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    Howard Johnson's is a U.S. chain of restaurants and motels which was founded in 1925 by Howard Deering Johnson when he borrowed $2,000 to buy a small corner drugstore in Wollaston, Massachusetts. It sold candy, newspapers and patent medicine.


    After noticing that his soda fountain was the busiest part of his drugstore, Johnson decided to come up with a new ice cream recipe, mostly based on his mother's recipe (although some say the recipe actually came from a local ice cream maker, a German immigrant). The new ice cream was more flavorful with a higher butterfat content. He eventually came up with 28 flavors and opened a beachfront ice cream stand. According to Johnson, "I thought I had every flavor in the world. The 28 flavors became my trademark."

    Over the next few summers, he added more beachfront stands and began selling hotdogs, as well. His success was beginning to be noticed by others, and thus he was able to convince some bankers to lend him enough money to open a sitdown restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts. This first Howard Johnson's restaurant featured fried clams, baked beans, chicken pot pies, frankfurters, and, of course, ice cream.

    In 1929 the restaurant's popularity received a huge boost due to an unusual set of circumstances. Nearby, Boston Mayor Nichols prohibited the planned Boston production of Eugene O'Neill's play, Strange Interlude. Rather than fight the mayor, the Theatre Guild acquiesced and moved the production to Quincy. The five-hour-long play was presented in two parts with a dinner break. Howard Johnson's was close to the theater and the best option available to hungry theatregoers. Hundreds of influential Bostonians flocked to the restaurant.

    Johnson wanted to expand - but the stock market crashed in 1929.

    In 1932, he persuaded an acquaintance to open another "Howard Johnson's" restaurant in Orleans on Cape Cod under one of the nation's first franchising agreements. By the end of 1936, there were 39 more franchised restaurants.

    By 1939, there were 107 Howard Johnson's restaurants along East Coast highways, generating revenues of $10.5 million.

    In less than 14 years, Howard Johnson directed a franchise network of over 10,000 employees with 170 restaurants, many serving one and a half million people a year.

    When the Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey turnpikes were built, Howard Johnson bid on and won exclusive rights to serve the hungry turnpike drivers at service station turnoffs through the turnpike systems. There were 200 Howard Johnson's restaurants by the time of the United States's entry into World War II at the end of 1941.

    Due to war rationing, by the summer of 1944 only 12 of the restaurants remained in business. Mr. Johnson managed to stay barely afloat by serving commissary food to war workers and army recruits.

    By 1947, construction was underway or about to begin on 200 new Howard Johnson's restaurants throughout the Southeast and Midwest. These were slightly smaller buildings than the prewar originals, but Howard Johnson still provided over 700 items, including fried clams, macaroni and cheese, saltwater taffy and 28 flavors of ice cream. By 1951, Howard Johnson's sales totaled $115 million.

    By 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson's restaurants in 32 states. About 10% were company-owned turnpike restaurants that were extremely profitable. Also that year, the company decided to enter the motor lodge business and opened the first Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge in Savannah, Georgia. The Howard Johnson's company employed architects Rufus Nims and Karl Koch to oversee room design and motor lodge lobby design. Nims had previously worked with the company to design its postwar restaurants. Ultimately, the lobby design wasn't a big hit, so they were scrapped in favor of newer A-frame shaped lobbies with vaulted ceilings. However, the room designs stayed with the company until the end.

    By 1961, the year the Howard Johnson Company went public, there were 88 franchised Howard Johnson's Motor Lodges in 33 states and in the Bahamas. That year, there were also 605 restaurants, 265 of them company-operated and 340 franchisee-operated. Johnson hired famed New York chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin to oversee food development at the company's main commissary in Brockton, Massachusetts. Franey and Pepin developed recipes for Howard Johnson's signature dishes that could be flash-frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing a consistent product. Also, in the early 1960s, the Red Coach Grill concept was developed. Red Coach Grills had a steakhouse concept that enjoyed some initial success, but they eventually failed.

    In 1959, the company founder, who still made his headquarters in Wollaston, Massachusetts, turned the reins over to his son, twenty-six year old Howard Brennan Johnson, who succeeded him as president. The founder died in 1972 at the age of 76.

    In 1969, Howard Johnson had opened the first Ground Round restaurant. Although Howard Johnson's kept expanding, reaching over 1,000 restaurants and over 500 motor lodges in 42 states and Canada by 1975, the 1970s marked the beginning of the end of the original Howard Johnson's concept. Over 85% of the company's revenues depended on automobile travel, and when the oil embargo of 1974 created nationwide gasoline shortages and inflated gas prices, more and more Americans kept their cars in the garage. The Howard Johnson model of serving pre-made food with high quality ingredients in traditional dining rooms was also costly, compared to the innovations introduced by fast food outlets like McDonalds, which designed its products and restaurants to appeal to families with young children in particular. Under Howard B. Johnson, the company attempted to streamline its operations and cut costs, but serving cheaper food with fewer employees eventually eroded the brand's reputation. Other concepts were developed over the final years to strengthen the company's image, such as Hojos Campgrounds, 3 Penny Inns for lodging, Deli Baker Ice Cream Maker, Chatt's, and Bumbershoot's for eateries. These concepts failed, yet Howard Johnson's still did not focus again on the key concepts of the motor lodges and restaurants that made the company profitable in the first place. This ultimately led to the company's demise.

    In September of 1979, Howard Johnson's accepted an acquisition bid from Imperial Group PLC of England and was sold by the founder's son. G. Michael Hostage took over as the last man to ever head the Howard Johnson company. Imperial obtained 1,040 restaurants (75% company owned) and 520 motor lodges (75% franchised) for more than $630 million dollars, which remains within the Johnson family. After many failed attempts by Hostage to provide financial backing for Howard Johnson's, the restaurant chain was sold to the Marriott Corporation in 1985 and all company-owned restaurants were changed to other brands. The lodging chain was sold to Prime Motor Inns in 1986.

    In 1990, the Howard Johnson name and lodging system were sold to HJ Acquisition Corp., later to become known as Howard Johnson International, Inc. This new company was a subsidiary of Hospitality Franchise Systems Inc., or "HFS", which is now known as Cendant. During the summer of 2006, as part of Cendant's breakup, Cendant's hospitality division became Wyndham Worldwide.

    The remaining franchises held by Marriott, and were acquired by Franchise Associates, Inc. or FAI after Marriott gave them the rights to the recipes and restaurants for fear of a potential lawsuit, although nothing legal ever happened in this case. Later, when Cendant got ahold of the motor lodge chain, and Marriott left the restaurant business altogether, Cendant upheld the rights to secure the restaurants to FAI.

    Franchise Associates held an agreement with Cendant to make the restaurants and brand as a whole, more profitable, and back to its original quality. The polar opposite happened. After a failed prototype in Canton, Massachusetts, which was actually the remodeling of an existing restaurant, FAI closed more restaurants than it opened. In reality, besides an ice cream parlor in Puerto Rico, FAI never opened an actual new restaurant. They simply remodeled older ones, which presented negative reviews among Hojo fans and historians. After closing the last restaurant that they solely owned in Springfield, Vermont on May 15th, 2005, the contract between FAI and Cendant was considered null and void. In September of 2005, Cendant acquired the rights to Howard Johnson Restaurants from Franchise Associates. In March 2006, Cendant licensed the food and beverage rights to the Howard Johnson name to La Mancha Group, LLC. La Mancha hopes to bring the chain of restaurants back into popular culture, and start the brand with its supermarket sales once again, starting first with the Howard Johnson's ice cream in early 2007, and possibly a full fledged restaurant by late 2007.

    According to, only three Howard Johnson's restaurants remain in business as of January 2007. These restaurants are located in Lake George, New York; Lake Placid, New York; and Bangor, Maine. The landmark Times Square Howard Johnson's restaurant in New York City closed its doors on July 9, 2005. The Asbury Park, New Jersey restaurant, which opened in 1962 and operated on a limited basis since the decline of Asbury Park in the 1980s, closed in June 2006. The Waterbury, Connecticut location was disaffiliated in January 2007 due to "substandard" operations.

    Icon of popular culture

    Throughout the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Howard Johnson's was an icon of popular culture. The orange-roofed buildings were as identifiable as McDonald's arches today, the slogan "28 flavors" as familiar as Baskin-Robbins' later 31.

    Howard Johnson's typified the best as well as the worst features of the national, uniform, standardized chain restaurant. A family on a trip looking for a place to eat in an unfamiliar area could always find a Howard Johnson's, it would always be acceptable, and if you happened to like fried clam strips you could be sure they would have them; but it represented boring uniformity as much as dependable familiarity.

    Howard Johnson's lived up to its longtime slogans, "Host of the Highways" and "Landmark for Hungry Americans." In fact, its domination of turnpike locations and service plazas was so complete that people began to think of it as a place where they ate while on road trips because they had to, not a place that they went to at home because they wanted to. The nickname "HoJo," eventually officially adopted by the company, was as disparaging as it was affectionate.

    The use of the Howard Johnson's name in the 1974 satirical western movie Blazing Saddles indicates the pervasiveness of the restaurant chain at the time. The movie, set in 1874 in the fictional city of "Rock Ridge", features a bogus "original" Howard Johnson's Restaurant, which offers "1 Flavor." Reference is made to "the orange roof on Howard Johnson's outhouse", and the joke is furthered as every citizen in town is surnamed "Johnson".

    The band NRBQ made a song named Howard Johnson's Got His Ho-Jo Working for their 1972 album, Scraps. The song was released during the time of popularity of Howard Johnson's restaurants.

    Howard Johnson's name also appeared in Stanley Kubrick's classic science fiction movie 2001: Space Odyssey and was depicted as 'Howard Johnson's Earthlight Room'. Also, a location along the Illinois Tollway was featured in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

    Although Howard Johnson's fit into U.S. history in many ways, perhaps the most significant event to take place at a Howard Johnson's restaurant occurred in connection with the Watergate scandal in 1973. There are several versions of the incidents which took place there. According to one of them, some of the Watergate burglars gathered at the Howard Johnson's restaurant which was across the street from the Watergate building, where the burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices was to take place. When the first group of burglars broke into the office, they were supposed to flash the office lights on and off quickly, so that other burglars in the restaurant would see the signal and know that the burglary had taken place. Other versions maintain that the restaurant was often used for meetings of the burglars, for reconnaissance of the Demo. Committee office, and other purposes.

    Kurt Vonnegut Jr. sends up the pervasiveness of the orange-roofed restaurants in the title story of his 1968 anthology, Welcome To The Monkey House, in which he suggests "ethical suicide parlors" located next to every Howard Johnsons in an overpopulated future.

    Building designs

    The Howard Johnson's company had about 5 distinct building designs for its restaurants and 3 different designs for the gate lodge lobbies over the course of the company's existence. These were:


    . Colonial House design - This pre-and-post-World War II design was modeled after the company's home state of Massachusetts and the design of the state's many residential homes of the time. The only difference was adding the orange roof.
    . Nims design - This design was introduced in the late 1950s to modernize the company's image and to reflect the changing times in America. It was designed by architect Rufus Nims.
    . Concept 65 - This was the largest post-WWII design; the restaurant's roof shape tended to reflect the shape of the motor lodge office, or "gate lodge." It was only used at a handful of heavy-business locations. It was also the largest of the restaurant concepts.
    . T-Shaped design - It is hard to tell if this was the actual terms used for this design, but it is pretty self explanatory. They were basically smaller versions of the Concept 65 design with a shorter pitched roof.
    . Mansard - The 1970s brought on the last of the original company's building of Howard Johnson's restaurants. By this time, the company was more focused on its motor lodges and other restaurant concepts. This was also the least popular style of HJ Restaurants because it didn't have the same charm and familiar feeling as the older restaurants did.

    Motor Lodges

    . Ranch gate lodge - This ranch style house design on the motor lodges lobbies were designed by HJ restaurant architect Rufus Nims and Karl Koch. This design was eventually dropped in favor of the A Frame design.
    . A Frame gate lodge - This was the most popular and most recognized design of the motor lodge lobbies. It was used for at least 20 some years, and came in many different forms, including drive under canopies, and other motor lodges had only one of the A frames gables sticking out of the building.
    . Mansard - This was the last of the motor lodge lobby designs for the HJ Company. This was to tie in with the mansard restaurants.


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