atomic-age efficiency. No cutlery needed or given. Drinks served in a bottle with a straw. Condiments in prepackaged single serving packets." In addition to familiar Wimpy burgers and Whippsy milkshakes, the British franchise initially had served ham or sardine rolls called Torpedoes and cold frankfurter with pickled cucumber sandwiches called Freddies.[10]

By 1970 the business had expanded to over 1,000 restaurants in 23 countries.[9]

In 1977, the business was acquired by United Biscuits.[11] By the late 1980s, Wimpy was beginning to lose ground to McDonald’s, which had opened its first UK restaurant in 1974, and so the new management of Wimpy began to streamline the business by converting some of the traditional table service restaurants to counter service.

When United Biscuit decided to divest its restaurant division in 1989, it sold the business to Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo). At the time of the sale, there were 381 locations in the UK. Grand Metropolitan had acquired Burger King the previous year and it began to convert the "counter service" restaurants to the Burger King brand since it had a greater global brand recognition.[12]

In 1990, the remaining 216 "table service" restaurants were purchased by a management buy-out backed by 3i.[13] These were locations that were considered less desirable by Grand Metropolitan. At the time of the buyout, there were also 140 franchised locations outside of the UK.

A second management buy-out occurred in 2002, backed by the Bank of Scotland.[14] At the time of the 2002 sale, there were approximately 300 locations in the UK and Ireland.

Although Wimpy outlets have decreased in numbers in the UK, they are still found in many cities, and at seafront/seasonal locations, such as Clacton-on-Sea, Clarence Pier in Southsea, Porthcawl Beach, Brean Leisure Park in Somerset.[15] By the beginning of the 21st century, most Wimpys were found in less desirable low rent locations that primarily cater to pensioners and others on a fixed income and not in their former high street locations of their earlier days.[16] Another big change from earlier times was that most locations were now franchises and not company-owned operations.

On 27 February 2007, Famous Brands, which owns the Wimpy franchise in South Africa, announced that it had acquired Wimpy UK.[17][18] Having acquired the brand, Famous Brands has re-branded Wimpy in the UK, to bring it in line with Wimpy South Africa. The "new" logo is actually one used by Wimpy UK from the 1960s until the 1980s. In 2009, Famous Brands began to upgrade its 170 locations in the UK to resemble US-style diners.[19] By May 2016, only 86 restaurants remain in the UK, down from over 500 during its height in the 1970s.[17]

South Africa

Script error: No such module "Multiple image". Wimpy International opened its first South African location in Durban in 1967.[20] The South African restaurants were sold to Bakers SA Ltd in the late 1970s, which in 1987 sold the South African chain to Pleasure Foods, then known as Juicy Lucy SA.[21] Famous Brands Limited, then known as the Steers Holdings Limited, acquired Wimpy when it bought Pleasure Foods in 2003.[22]

In February 2007, Famous Brands acquired the UK-based Wimpy to become the parent company for the chain and become in charge in collecting the franchise fees from the other franchises.[17]

By 2011, Famous Brands had 509 Wimpy restaurants in South Africa, making it the largest franchise in the Wimpy franchise system.[23]

European expansion

France

In May 1961, French businessman Jacques Borel opened his first Wimpy restaurant in Paris after obtaining an exclusive franchise to operate Wimpy restaurants in France.[24][25] His restaurant was the first hamburger restaurant in France and had predated the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant by a decade. By the end of that year, he was able to open three more locations within Paris. By 1966, he began to expand outside the capital, starting with Lille.[26] Within a short time, Borel had 20 locations, 15 in Paris and five in the rest of the country.[24] Although successful, Borel was forced to close the chain in 1969 due to a disagreement he had with Lyons, the British parent company.[27]

Ireland

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In the 2000s, petrol station chain operator Petrogas took on the master franchise for Ireland,[28] and had operated a large number of sites until 2010.[29] Most have been replaced by "Grill'n'Fill" own-branded areas, selling virtually identical products, or Burger King, for which Petrogas had obtained franchise.

Petrogas terminated their master franchise agreement with Wimpy International in 2010.[29]

Oceania

Australia

The Wimpy licence in Australia was held by Happysnaks Pty Ltd, owned by restaurateur and entrepreneur Oliver Shaul.[30][31] The first Wimpy bar opened in Sydney in November 1964, owned and operated directly by Happysnaks. Subsequent Wimpy bars operated as franchises. By 1971 there were 70 Wimpy bars around Australia, the most successful being in Hindley Street, Adelaide.[32] Unable to compete with McDonald's, the Wimpy brand was withdrawn in 1975 and most Wimpy bars became independent fast food outlets.[32]

New Zealand

Wimpy had branches in New Zealand including Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Paraparaumu, Wanganui, Palmerston North and Taupo. These were all rebranded in 2002. One store remained in Rotorua trading as Wimpy, although it was not part of the franchise chain. The last Wimpy in New Zealand was put up for sale in 2008.[33]

Asia

India

Wimpy was one of the first fast-food restaurant chains to open in India's free market economy. With a run of initial success, Wimpy was often touted as the first icon of 'Westernization' in India. A few of the restaurants which were still in business were located in Punjab until 2002.[34]

Israel

Wimpy entered the Israeli market in the 1960s and dominated for a time the hamburger restaurant market.[35][36] Before its final failure and pullout in the 1980s, Wimpy was joined in an emerging market for hamburger restaurants by Burgeranch (since 1972) and MacDavid (since 1978). Wimpy was infamous in Israel for poor flavor and even sanitation and hygiene, however, it did expose Israelis to hamburger restaurants.[35][36][37]

Mr. Wimpy

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File:Mr. Wimpy Coverart.png

Mr. Wimpy computer game

During the 1980s, advertising for the Wimpy chain featured a cartoon character called Mr. Wimpy. He was almost entirely hidden under a large hat, and only a nose and a smile were visible. His physical appearance was a visual pun, as his costume was the red dress uniform of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, playing on the beef-oriented nature of the chain's menu. In certain branches, a member of staff would dress up in a Mr. Wimpy costume for pre-arranged children's parties. Although the Wimpy chain's name was originally inspired by the Wimpy cartoon character in Popeye, the chain's own Mr. Wimpy bore no resemblance to Popeye's Wimpy.

Mr. Wimpy appeared in an official computer game by Ocean Software, released in 1984 on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and other formats.

Mr. Wimpy merchandise was also available as part of meal promotions. Customers bought certain meals or a combination of meals to qualify, then chose their product. Merchandise included soft toys and puppets (in various sizes), stationery, jigsaws and books.

See also

  • Wimpy Operation

References

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External links

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