Wimpy used to be top of the fast food pops, right up there with McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken (or KFC, as it is now). Remember the song: 'A Wimpy bar, A Wimpy bar, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Wimpy bar. McDonalds! McDonalds! Kentucky Fried Chicken and A Wimpy Bar.'*
Those were simpler pre-internet times.
There are now fewer Wimpys than ever: only 89 are left in the UK. In London, where the British brand first opened its doors at Piccadilly Circus, there are only 10.
Wimpys in the capital are fighting a war on two fronts: against rent price-hikes due to gentrification, and hipster new-wave, medium-rare burger hangouts.
Having always fancied a spot of war reporting and nursing a hangover only a Bender in A Bun could love, we march to the front line of the Wimpys War to find out who, if anyone, still eats in London's Wimpys.
More specifically we visit Wimpy on Southwark Park Road, which, aside from being the nearest to us, has been open a whopping 43 years. For its manager Ziya Karaeinar, Wimpy is family.
"I’ve been eating Wimpy everyday for 31 years," Ziya says. "I was literally born in here and came in every day as a child. My mum and dad used to live upstairs, but then just before I was born they got a flat around the corner so I've always been in here."
Ziya's grandad took over the franchise in 1976 and the family have being running the restaurant ever since. Ziya lives just around the corner and he really, really loves Wimpy.
"Honestly I've been eating here for 31 years and I'm still not bored of it. Usually I go for a quarter pounder with cheese and chips, that's got to be my favourite. Or the double cheeseburger and chips, which is quite nice. I eat dinner and lunch here — I'm full on Wimpy. I love it!"
All the remaining UK Wimpys are franchises, many of them family-run businesses that haven't changed much in more than 20 years.
Who eats at Wimpy?
While many of us have fond memories of Wimpy, it's not often the first thing on people's lips when thinking about fast food. So who are the customers keeping it going?
"We get all ages of from seven years old to 77. Lots of families. Probably 80% of my customers are from the local community, we have a long-term customer base."
While the number of Wimpy branches across London may be in decline, Ziya reckons that business for him has stayed the same over the years.
"My dad has seen generations of customer. Everyone knows my old man round here, now they are like 50-year-old men and he has watched them grow up and now he is watching their kids and grandkids grow up."
New burgers on the block
You are never more than six feet away from a burger in London. New-wave burgers are loaded, high-quality and medium rare. Will Wimpy be following suit anytime soon?
"Medium rare burgers? I don't think so! Not at that minute anyway, they're a bit out there for our customers. I think we’ve got to wait and see with that, but maybe."
Ziya's favourite burger, Wimpy aside, is from Red Dog in Shoreditch, but what does he think about *that* ubiquitous sexy-toppings burger chain?
"Byron? They’re alright I suppose, they do their own stuff. It's not like the Wimpy burger though, is it?"
Well no, it certainly isn't.
"The Wimpy burgers' taste hasn’t changed in all the time I've been eating them – it's the same recipe. Other things have been added to the menu, but the burger is same old, same old."
Tastes they are a changin’
The burger recipes might have stayed the same (as, we can confirm in the Southwark branch at least, has the decor), but have customer preferences?
Ziya is keen to show off some of the items on the new menu: chicken club burger, open burgers, a mushroom burger, a jalapeno burger. He tells me with some pride that Wimpy were the first to introduce veggie burgers and there are two on offer on the menu, which any vegetarian will tell you is double the number of most burger joints.
"The original customers still stick to their usual though, as they walk in they just say 'usual' and we know what they want. They want the Wimpy burger."
Just what is it that makes Wimpy burgers so special?
"The taste! It’s just simple, honest burgers I think. Proper burgers. Good value as well."
You would be hard pushed to find an area of London that isn’t experiencing or anticipating some form of gentrification. The doom-mongers warn of the impact that money pouring into an area has on old-fashioned local businesses. Is Ziya worried? Nope.
"In the last 10 years the area has completely changed and I think it's changing all over again, in a good way. They've done up Elephant and Castle and they've done up Canada Water and now it's going to come up to here. It's good to have some new blood in the area — it's a lovely area and it's still the same. Everyone looks after each other.”
"I’m not worried. We will have to see, but we will just have to change with the times. Maybe we will have to decorate and make it a bit more fancy."
Eating Wimpy everyday might just be the key to a happy and positive life.
A Wimpy-shaped London future?
Does Ziya not worry at all about the future of Wimpys, though? After all, even he admits that the brand is in decline. Will there ever be a time when there are no Wimpys left in London?
"Well this one will be about, don't know about the others but this one will be here for the next 100 years I can guarantee that.
"If we have to be flexible and change then we will. All people like Wimpy round here, it's very popular. Everyone comes in here, kids after school, families will come in; people come in and have breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s all local people."
He does concede that there could be one potential threat.
"I think if a Nando's opened that could have an effect — they are quite popular Nando’s aren’t they?
"But when you come in here you get what you are expecting, it's always the same."
Ziya is pretty damn confident in the future of Wimpys, especially his branch, ‘"I have had some customers say: 'this one is special this Wimpys'.They have been to other Wimpys and it doesn't match up to the standards or the taste.
"We are definitely the best Wimpy in London – I think in the whole country. Yes, definitely."
Reports from the frontline of the battle to save London's Wimpys? It’s less of a battle and more of a street party and you're all invited. Wimpy burgers all round.
*Many people dispute these lyrics, but these are the ones our Brownie pack sang.