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Burger Joints Of The World, Wimpy Burgers

3 May 2023

Growing up in the North East, Wimpys was THE burger place. As a kid growing up in the early 80’s McDonalds and Burger King hadn’t reached the North East at that time, and you wanted a burger, you went to Wimpy.

Named after the character of J.Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons, the chain was founded in Bloomington Indiana by Edward Gold in 1934.

By 1947 the chain had grown to 26 outlets spread across the midwest, with the Chicago tribune estimating the group was expecting to sell some 8 million burgers annually in the Chicago area.


International Expansion

Wimpy was a bit of an outlier in American burger chains. At its peak it was estimated to have 26 units in its homeland. But across the rest of the world it peaked at 1500 outlets.

It’s first foreign venture came in 1954 when Gold sold a licence to J. Lyons and Co. to open stores across the UK. In 1957 a joint venture was formed with Lyons to market Wimpy across the rest of the globe. This lasted until 2007 when Wimpy UK became a subsidiary of the South African group Famous Brands International. They took over the worldwide franchising arrangements directly from their base in South Africa.

The first UK Wimpy was in Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street London. The Wimpy was so successful that it soon led to the establishment of stand alone Wimpys serving only a range of burger meals. They differed to the later chains such as McDonalds, in that they were more like a typical diner with table service rather than serving across the counter.

Lyons Corner House
Lyons Corner House

One peculiarity of the chain, was that in the 1970’s entry was refused to unaccompanied woman after midnight, based on the assumption that they could be prostitutes.

1978 saw the debut of Mr Wimpy, the promotional character in his beefeater outfit.

Mr Wimpy
Mr Wimpy

McDonalds And Into A Decline

By the end of the 80’s McDonalds had gained a firm toehold in the UK, and the chain was starting to decline. McDonalds over the counter fast service found favour, and Wimpy had to start altering its operating methods in an attempt to remain relevant.

In 1989 the business was purchased by Grand Metropolitan, (now Diagio) who also owned Burger King. Many of the Wimpy outlets were converted to Burger Kings as the new owners felt the BK had greater international recognition.

Currently there are some 67 Wimpys still in operation in the UK. Many in seaside resorts, or other smaller towns such as Huddersfield, many in more low rent locations, a far cry from their heyday on the high street.

Wimpy Triple

Wimpy Triple
Wimpy Triple

Wimpy’s flagship burger. A triple pattie, but topping out at 864 calories. Positively anorexic compared to some of the burgers on offer in America.

South Africa

The chain has its greatest presence in South Africa where there are still 453 outlets. There they are themed more along the American Diner retro style.

Wimpy Interior

Like many 80’s kids I remember the Wimpy fondly. A couple of years ago I chanced upon one on a job, and decided to try a quarter pounder. It was fabulous, and far superior to the other American offerings in the UK.

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