Only Three Howard Johnson Restaurants Remain

One of the many Howard Johnson restaurants that dotted the American countryside serving fried clams and 28 flavors of ice cream in the middle of the 20th century.

When part of our family made a trek from Louisiana to Maine in a 1949 Packard one of my favorite memories from the trip were when we stopped to eat at a Howard Johnson restaurant in Beverly, Massachusetts if my memory is correct about the city.

The two items I remember from the menu were the fried clams and the 28 flavors of ice cream. I can still recall the bright orange roofs of Howard Johnson restaurants.

I can’t recall too much about that 1957 visit of 53 years ago but it saddened me to know that there are only three Howard Johnson restaurants in existence today.

History of Howard Johnson Restaurants

It was the year of 1925 when Howard Johnson was $40,000 in debt. However he borrowed another $500 to take over a patent medicine store with a soda fountain and a newstand.

He sold the three basic flavors of ice cream which were vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. He decided to experiment to see if he could improve the taste of the ice cream he was selling and when he was successful lines of people waited to buy the ice cream.

The success of the ice cream inspired Johnson to turn his store into a restaurant and he started another restaurant in 1929 the same year of the stock market crash which slowed him down but didn’t impede his desire to expand.

Johnson originated restaurant franchising in America which led to the franchise system of doing business today for many fastfood chains.

By 1935 he had established 25 ice cream and sandwich stands in Massachusetts. He experienced great financial success till the advent of World War II which crippled his business because of food rationing and curtailment of travel to help the war effort.

The war caused most of the restaurants to close and the company was close to bankruptcy but after the war ended the company opened some of the closed restaurants and by 1954 there were 400 Howard Johnson restaurants in America.

At this point the company opened it’s first Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Savannah, Georgia and then began have a Howard Johnson restaurant adjacent to the motor lodges so travelers could have the convenience of eating right there on the premises instead of having to drive around looking for a place to eat.

By 1979 there were 1,000 restaurants and 500 motor lodges. However the 1980’s would see the fast food industry cut into their profits and the company was sold in 1980 for $630 million to an British company.

Now 30 years later only three Howard Johnson restaurants remain in business. The business may not be what it used to be but nothing can remove the memories of the 28 flavors of ice cream and the bright orange roofs which made the restaurants stand out as travelers ventured along American highways.

Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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