With the developments at Broadmarsh set to take place any day now, Nottingham's beloved Wimpy has been forced to close its doors after many years of fast food restaurant service in the city. We hit up franchise owner Akram Malik to find out his memories of the place...
How did you start in Nottingham?
I started at Wimpy restaurant in Crewe in 1976 and then moved to Nottingham to acquire the franchise in 1983. I had a friend here and thought it was lovely little town so decided to move here. I’ve been here nearly 35 years now.
In those days, Wimpy was the main name in town. If you were going out in the day time and you wanted a quick snack, Wimpy was the place to go to. Other restaurants came in after that and now the town is full of restaurants. There are now so many people eating out, the culture of eating out has changed completely, it’s amazing.
What was it about the franchise that attracted you?
When I came to the UK from Pakistan, I was a student and knew nothing about catering. The franchise helped me by showing me how to cook: they taught me everything and from there I did very well.
How much ownership did you have over what want you wanted to do?
Wimpy decided the menu, we had no control over it. We only cooked and sold it. We could play with the prices, but they provided the menu, trained us and we had to go by the menu.
What do you remember of the opening in Nottingham?
On the first day, the restaurant was very quiet. But it was lovely and clean with a lot of shops there, so I started speaking to people. They gave me ideas and I started improving things. We got busier and busier and at one stage there would be queues at lunch time outside the door, with people waiting to get a table.
What did you improve?
I improved the cooking, the service and the staff appearance. All this made a real difference. It’s a lot more than just about the food but how you treat customers. We used to get some strange requests. One person said “l like eggs, but don’t overcook it and don’t undercook it: don’t make it too hard, but also not too soft.” So, we asked ourselves, how are we going to do that? How are we going to get it perfect?
We would always take requests, not like other restaurants. If people wanted it this way or that way, we would do it. That's how we used to win customers. People would get the things they want, the way they want it. Word goes around very quickly and if you do good things, people will say good things about you.
In a way I’m sad that I’m not there, it was a beautiful life.
Why do you think the shop is held in such huge affection by local people?
There was a lot of attraction to the Wimpy name which has gone on for many years. People have so many memories from when they were kids: people used to come back to Nottingham from the US, Australia, and South Africa, they loved the place. Some people used to meet here, and then got married. It was the only place to eat a burger and chips. People would say, “Let’s go to town and have something to eat!” and Wimpy was the place to go.
I had a lot of loyal, regular customers. They’d have a chat, tell us what they were doing, and they’d come and sit on certain tables. If that table was occupied, they wouldn’t be happy. That’s the way people are.
The customers kept us going: their appreciation made me feel better. I kept it going through the competition, we worked hard and built our trade and had many regular customers. In a way I’m sad that I’m not there, it was a beautiful life.
I loved the place. The atmosphere in the Broadmarsh was lovely; the mothers would be eating while the kids were playing and they could see the kids through the glass so they weren’t worried. The shopping centre had a relaxing atmosphere and it was a lovely experience.
What changes have you seen over the years?
The fast food restaurants have come along since I started, and the catering business has grown a lot. People now have different tastes, with food coming from the continent. We stopped doing the Brown Derby, the Banana Long Boat, the Knickerbocker Glory and after twenty years, people would ask us why don’t you make them any more?
What’s a Brown Derby?
A Brown Derby is a warmed up doughnut with ice cream over it, then chocolate on it, and then nuts. Some people wanted to try their last Brown Derby before the shop closed. Some people were still asking for it as it was what they loved when they were kids.
What would you say to young people now who want to start in the catering business?
There are lots of opportunities in catering. People are always looking for a change: people get fed up, they want something new and interesting. That’s what we did in Wimpy. If you don’t do this, things die out. People love eating out!
Will you be coming back in two years?
I hope to come back, but I’ll see how things go and how the economic conditions are. I’d love to see a Wimpy there. Broadmarsh without the Wimpy is lost.
Christmas can be a right bleddy lonely time for many people in Nottingham. Luckily, Mo Fayose has taken it upon herself to dish out free Christmas dinners for anyone who wants some company and a full belly on the day. That’s right, if you get yourself down to Hyson Green Market Square you can grab yourself a full English breakfast, or a full-on Christmas dinner at St Mark’s Church in Woodthorpe, and at Bestwood Park Community Centre. We put a few questions to the woman behind it all…