Samuel Alper OBE (25th April 1924 - 2nd October 2002) was the founder of Little Chef and a caravan designer and manufacturer for Sprite Caravans. Alper could be described as the Father of Little Chef!
In the 1950s, Sam Alper and catering boss, Peter Merchant, had been touring the USA, Alper to promote his Sprite Caravan to the American market and Merchant to seek new ideas for his business. Whilst in the USA, the pair were inspired by the concept of American roadside diners: its compact and its increasing popularity thanks to the growing ease of long distance travel. They joined forces and used their collective skills to produce a British version, based on a diner that they had seen in Leedy, Oklahoma known as "Little Chef", manufactured by Valentine Industries of Wichita, Kansas. The pair decided that "Little Chef" was the perfect name for their roadside diner venture and Alper's British-built version of the "Little Chef" first opened on Oxford Road in Reading in 1958. The prefabricated red and white painted cabin was positioned in the car park of the former Rex Cinema and the restaurant had just 11 seats. This was the era when the first of the Little Chef branches were housed in prefabricated buildings with very little staff and very little parking areas.
As there was no commercial competition, Little Chef proved to be very popular. Within ten years, Little Chef had been subsumed into the Gardner Merchant Group which eventually became part of the Trusthouse Forte group. Little Chef continued to increase their number of branches on A-roads and motorways across the UK as well as introducing cheap, budget hotels alongside some of the restaurants. These hotels were known as "Little Chef Lodge". In the 1990s, Little Chef Lodges were rebranded as Travelodge hotels. By 1996, Little Chef was taken over by Granada Corporation at which point Alper sold his interest in the company.
By 1999, Little Chef had over 400 branches operating all over the UK.