HoJo's Last Stand

Aug. 29, 2016

special piece of roadside Americana with memorable food will no longer be around, except in upstate New York.

Add another fond and memorable item to the Obsolete List, along with the likes of cassette tapes, phone books and the Rolodex: One of the last two Howard Johnson restaurants in the country will close in a couple of weeks (early September).This pretty much marks the end of Hojo fried clam strips, ice cream and other menu staples that fed baby boomers, leaving a once-iconic king of roadside restaurant chains slipping into the brink of extinction.

This special piece of roadside Americana will no longer be located in Bangor, Me., after Sept. 6. The closing in Bangor will leave only one Howard Johnson restaurant, and that's in Lake George, N.Y. Ah, the end of an era.

Before falling on hard times, Howard Johnson took restaurant franchises to a new platueau. The orange-roofed eateries once numbered more than 800, with the New England-based restaurant chain predating Howard Johnson hotels. The business dates back to 1925 when Howard Deering Johnson inherited a soda fountain in Quincy, Mass. Johnson began producing 28 flavors of rich, creamy ice cream with a quality and taste that never varied. This brought a steady stream of loyal customers to the store, which was later expanded to serve grilled hot dogs and fried clams. That evolved into a chain of restaurants featuring the ice cream and various kinds of comfort food. The orange roof with a blue spire represented a dependable place for travelers to park the family car, grab a meal and spend the night.

Johnson established the franchising concept, a fairly new business idea, but he reasoned that if he let a franchisee use the now recognizable Howard Johnson name, and they purchased all food and supplies from him through a central supply commissary, he could charge a fee in exchange of the use of his brand. The roadside restaurants began to be franchised throughout New England in the late 1940s and early 1950s and spread West, numbering in the thousands.

The good news is that the Lake George restaurant appears to be on solid ground and is open year 'round. And the hotel side of the business in Bangor remains healthy, so won't be affected by the restaurant closure. Walter Mann, of New Haven, Conn., who started a website dedicated to documenting HoJo’s restaurant history, said he and other HoJo fans still hold out hope that an "orange knight" will step forward to revive the restaurants. If not, he'll still cherish the memories, he said to the Boston Globe in a recent article.