Channel 4 are currently running a great fly-on-the-wall documentary on Heston Blumenthal’s attempt to rescue the once iconic Little Chef roadside restaurant chain. The ‘Big Chef Takes On Little Chef’ programme appears to give an insight into the challenge that Heston faces in reinventing this once great roadside diner. The show captures everything, some things that must have PRs for Little Chef running for cover.
Founded in 1958 Little Chef grew to become the name for food on the road. Many people have memories of eating a fry-up there. For some it was a great break from a long road trip. Yet with little money being invested in updating the look and menus throughout the 90s Little Chef restaurants ended in administration in January 2007 before being rescued by private equity group RCapital.
The new owners bought the chain and the brand for £10 million in the belief that nostalgia alone would net them a profit. Yet as you drive past Little Chef restaurants today they still look confused and tired.
Enter three Michelin star holder Heston Blumenthal. Viewed by some, especially Little Chef MD Ian Pegler, as a celebrity chef.
Watching the programmes you just have to wonder if this is a PR stunt by Little Chef to net them some much needed exposure. If it was then they should feel like they’ve thrown the brand out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Reality TV can be a great way of securing plenty of exposure, on many occasions great exposure. Yet, Reality TV thrives on conflict and unscripted drama, areas that PRs should keep clear of. Under no circumstance should they put anybody from their company or client in a situation that would make viewers squirm, especially if there is a celebrity in the programme who is likely to receive sympathy from the viewers.
Anyhow, tonight we have the final episode of the programme. Will Heston get his way? Not likely. Will Little Chef boss Ian Pegler continue talking about ‘blue-sky’ thinking and magic-menus? Most probably. Will we think that Little Chef is a place to stop on the road? Well, that’s up to you!