Bitter taste for sacked Little Chef team

For years the loyal team has fried bacon, eggs and beans for countless hungry motorists seduced by the iconic red-and-white sign as they chug along the A11.

For years the loyal team has fried bacon, eggs and beans for countless hungry motorists seduced by the iconic red-and-white sign as they chug along the A11.

They are part of the Little Chef chain that, under the Fat Charlie logo, has been a welcome sight to hoards of people travelling north along the A11 at Attleborough since the road opened in 1992.

But that did not stop venture capitalists, who have bought the chain, giving each of the 28 staff just 10 minutes' notice that they were losing their jobs this week - leaving a bitter taste in the mouth for any fan of the famous Olympic breakfast.

It was the same story in Downham Market, where 10 staff were fired when the eatery closed with immediate effect, Caxton in Cambridgeshire and Martlesham and Nacton in Suffolk.

Yesterday the Attleborough North restaurant, which also includes a Burger King franchise, was empty, with just a solitary note pinned to the door to tell its loyal customers what had happened.

Staff, who were phoned by a tearful manager at 8pm on Wednesday to be told they no longer had jobs, were allowed to return at 10am to pick up personal possessions.

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But no one would provide them with answers - and on their way out of the restaurant for the last time staff members united to express their “disgust” with the way they were being treated.

As they left for the last time each team member honked their horn - and headed off for an uncertain future.

It had been a week of insecurity for all the Little Chef Attleborough North team, who had read in the newspapers that their company had gone into receivership but were not being told anything by managers.

Then, as the close-knit staff began to panic, they received an email from HQ stating that the restaurant and their jobs were safe, and that they had nothing to worry about.

That all changed on Wednesday evening. At 7.50pm, as staff were draining the last of the cooking fat away and wiping down the tables with 10 minutes to go until the restaurant closed for the night, a call was received by the duty manager.

Earlier that day, Little Chef had come out of receivership and new owners R Capital promised to save “the majority” of the chain's 4,000 workers - which made what was to be said even more of a blow.

The manager was told that, when the restaurant closed that night, it was to be for good. Her last task would be to call each member of her staff and tell them they were fired. With that, her job would also come to an end.

Some of the workers at the eatery had been there since it opened, many had never had any other job. Only those who have been at the company for more than two years will get severance pay - most of the mainly young staff will get nothing.

Zoë Aceveda said she had worked at the restaurant since leaving school 14 years ago and was not sure what she would do now.

“We are all great friends here, it's such a friendly place to work,” said the 30-year-old. “This has all been so fast, none of us really know what's happened.

“There are so many loyal customers, who we all get on so well with. It's awful that we'll never get to see them again, that such a happy group's being broken up.

“I've never applied for any other job in my life. I suppose I'll have to but I don't really know what to do at the moment. It hasn't really sunk in yet.”

Lorraine Foster, 37, said: “People are in tears here, we can't believe what's happened. Everyone's been left shell-shocked.”

Karl Chivers, 23, added: “We were told by email that our jobs were safe, then we were given 10 minutes' notice that we were being made redundant. It's a disgusting way to treat staff.”

Customers too were left shocked by the clinical way the workers had been axed.

Pamela and Ron Aiano, a retired couple from Attleborough, said: “What they've done to the lovely people that work here is horrible. We've been coming here for so long, it's a nice place to eat and everyone's so friendly.

“Some of them have worked here such a long time and to be told they were out of a job without any notice is a disgraceful. We're extremely disappointed for them.”

Last night a spokeswoman for Little Chef said: “The decision to close the restaurants is in no way a reflection on the excellent and loyal service the teams and managers have provided over the years.

“We would also like to take the opportunity to thank our loyal customers for their valued support throughout, and hope that they continue to visit our other restaurants.”