Newcott Chef: the story behind the story

PUBLISHED: 08:21 30 July 2008 | UPDATED: 14:46 20 April 2010

FORMER BBC production assistant Derek Lavey found himself the other side of television cameras last week after it was reported roadside restaurant chain Little Chef was threatening him with legal action.

FORMER BBC production assistant Derek Lavey found himself the other side of television cameras last week after it was reported roadside restaurant chain Little Chef was threatening him with legal action. Mr Lavey, 76, turned his back on the bright lights of London almost 40 years ago when he bought Newcott Chef, then a motel and nightclub, on the A30, between Honiton and Marsh. Its distinctive red and white exterior has long been its trademark - along with a logo bearing the figure of a chef carrying a chicken on a plate. Jimmy Saville and an actress who played Miss Marple have been among the restaurant's patrons. According to Press reports, Little Chef says the business is an imitation of its own roadside restaurant just down the road near Monkton. But, Mr Lavey is bemused. "Nobody from Little Chef has been on the phone, and they haven't written to me," he said. "The first I heard was when a news agency called and said Little Chef was threatening to sue. Now I'm on TV, radio and even papers in London. "My restaurant's logo depicts a man, wearing a chef's hat and carrying a chicken on a plate. Little Chef's logo is of a little man walking with a tea pot." Although Little Chef hasn't been in touch recently, the company did threaten legal action in 1993. Mr Lavey has still got the letter to prove it. "As a result, they wanted to buy my place," he said. "I wanted too much for it. Now I'm older, I'm open to another offer." Newcott Chef, which has been operating for years longer than Little Chef's Monkton restaurant, formerly a garage, was a magnet for thrill-seekers in years gone by. Ruby Murray, the late singer from Northern Ireland, opened the venue as a nightclub and motel. Her name lives on as the Cockney slang for curry. In the nightclub's heyday, it hosted Radio 1 greats such as Steve Wright. "We had pool on Mondays, darts on Tuesdays, bingo Wednesdays, stag nights on Thursdays, discos on Fridays and dinner dances on Saturdays," said Mr Lavey. "There were eight units of accommodation, which formed the motel. "Over the years, the only thing that has changed about my signage is that I have taken down the one that said 'accommodation'. Every-thing else is the same." The last time the Newcott Chef operated as a nightclub was in the early 1980s, when drink-driving laws were pushing more people back into towns. "We used to bus people in from Honiton, Chard and Taunton, and had a captive audience. If they didn't want to wait for the bus home, they'd have to walk!" said Mr Lavey. He is happy to be running a roadside restaurant, saying his all-day breakfast and omelette dishes are as popular as ever. He continues to strive to offer bigger portions, at a cheaper price, than Little Chef, he claims. So, is he worried about threats of legal action? "I'm completely indifferent," he told the Herald. "They are welcome to their trade and I'm happy to have mine. I was here first - their restaurant used to be a filling station." A spokesperson for Little Chef said: "We would like to confirm that no-one from Little Chef has made direct contact with Newcott Chef and no legal action has been taken, nor do we intend to take legal action. "While we are not denying that comments have been made, these have unfortunately been taken out of context and we apologise for any confusion. "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." Some things never change - and Newcott Chef, with its red and white exterior and distinctive indoor orange lampshades, is one of them! What do you remember about the Newcott Chef's days as a nightclub? Comment now.

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