A lost chain of British steakhouses, known for serving signature prawn cocktails, steaks and Black Forest gateau was “a proper treat back in the day” for families across Greater Manchester.
The Manchester Evening News recently to a look back at the Berni Inn, a brand which started life in Bristol before brothers and founders Aldo and Frank Berni expanding their empire to London, Birmingham, Liverpool – as well as Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale and more. The Berni Inn brand started in 1955 after the brothers were inspired by a chain of restaurants they had seen in America.
Introducing British families to the like of prawn cocktails and steak and chips for the first time, Berni Inns arguably paved the way for the pub-restaurant chains we know so well today. Back before restaurant and café culture was how we know it, it was a real treat to dine out at a Berni Inn and for many Greater Manchester children, it was their first experience in a steakhouse.
Readers have since taken to social media to share their memories of the Berni Inn restaurants they visited decades ago. From 1961 to 1966, they are said to have opened an average of one new Berni Inn a month, owning nearly 100 restaurants in the late sixties.
On the MEN website, janet22 said: “Always went to the Berni Inn in Didsbury to celebrate birthdays, can still taste the steak & baked potato with sour cream & chive sauce. Thank you for for so many happy family meals that were delicious.” Tom680 said: “Parents took us to the Hole In the Wall nearly every week fish chips and tartar sauce, there was a waitress who served us nearly every time she was so lovely. Was very sad day when it closed – we started going to a Chinese (Wang Fang) Piccadilly.”
PloddingAlong wrote: “Fond memories of going to The Kingsway with the family on Christmas Eve growing up. Was a real treat! I’m hindsight was probably a way of getting the excitement out of us so we would sleep that night.” TimeToShine commented: “My late father used to be the Bar and Shop Fitter for the Berni Inn restaurants. When they were re-fitted he’d bring the stuff home that they were replacing so we grew up eating off Berni Inns crockery and using their cutlery! I even got my dart board out of one.”
Traveling Man posted: “Loved a Berni Inn steak as a kid. Proper steak taste, fat on the edge charred correctly. No twangy bits or chewy bits. Even the little bunch of watercress was great. Parents had a bottle of Matues Rose too, we had cider…. how grown up.” And Pssst….. said: “Mum and dad used to take my brother and me to the Kingsway on many occasions particularly New Years Eve!”
The latest Memory Lane special is available in many local newsagents and major retailers now. This instalment of the bumper picture special looks at fun in the sun – with pages of stunning photographs and treasured memories of family holidays from years gone by. You can also buy Memory Lane online here.
On Facebook, Linda Brooks wrote: “Eating out as a child was for a treat. The only other thing we had that wasn’t home cooked was the obligatory Friday chippy tea. Berni Inns was an affordable restaurant as I started working and paying for myself.” Phil Hampson said: “During the 70s I worked at several Berni Inns as a trainee manager ended up at Oldham as first assistant manager. What a great company to be a part of.”
Andrea M McEntee said: “Oh! BERNI INN! Bring them back! Modern franchises can’t hold a candle to these! Loved the Cafe Monico in Oldham, and once vowed to spend my retirement there.” Wendy Donnelly commented: “Loved Berni Inns, many happy memories there.”
Did you ever visit a Berni Inn in Greater Manchester? Let us know in the comments section
Jim Buckley posted: “When ‘courting’ in the early 1970s, it was a great, affordable place to go for a special treat!” Vikki Grayson wrote: “Friday night! Berni Inns. Always checked the table mats to see which restaurant was pictured. Pate starter followed by steak and then the cheese board.”
Brian Bell posted: “My first job was in a Berni Inn. Good times!” Anne-Marie Lambert posted: “Berni Inns – date night back in the early 80s.”
Pete Mckenna commented: “Loved Berni, became part of Grand Metropolitan retail. Always remember nice salad bar/steak/Black Forest Gateau & Cotes du Rhone.” And Michelle Marley said: “Loved Cafe Monico in Oldham – often went with family for special occasions. Was a proper treat back in the day.”
A 1970s Berni Inn menu from their Chester branch, The Criterion, also shows customers could get a soup of the day for 55p, prime rump steak for £6.25, and fillet of plaice for £2.99. On the dessert section, lemon and sultana cheesecake cost 75p and the Berni Meringue Fountain was 90p.
In Manchester – which shared the same prices – many will remember Berni Inns such as Café Royal, Hole in the Wall and The Kingsway. Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, you could also visits the likes of Golden Lion in Bolton, Café Monico in Oldham, The Wellington in Rochdale and The Minorca in Wigan.
Diners would enjoy a choice of steak, gammon or plaice with chips and peas or indulge in a Black Forest gateau and ice cream, polished off with its new speciality liqueur coffees.
Many will remember visiting a number of the Greater Manchester Berni Inns to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy some of their staple menu items.
But over the decades, the Berni Inns became a chapter of the past. The brothers sold the chain to Grand Metropolitan for £14.5 million in 1970 and the mid 1990s, the chain was sold to Whitbread who later converted the outlets into their own Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurants.
Aldo Berni died in 1997 at the age of 88 and Frank died in 2000 at the age of 96. As for Marco, the legacy of his popular Italian restaurant in Bristol continues.
It may have changed its name along the way, but there has been a restaurant on the steps between Baldwin Street and St Nicholas Market since 1951, which makes it the longest-running in Bristol, Bristol Live previously reported. It was originally called Marco’s – a reference to owner Marco Berni of the legendary Bristol restaurateur family.
But the name above the door now refers to Giuseppe Calcagno, a former Marco’s waiter who bought the business in 1994 and changed the name 22 years ago. With its dark wood panelling and deep red furnishings, Giuseppe’s On the Steps has a timeless look not dissimilar to those Berni Inns of the 1980s.
The Berni Inn brand is still remembered today and has paved the way for next generation of restaurants. In 2017, the Huffington Post reported how Tom Kerridge’ Michelin-starred pub is inspired by the retro restaurant chain.
The Huffington Post, at the time, said: “Tom, 44, has fond memories of his childhood trips to his local Berni Inn. He reflects with Paul Ainsworth, who owns the Michelin-starred ‘Paul Ainsworth at Number 6’ in Padstow, about when his mum, who was a single parent, used to take him there and he’d have half a roast chicken with peas.
“They would only visit around twice a year, but these meals clearly left an impression on Tom, who insists that his award-winning pub is a “modern day, more refined” version of Berni Inn.”