Mapped: The First Shops Of London's Food Chains

By M@ Last edited 19 months ago
Mapped: The First Shops Of London's Food Chains
Leon, by fara meledandri.

The typical chain shop is often disparaged as an identikit destroyer of the high street: scourge of the independent, family business.

While there is some truth in that assertion, especially with bigger chains, the picture is much more nuanced if only we bother to look. All chains start somewhere.

Many began as small, family shops, serving a local community with genuine passion and graft. The hard work paid off, a second branch opened on the back of the profits, and before long a chain was born.

Nor are large food chains only a recent phenomenon. Pizza Express celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, still trading from its original site on Wardour Street. The Wimpy chain, still going (if not exactly going strong), has its roots in 1954.

Even further back, Patisserie Valerie first traded on Frith Street in 1926. It's made plenty of dough since.

Patisserie Valerie by Mary Clark.

We decided to map the original stores of all the food chains we could get information for. The results are often intriguing.

Click the box in the top left of the map to see all the chains in the order they opened.


Wimpy's first store in 1954 was on Coventry Street, inside an old Lyon's Coffee House. 23 years later, the very same building became the first London home of Burger King.

Pret a Manger

Pret had two births. The first was a small shop in Hampstead, as far back as 1984.

After this closed, a fresh outlet appeared in Victoria under new management. Pret acknowledges this second store as its progenitor, as attested by a plaque in the Victoria Street branch.


Eat & Wasabi

Villiers Street near Embankment has ushered in two of London's biggest chains. EAT (1996) and Wasabi (2003) began life mere doors from each other on this road.

Soho's Chain Generation

Unsurprisingly, Soho is a major hotbed of chain generation. The likes of Yo! Sushi (1997), Caffe Nero (1997), Masala Zone (2001) and LEON (2004) join older stalwarts such as Patisserie Valerie (1926) and Pizza Express (1965).

Chains Outside Central London

Not all chains began in central London. All Bar One (1994) picked Sutton for its first outlet. Zizi (1999) opted for Chiswick. KFC debuted in North Finchley around 1968.

Tesco-backed coffee house Harris + Hoole (2012) launched as far afield as Amersham (not technically in London, but on the tube).

Most famously, McDonald's (1974) saw the potential in Woolwich when choosing the site of its first UK branch. It was also the chain's 3,000th worldwide.


In many cases, the information for our map was not easy to find.

For whatever reason, it seems chains are often reticent to share their history on their websites. The PR departments we contacted were also tight-lipped.

We've had no response from the good people at Ask, Cafe Rouge (somewhere in Richmond, originally as Cafe Bleu), Greggs, Strada, Subway or Chicken Cottage (somewhere in Wembley), and these remain off the map, or roughly located for now.

Hat tip to Caffe Nero, whose team was quick and helpful in response. Chop'd and Pod, too, were quick on the ball.

Do you have any info on chains missing from the map? Let us know below.

Last Updated 18 October 2016


Any insight on Bella Italia?...And why there needs to be eight within a half kilometer radius of Leicester Sq?


The first Subway was on Oxford Street in early 1997. I had been living for a year in Canada where they were very big at the time, and came back and it had only just opened then and was the only one in the UK.


Wimpy!! :)

I grew up in Beirut, and Wimpy was a staple since the 60s there. One of the first non-UK Wimpy's. Even before Paris I believe.

When I came to London I found a Wimpy somewhere near Barnet. The I found a couple of others in the East End.

Fair to say, not the same as the good stuff from my childhood!


Starbuck's arrived with the purchase of the small chain, Seattle Coffee Company as I seem to remember around '99.


That’s an unusual slant on London cuisine – it’s normally
all about the newest, not the oldest.

Here’s the first curry house (apparently):

And, does your interest stretch to supermarkets? Plaque at Waitrose in Acton:


Cafe Nero were fast because they have nothing worthwhile to do :D

robin beparry

The first Strada opened in 1999 on Battersea Rise.


What about the tiny GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) that opened on Northcote Road in 2001? It's still there. On the day it opened a little old lady shouted through the window 'It'll never work!'


The first Lyons Corner House (no such thing as a Lyons Coffee House) was opened in Coventry Street in 1909.


I think the first Burger King drive-thru was in Sutton, picked apparently along the same lines as All Bar One due the bang average demographics.

Andrew Webb

The first London Greggs will probably be in this book


Good to see an acknowledgement that all monster chains had to start somewhere, whether native or imports. I think that sometimes we're all a little too inclined to overlook that chains are the indies that went mega.

Francesca Fenn

When I worked in Soho in the 1980s, the Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street was the only one in town, and was delightfully bohemian and slightly dishevelled. Every payday, myself and two friends from the Film Stock Centre around the corner would meet for coffee and a slice of gateau - for me it was always, always the banana & strawberry number. Mmmmm. Happy memories.....


Strada's blurb for their Battersea Rise branch (now gone) used to say it was the original. I'm not sure of its dates though!


Eds Diner, now in most cities, and several in London, the first was on the corner of Old Compton St, Soho.

Paul Weary

Not sure if this article is about the first branch of a chain or just the first branch in London. The first KFC wasn't in London at all, but Preston in Lancashire.


There was a Pizza Hut on Kilburn High Road, NW6 in the 70s.and later (I moved away from the area in 1980),

Tom Smith

The first Chipotle Mexican Grill in London opened in 2010 at 114-116 Charing Cross Road. Apparently, Londoners like the pillow sized burritos since there are now six in London.