You don’t see them them around today, but in the 70s, Howard Johnson’s didn’t only provide overnight lodging, they were the largest restaurant chain in the United States. And millions of Long Islanders certainly remember sitting down to a quality meal at these memorable eateries back in the day.
Howard Johnson started out as a drug store owner in the 1920s. When he realized that his soda fountain made more money than the rest of the store, he decided to expand into the ice cream business, creating an astounding 28 flavors of the high quality frozen confection.
Soon after, he dumped the drug store and secured funding to open the first Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Massachusetts in 1929. The place became known not only for its ice cream, but also its hot dogs, baked beans, pot pies, and those glorious golden morsels of goodness known as fried clams.
World War II wasn’t so good for business, but in 1947, the company opened 200 new restaurants, and in less than ten years, that number doubled. Johnson wisely located them near highways and turnpikes. At the end of the 50s, Howard Johnson’s began expanding into the hotel business, placing one next to each of their most popular restaurants.
They were reasonably priced, well maintained, and arrived as America was embracing road trips like never before. The company also started offering their food in the frozen section of local grocery stores.
The 70s were peak years for Howard Johnson’s, now boasting over 1,000 restaurants and half as many motor lodges scattered across the nation’s landscape. Unfortunately, the country had also fallen hopelessly in love with fast food, and the restaurant chain simply couldn’t compete. Furthermore, as gas prices soared through the decade, less and less were taking to the road for their travels.
By the time the 70s ended, Howard Johnson’s would change hands numerous times, and all focus was on the hotels. When Marriot purchased the brand in 1985, they would close all but a handful of the restaurants that had fed weary travelers for decades.
Today, that number is down to a mere two locations, one in Bangor, Maine and the other in Lake Placid, New York, who both will still serve you up a piping hot plate of fried clams or a hot fudge sundae, just like you might have enjoyed with your family in the wonderful 70s.
If you have fond memories of eating at Howard Johnson’s back in the day, I hope you’ll share your recollections with us in our comments section below.
Would go to dayville one for years. Chocolate milk in giant shake glass. All you could eat clamd on Friday and later when frachised the steak for 2.
Yeah we always had our birthday parties there for the ice cream, my family lived in Brentwood Long Island from 1960 until 1978. The building is still there (2021) but it’s some kind of adult club. I had a great time growing up in Brentwood, good memories.
HoJo’s was a great place! Best hot dogs in buttered loaf shaped buns. A slice of Heaven to be sure. The hot dogs were grilled and with a side of fries, made a kid’s meal fantastic. Parents always loved the Fried Clams. Always went to the one on Old Country Road in Westbury close to Wantaugh State Parkway. Had a hotel behind it. Still some sort of restaurant but the familiar iconic “look” is gone. There is an Econo Lodge behind the restaurant though! The orange theme was a memorable calling card which was hard to miss. Birthdays were a staple. Movie dates also wound up here. Sure do miss those days. Simple times, simple pleasures.
Although I am at the other end of the State, obviously Howard Johnson’s restaurants had a National appeal, or at least on the Northeastern Atlantic and Midatlantic coast. Howard Johnson’s was an absolute treat, even in the early 1980s by which time it had become, sadly, rather tired. Didn’t matter to me! Going into one was like you were on a road trip…..even if it was the one three blocks from my house! Fried clams, and I want to say the Strawberry milkshake were my favorites. I remember eating lunch at a church function and a nun talking about a road trip she was on. She made some comment about not wanting to eat at a Howard Johnson’s, as if that were beneath her. Heck, I am the son of a doctor, and though we never lived high, we did appreciate nice things, but also understood value as well as class. Class isn’t something related to how much money you have, but solely by good manners. I never had a problem eating in Howard Johnson’s, so that nun’s comment left me puzzled. To this day, making a pilgrimage to “the last Howard Johnson’s” (if it is still there in Lake George) remains on my bucket list!
And now, that has become zero. Both the two you listed (Lake Placid and Bangor) have closed, and the one in Lake George did not reopen for this summer (even though it was far from what the chain was anyway even when it did operate).
Every summer as a kid, as we were heading out on vacation, we got to eat breakfast at the Ho Jo’s on Old Country Road in Hicksville as it was right next to the Wantagh State Parkway. Later on I went there on Fridays for their fish frys and ice cream. Fond memories. Thx!