Motorway Services Online

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Locations:up to 25 roadside restaurants
Predecessors:Country Kitchen Restaurant, Hickory's
Successors:Little Chef, McDonald's, Starvin Marvin's
Typical opening hours:7am - 10pm
AJ's restaurant.
The main AJ's logo.

AJ's was a family restaurant founded in 1986 by former Happy Eater directors Allen Jones and Jane Pickard, who gave their initials to its name.

The chain operated family restaurants on A-roads in a similar vein to Little Chef and Happy Eater. Its circular logo was usually placed on a tall, diamond sign. A second logo showed a rabbit carrying a plate.

Two of their branches were acquired from Hickory's, as their owners wanted to focus on motorways. Most others were new-builds attached to petrol stations.

Critics from Restaurateur praised AJ's for its excellent value and service in their March 1989 review. Its menu offered a range of burgers, including the 'AJ's Majorburger' where the customer chose two toppings; the farmhouse grill; and a 20% discount for over 60s who had purchased their Senior's Choice card.

A 1991 review by the Daily Mirror praised AJ's for its very quick service and helpful waitresses. It also stood out for its unique self-service salad bars and takeaway menu of burgers and hot dogs, showing they had been quick to adapt to the emerging healthy eating and snacking markets. A cup of tea cost 75p, a burger, chips and dessert cost £2.90 and maple syrup pancakes cost £1.55.


Seeing the success that Forte were having with the Little Chef brand, Granada were keen to do something similar and in 1992 they struck a deal to open AJ's restaurants at seven of their A-road service areas, one Granada roadside hotel and as an extra brand at their Leigh Delamere motorway services. It was often promoted with the Granada Hotel logo on a plate below it.

These were operated by Granada under a franchise agreement. They lasted until about 1996, by which time Granada had acquired Forte and were able to use their newly-acquired own brand name, Little Chef, instead.


AJ's had hoped to have 50 restaurants, but the most they ever had was about 25. They blamed the recession in the 1990s for their target not being met. They were also critical of Forte's network coverage, saying "we are living off the leavings from a rich man's plate" and "we cannot compete".

The company started to shrink in the mid 1990s. As well as losing the Granada franchises, they sold four sites to McDonald's in 1994. Three of these were rumoured to be on the line of the new A1(M) motorway, where AJ's felt they couldn't afford to upgrade them. Another site at Glatton was compulsory purchased as part of the road upgrade.

The remaining restaurants were then sold to The Celebrated Group in 1996. They intended to convert all the restaurants to Starvin Marvin's, but this didn't happen. Granada bought Celebrated's restaurants in 1998, wanting to use them to expand Little Chef. However, as many of these were already quite close to existing Little Chefs, the new recruits gradually closed. The one at Barton Mills lasted the longest, with its Little Chef closing in 2012.


See also: Map of AJ's restaurants

The following restaurants were operated by AJ's: