Devon cafe’s ‘storm in a teacup’ feud with Little Chef

It was all a bit of a storm in a teacup when a nationwide cafe giant took a local roadside restaurant in Devon to task for “imitating” its red and white color scheme and chef logo.

The controversy brought national TV cameras and press to the doors of the Newcott Chef at Yarcombe in 2008, where owner Derek Lavey was having none of it. He said he was shocked when he heard that Little Chef were considering taking legal action over his red and white color scheme and chef-style signage, which they thought was too similar to their own.

They claimed it was misleading customers who mistook the Newcott cafe for Little Chef’s own eaterie on the A30, five miles down the road, just outside Honiton. They said people thought it was part of the national chain and they had received complaints about the menu and service.



The Newcott Chef's chef and
The Newcott Chef’s chef and “Simply Better” logo in 2008

But Derek, a former BBC production assistant from London, was adamant that he was not prepared to change a thing. He said he had been running his place for nearly 40 years, the white and red exterior was long established and his chef logo was very different, featuring a dish of chicken rather than a covered platter.

When he bought the building in the 1980s it was apparently well-known locally as a nightclub and motel as well as a daytime cafe, set up by singer Ruby Murray, whose name is used as the Cockney rhyming slang for “curry”. The Northern Irish star, whose heyday was in the 1950s and early ’60s, spent her final years in Devon, before her death in 1996, although details of the nightclub remain sketchy.

Derek told reporters he had carried on the tradition for a few years, bussing people in and out of the towns of Honiton, Chard and Taunton for discos and dinner dances, while also holding successful pool, darts, bingo and stag nights. He eventually shut down the eight letting rooms, and called a halt to the nightlife but carried on with the popular cafe serving all day breakfasts, omelettes and grill dishes.



The former Little Chef at Honiton in 2008, five miles down the road from the Newcott Chef cafe
The former Little Chef at Honiton in 2008, five miles down the road from the Newcott Chef cafe

Apparently Little Chef had threatened to take action over his premises back in 1993, and approached him to purchase the Newcott Chef, but nothing ever came of it and he was right in thinking it would all blow over again. “There is not a problem as far as I can see, so live and let live I say,” he said.

A Little Chef spokesman seemed equally confused over the issue in 2008, telling journalists: “Although the branding of both Little Chef and Newcott Chef are undeniably similar, and customers have mistaken Mr Lavey’s restaurant as being part of the Little Chef chain, we have no intention of formally challenging him to change anything. At the end of the day, we are both here to serve customers rather than argue over a logo, so we hope this issue can now be laid to rest. ”



The Newcott Chef in 2009 - still sporting red and white color scheme but minus striped awnings
The Newcott Chef in 2009 – still sporting red and white color scheme but minus striped awnings

A year later, the Newcott Chef had been given a new coat of white and red paint and got rid of its red and white striped awnings, making it even more like the Little Chef, but peace had been restored. The Newcott closed around 2011-12 and the site is now home to the Route 303 US and Mexican style diner. Meanwhile, the Little Chef chain shut down for good in 2018 and their Honiton restaurant is now home to a branch of Starbucks. The two eating houses boast wildly different logos and color themes.

Do you have memories of the Newcott Chef, especially of the days when it used to be a nightclub. Do let us know in the comments section below, or contact jackie.butler@reachplc.com.

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