Introducing the Brightside of the Road
Brightside is bringing proper hospitality back to roadside dining. Inspired by childhood road trips of days gone by, where the highlight of the journey was a stop at a roadside restaurant, Brightside offers a freshly cooked menu full of classic, comforting dishes, including a tasty brunch menu, brilliant burgers and proper pizzas, with lots for little ones, and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.
Our first restaurant opened back in February 2023 on the A38, just outside of Exeter in Haldon Hill – opposite Exeter Racecourse. We opened Brightside Saltash on the A38 Trerulefoot roundabout in June, quickly followed by Brightside Honiton on the A303 in August. To find out more about the inspiration behind Brightside, we sat down with Loungers Co-founder and Chairman, Alex Reilley…
What was the inspiration for Brightside?
I have incredibly affectionate memories of visiting the likes of Little Chef and Happy Eater when I was a child with my family. Those visits were my first real exposure to hospitality, and they whet my appetite for hospitality, albeit probably fairly unknowingly at the time, because I was nine or ten years old.
We used to travel a lot from Leicester, where I’m originally from, to Suffolk, to see my great-grandmother, and the highlight of the of the weekend was stopping at Little Chef on Friday night for tea on the way there, and again on the way back on Sunday evening. So I’ve always had this fascination with this idea of a roadside restaurant where people stop either as lone diners, as families, or to meet with others. When Little Chef sadly closed it left a real void, as there was no one else really doing roadside restaurants.
From that point on, I had a bit of an itch – I thought there was room for a reimagined roadside restaurant concept that is fit-for-purpose for the twenty-first century. I felt it an opportunity to effectively apply our expertise to a roadside location.
I felt that there were lots of elements of what we do in both our Lounge Café Bars and Cosy Club brands that would be very transferable to a roadside concept. However, I felt it needed to have its own sense of identity, especially being in a location where the challenge is very different to that of a high street. When you’re looking to try and capture people’s imagination as they travel past pretty quickly, you need a recognisable brand presence. From that point onwards, we decided that we needed to draw upon the positive operational expertise we had, but with a real sense of this new brand being its own thing.
The first location is between Exeter and Newton Abbot – why did you choose this area to launch?
It is difficult to look at a site that is yet to be developed and imagine a Brightside opening there with all of its bells and whistles, so it has taken us time to really get our heads around what makes a great location. We have had some interesting negotiations with developers and there will be a small pipeline of sites that potentially follow on from the initial three that we’re opening.
We recognised that probably the best thing for us to do was to see if we could acquire an existing roadside restaurant business, and Route Restaurants was a concept we were very interested in. They occupied either a former Little Chef, a former Happy Eater or a former copycat Little Chef. They are locations that have worked historically for roadside restaurant brands, and that gave us the confidence that we could successfully acquire that business, remodel, extend and rebrand all three restaurants. The three locations are part of an established route where people are likely to stop, so the geography really is great.
They’re in the South West, which is useful as we are based in Bristol, but that was not deliberate – it was more of coincidence.
How did the name ‘Brightside’ come about?
We needed a name and a brand identity that passed the test of, “look Mum! Look Dad! There’s a blank there. Can we stop at blank?”. So we knew that the name had to be memorable first and foremost. It couldn’t be something that people could confuse the pronunciation of or feel slightly awkward about saying. It needed to pass the ‘kids test’. It needed to be something recognisable that would make them happy – somewhere you want to stop.
The name took a really long time, and we went through a number of iterations. Quite a few of the names we considered incorporated words like ‘sunny’, and had a sense of optimism, and it was funny, because we had tried pretty much every combination of words along this theme without actually hitting on Brightside. And then Loungers Co-founder, Jake Bishop, out of the blue, said “what about Brightside?”, and we just thought, “that’s it – that’s the name!”
It’s got a really positive, sunny, optimistic, hopeful feel about it and that I think is ultimately what we’re looking to achieve. On the road, serving lots of people who we hope will come and have a really happy, enjoyable experience with us.
Can you give us a taste of what the interiors will be like?
We’re pretty good at developing concepts that have a sense of purpose and a uniqueness to them, so this is quite a different challenge for us, designing an interior that is almost replicable. It is very much against what we generally do with both Lounge and Cosy Club. Something that has a sense of familiarity, reliability, and somewhere where people can come in and feel that they’re going to get that consistency of experience.
I’m really excited about the design. We want to create an environment that has this sort of sense of the 1980s, Stranger Things, vintage caravan interiors, so we’re having a lot of fun with that. The nice thing is that when I talk to anyone for the first time about it, there appears to be a very natural “I get that”. People smile, and if people smile about something, it’s probably quite a good thing.
What are you most excited about for Brightside?
It will be fascinating to see how people receive what we’ve done. We’re taking a relatively big bet. Some people don’t think there’s a place for this kind of ‘break your journey up, sit down for 45 minutes, and have a meal’, and I just don’t believe that. Because with more electric cars on the road, people are going to need to consider how and when they stop.
We will encourage people to plan their journeys, hopefully around a stop-off at a Brightside, to get out of their cars, take a proper break, and enjoy each other’s company around a table instead of all being sat staring at a screen.
We want people to feel that if they stop at a Brightside, it’s going to be a really worthwhile, enjoyable experience, and they will walk out with a smile on their face.