Buddies founder to open new restaurant in Northampton

One of the original chefs is also coming back to reunite customers with beloved bygone chilli con carne, coleslaw and burger recipes

Friday, 16th October 2020, 1:10 pm

An original Buddies boss is opening a new restaurant in Northampton called '81', which is named after the year the first Buddies Cafe opened in Dychurch Lane.

Two years ago Andrew Duthie and his business partner Terry York retired from the restaurant trade before Buddies was sold onto Simpson Catering who shut the existing five Buddies USA restaurants in March.In the 1970s, Andrew worked at British Timken alongside Buddies co-founders Graham and Brian. Terry, who also worked at the factory, joined Buddies 20 years later.

Andrew and Terry are now restoring the former Buddies USA restaurant at Collingtree, where they will hire ex-staff members and bring back a version of the old menu before the site opens around Christmas.

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The former Buddies site at Collingtree is undergoing refurbishment before it reopens under the name 81 before Christmas time. Pictures by Kirsty Edmonds.

Andrew said: "The response has been amazing. What was so lovely about Buddies was there would be business people sitting next to a party of teenagers, next to a mum and dad with their little kids.

"Lots of people have asked us why we sold it and Terry wanted to retire and I didn't want to do it without him. It's been like an institution, it's 39 years old now.”

He added: "The idea was so good, people really liked it here. There's a loyalty to the staff, lots of the staff want to come back so that's another reason for doing it.”

Buddies all started when Andrew's friend was inspired by Hard Rock Cafe in London when it opened in 1971.

The site at Collingtree used to be a Little Chef before it became an American-style diner.

Andrew fell in love with the food and subsequently thought he could launch his own American-style empire in Northampton.

He took dozens of trips to New York to study the diners and the ideas he took from the best burger joints, including the Trivial Pursuit cards, he brought back and used at Dychurch Lane.

He was even the master cameraman behind the 'shaky' New York footage of the yellow cabs, which would play on screen overhead in the diners. He reminisced capturing the Batmobile incidentally driving by while he was doing it.

"We couldn't understand why so many Americans were coming [to Buddies] in the early days, everyone used to go into a panic," Andrew laughed.

The owners are getting the site ready to open.

"I was on Fifth Avenue once in a bookstore looking for Frommer's Guide to the UK and there was Buddies, we didn't even know it was in there. I couldn't have written the review we got any better, it was amazing.

"Times I've got onto aeroplanes at JFK with blow up memorabilia and we have taken on board cutouts of batman and superman.”

The first Buddies Cafe, a former chapel, was well ahead of its time in 1981. It was one of the first restaurants in the country to serve topped chips 'wet fries' and the huge menus fascinated its customers.

Buddies was soon booming, and its popularity allowed bosses to quickly grow the business from Dychurch Lane to nine Buddies diners as well as Joe's Diner, Grand Central, Buddies takeaway in Fish Street, The Blue Plate and LA Cafe in Castilion Street, with 200 staff at its peak.

Pictures by Kirsty Edmonds.

The new restaurant, 81, is going to play homage to bygone memories at the Dychuch Lane restaurant with original images of the venue dotted all over the Collingtree diner, and the trainset.

Speakers will play hits from 1981 and bosses are hoping to have a live 'queue camera' - like Shake Shack in New York - so customers can see how busy it is at any one time.

Outside will have a pick-up station for customers wanting to take away their food.

Andrew has made the booths taller to make the restaurant more covid-secure for its 80 covers.

81 will now serve breakfast, lunch and evening meals when it opens, complete with a delivery option, too.