Bea and Matthew Morrissette didn’t always picture themselves running a London-themed restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. The couple met in Manhattan after their careers brought Bea from London and Matthew from the Magic City. Bea worked in the nonprofit world but had always considered herself a “social entrepreneur.” Eventually she pitched the restaurant idea to Matthew, who was on-board, then took a couple years to truly develop the concept that became the Little London Kitchen. They opened in June of 2019 and just two years later the couple, along with Executive Chef Theresa Cottrell who has been with them since the beginning, opened their first brick-and-mortar while also making their Netflix debut on “Fresh, Fried, and Crispy.”
The now-famous double-decker bus associated with the restaurant, proudly named “The Duchess”, has been a part of the Little London team since opening day–but it was quite the journey to bring it to Alabama. The Morrissette’s found an acceptable bus in Colorado that had the outside restored, “but she needed a lot of work on the engine and the interior.” Matthew found an original 1968 manual for the engine and then proceeded to repair it into working condition. They then jumped in a support vehicle to follow their beloved bus on a 6 day journey full of daily breakdowns and selfie-taking police, with the final challenge being a flat tire in Jasper at two in the morning.
The Duchess prevailed in her journey to the Magic City and joined a food trailer to provide the ultimate eating experience for excited Birminghamians. Bea always knew she wanted a pub one day, so breweries became a favorite parking location for the restaurant. “I kind of fell in love with them anyway. They’re such good people, all the breweries” she reminisces. As these relationships built, the restaurant even co-hosted Harry Potter and other-themed events at Ghost Train and collaborated with Cahaba on a Little London IPA.
It had only been weeks after Little London Kitchen signed the lease for their first brick-and-mortar, a fabulous building next to Seeds Coffee in Homewood, and began renovating when the pandemic shut down the country. The team turned to innovative ideas like driving to different neighborhoods to “bring food to the people” each night, afternoon tea pickups, “fill your freezer” days with shepherd's pies, and selling family meals made of whole beef wellingtons to stay afloat financially. Even then, they believe there was no way they would have survived if it wasn’t for the dedicated supporters who have become like family messaging them daily to see what they could do to help. From fundraisers to ordering catering for employees and using their talents to continue the renovation process, it was the people of Birmingham who kept this restaurant going. “When they’ve got you, they’ve got you” says Bea of the hundreds of residents who refused to see their favorite restaurant be taken away from them.
Some of those helping were Bea’s business owner friends. Drea Harbin with Eyes of Wise found the re-loved decor and furnishings that transport those who visit the restaurant to the streets of London. Caitlin Hastings with Botanica provided the many beautiful plants, while Brittany McNaughton and Forecast Salon are responsible for securing a sound system and other electronics for the Magic City’s favorite English watering hole.
The final result is a stylish, community-focused atmosphere that truly feels like “a living room away from home” which matches the history of traditional English pubs. Beverages include the popular Pimm’s Cup, which is layered with fresh fruits. Fruit and tea make for steady features on the menu, with fine names like the Mint Tea mojito and the Earl Grey-tini highlighting a stellar roster. They also specialize in blended beers, which are combinations of brews and ciders like the “Black and Gold” which pours Guinness with Magners. Fish and chips are definitely a popular food choice, along with their shepards pie, ribs, and British Bolognese. The main inspiration is British comfort food, but also highlights Theresa’s Southern cooking and the restaurant’s affinity for taste exploration.
Little London’s Homewood opening happened the same month that they appeared on Netflix, but the timing just happened to be perfect after a series of pandemic-related setbacks for both show and shop. Netflix actually called only 9 months after the truck opened, but it took 20 or so attempts for Bea to finally be convinced the proposition was real. The show gave Little London the opportunity to highlight their skilled chef, Theresa, who Bea says stepped “almost down to step up in a way to help me with the truck. I showed her my vision, and she believed in it. We were both in the same mind that we wanted to work somewhere that we felt was like our home.” The show, the restaurant, and certainly The Duchess outside are all the result of the Morrissettes and Theresa’s passion for Little London, but they are also testimony to the power of love given from Birmingham communities. Make sure to give them a try, and keep supporting our local entrepreneurs.
Photos: Tommy McDowell