If I posed the following question to Mrs Mumper ‘where do you fancy going for a nice slap up dinner’ and then gave her the choices of A. The Ritz, B. A Wimpy or C. The Ivy, I’d get a very fast reply of B!
We simply grew up in their establishments; they were our fast food of choice as young teenagers. With our high streets now heavily populated with every fast food restaurant and street food outlet you can think of, I’d still wager a good number of the UK population of a certain vintage, could be easily persuaded to settle down for a bit of nosebag from a Wimpy. Mrs Mumper’s only prerequisite would be that the establishment of choice, would have to serve a Brown Derby to finish off any meal. I truly believe if you asked her what would her last ever meal on earth be, she’d say a Brown Derby. She is simply besotted with that warm doughnut topped off with ice cream, chocolate sauce and a healthy sprinkling of chopped nuts.
Us in the Deep South, once had a multitude of Wimpy’s on our doorsteps, with Walworth Road and Brixton, being the two most frequently visited locations. I was also over in the West End from a very young age and around Berwick Street market fairly regularly, and I have a vague memory of there being two Wimpy’s down there at the same time? I’m sure a Sohoite will let me know if I’ve dreamt that as soon as this Blog appears on-line.
I distinctly remember the boys from the market always being in there, hogging the shop phone and placing their horse and dog bets. The wall by that phone was covered with various telephone numbers. A work of art that was and if claimed by Bansky, would sell for millions.
I would also get into the one in Brighton on my frequent visits down there reliving Quadrophenia far too many times in my head, in the days when Mod completely ruled my swede.
Sadly, in the last few years, quite a few Wimpy Bars (and I’ll always call them that) have closed up and gone for good. But, I’m pleased to report there is a healthy following of those that remain. I often see mention of a visit or two on social media and before you know it, there is a long thread of comments on the merits of the bender in a bun, the all day breakfast, and occasionally if flush, the international grill.
At the last count in 2019, there were 67 remaining restaurants in the UK. The nearest to us in SE5 are the ones in Streatham, which does a very fair burger and has been in the same family (thank you Gary Horwell) for many years, and in the ‘Blue’ near to Southwark Park, which certainly has its fans and admirers.
So where did it all begin I hear you ask? Well, Bloomington, Indiana in America is the answer. Opened in 1934 and known as ‘Wimpy Grills’ its proprietor, one Edward Gold, named it after J. Wellington Wimpy, the character in the Popeye cartoons who loved his hamburgers. Growth was rapid for Mr Gold and by 1947, there were 26 Grills with eight million hamburgers a year crossing the counters in Chicago alone.
‘Lyons Corner House’ picked up the licence to trade as the ‘Wimpy Bar’ in the UK in 1954 and this was the first time the teenagers of that time got to taste a real deal burger, even if they came with table service and a knife and fork. The first one operated within the ‘Corner House’ on Coventry Street, London W1, but such was the demand for its burgers, milkshakes and the other fast food on offer, which included frankfurters, that several stand alone Bars opened soon after and they went from strength to strength for a few years.
With the McDonalds chain arriving on our shores from 1974 however, the 500 or so Wimpy Bars then operating in the UK, began to lose their dominance of the market, though it had still retained a decent number of 380 locations in 1989. Another rival, Burger King, then arrived, with many moving into Wimpy locations that were on the slide, pushing our favourite even further into decline.
Then a rebrand in 2007 brought the famous logo into line with its international cousins. And quite international it was too with at one stage, restaurants operating all over, including South Africa, Kuwait, France, Ireland, Holland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, India and Israel. The company no longer operates in many of these countries now however, as the rise of McDonalds simply won the war for the burger buck. The chain also vanished from its homeland in the USA, when no one picked up the trademark there when founder Edward Gold died in 1977.
At its height there were as many as 1,5000 locations worldwide and now, well, only a few remain.
But I sense a resurgence coming and it’s obvious that those that remain are loved by the likes of Mrs Mumper and trust me, she aint ready to give up her Brown Derby just yet!
The Mumper of SE5
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