End Of An Era: The Last Howard Johnson Restaurant

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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One of the last two remaining Howard Johnson restaurants is closing, bringing us closer to the end of what was once one of America’s most recognized roadside brands.

The Howard Johnson in Bangor, Maine, is closing its doors Sept. 6, due to a lack of business. The news of the closing reminded some of a bygone era, when the orange-roofed diner dominated America’s roadways.

Howard Deering Johnson installed a soda fountain stand inside his pharmacy in Quincy, Mass., in 1925, launching the beginning of a roadside dining empire. By 1935, he had 25 restaurants. The expansion of the brand followed the expansion of highways, as more Americans purchased automobiles.

The restaurant continued to grow, becoming known for “28 flavors” of ice cream, its sandwiches and clams. Long before McDonald’s or Subway, Howard Johnson restaurants were a symbol of familiarity for travelers. They were fast, consistent, and affordable.

Renowned American historian Michael Beschloss shared this tweet of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy outside of a Howard Johnson in 1975:

The Howard Johnson name also became ubiquitous for its motels. The company, at its peak in the 1970s, operated over 1,000 restaurants and 500 motels.

The last remaining restaurant is located in Lake George, N.Y., and has no plans to closing. Owner John LaRock told The Associated Press that the restaurant was doing great, and it planned to go through some renovations over the winter to “spruce it up,” and “keep it going.” LaRock conveyed that it’s a good feeling to be “keeping the HoJo legacy alive.”

The rise and fall of the Howard Johnson brand has spanned 91 years, and the book is not yet closed.

When Johnson installed his soda fountain inside his pharmacy, the number one song on the radio was Ben Bernie’s “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the price of gas was 9 cents per gallon and the Cubs were (already) 17 years removed from their last World Series Title. When the second to last Howard Johnson restaurant closes Sept. 6, the number one song will most likely come from the Chainsmokers or Sia, gas will be hovering around $2.20, and the Cubs will be 108 years removed from their last World Series title.

Quincy, Mass., home of the Drop Kick Murphy’s and Dunkin Donuts, will forever be known as the place where the orange-roofed ice cream bar and sandwich empire began.

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Ted Goodman