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1954 Lyons obtained a licence to use the Wimpy brand in the United Kingdom from Edward Gold's Chicago-based Wimpy Grills, Inc.
1954 Lyons established the first "Wimpy Bar" at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London. Originally the bar was a special fast-food section within the more traditional Corner House restaurants, but the success soon led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger-based meals.
By 1970 the business had expanded to over 1,000 restaurants in 23 countries.
In 1977, the business was acquired by United Biscuits. By the late 1980s, Wimpy was beginning to lose ground to McDonald’s, which had opened its first UK restaurant in 1974, and so the new management of Wimpy began to streamline the business by converting some of the traditional table service restaurants to counter service.
When United Biscuits decided to divest its restaurant division in 1989, it sold the business to Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo). At the time of the sale, there were 381 locations in the UK. Grand Metropolitan had acquired Burger King the previous year and it began to convert the "counter service" restaurants to the Burger King brand since it had a greater global brand recognition.
In 1990, the remaining 216 "table service" restaurants were purchased by a management buy-out backed by 3i. These were locations that were considered less desirable by Grand Metropolitan. At the time of the buyout, there were also 140 franchised locations outside of the UK.
In 1985 Wimpy was the first fast food chain to sell beanburgers. Since 1997, the company has been the only major fast food chain that offers Quorn burgers on the menu.