Howard Johnson's

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Howard Johnson International, Inc.[1]
Industry Hospitality, restaurants
Founded 1925 (1925) in Quincy, MA (restaurants)
1954 (1954) in Savannah, GA (motor lodges)
Founder Howard Deering Johnson[1]
Headquarters Parsippany, New Jersey, U.S.
Number of locations
393[2] (Q4 2015 (Q4 2015))
Areas served
Worldwide (hotels)
New York (restaurants)[3]
Key people
Cynthia Liu (Brand President)
Geoff Ballotti (President & CEO, Wyndham Hotel Group)
Services Lodging services
Parent Wyndham Worldwide

Howard Johnson's, or Howard Johnson, is an American chain of hotels, motels and restaurants located primarily throughout the United States and Canada. Founded by Howard Johnson, it was the largest restaurant chain in the U.S.A throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with more than 1,000 combined company owned and franchised outlets.

Howard Johnson hotels and motels are now part of Wyndham Worldwide. Howard Johnson's restaurants were franchised separately from the hotel brand beginning in 1986. The food and beverage rights to the restaurant are currently owned by Wyndham Worldwide. Just one Howard Johnson restaurant remains: in Lake George, New York.[4] The line of branded supermarket frozen foods, including ice cream, is no longer manufactured.


Early years[edit]

In 1925, Howard Deering Johnson borrowed $2,000 to buy and operate a small corner pharmacy in Wollaston, a neighborhood in Quincy, Massachusetts. Johnson was surprised to find it easy to pay back the money lent to him after discovering his recently installed soda fountain had become the busiest part of his drugstore. Eager to ensure that his store would remain successful, Johnson decided to come up with a new ice cream recipe. Some sources say the recipe was based on his mother's homemade ice creams and desserts,[5][6] while others say that it was from a local German immigrant,[7] who either sold or gave Johnson the ice cream recipe. Regardless, the new recipe made the ice cream more flavorful due to an increased content of butterfat. Eventually Johnson came up with 28 flavors of ice cream. Johnson is quoted as saying, "I thought I had every flavor in the world. That '28' (flavors of ice cream) became my trademark."[8]

Throughout the summers of the late 1920s, Johnson opened up concession stands on beachfront property along the coast of Massachusetts. The stands sold soft drinks, hot dogs, and ice cream. Each stand proved to be successful. With his success becoming more noticeable every year, Johnson convinced local bankers to lend him enough money to operate a sit-down restaurant. Negotiations were made and, toward the end of the decade, the first Howard Johnson's restaurant opened in Quincy. The first Howard Johnson's restaurant featured fried clams, baked beans, chicken pot pies, frankfurters, ice cream, and soft drinks.

In 1929, the first Howard Johnson's restaurant and Howard Johnson's company received an incredible break due to an unusual set of circumstances: The mayor of nearby Boston, Malcolm Nichols, prohibited the planned production of Eugene O'Neill's play, Strange Interlude, from performing in his city. Rather than fight the mayor, the Theatre Guild moved the production to Quincy. The five-hour play was presented in two parts with a dinner break. The first Howard Johnson's restaurant was near the theater; hundreds of influential Bostonians flocked to the restaurant. Through word of mouth, more Americans became familiar with the Howard Johnson's company.[9]

Expansion in the 1930s and 1940s[edit]

Corporate logo of the Howard Johnson's company, circa World War II, showing a depiction of an orange-roofed restaurant, characteristic typeface, and "Simple Simon and the Pieman" logo.
Howard Johnson's second logo used throughout the Howard Johnson Company's existence.
Howard Johnson entered the airline catering market segment.
Howard Johnsons restaurant entrance with trademark weathervane.

Johnson wanted to expand his company, but the stock market crash of 1929 prevented him from doing so. After waiting a few years and maintaining his business, Johnson was able to persuade an acquaintance in 1932 to open a second Howard Johnson's restaurant in Orleans, Massachusetts. The second restaurant was franchised and not company-owned. This was one of America's first franchising agreements.

By the end of 1936, there were 39 more franchised restaurants, creating a total of 41 Howard Johnson's restaurants. By 1939, there were 107 Howard Johnson's restaurants along various American East Coast highways, generating revenues of $10.5 million. In less than 14 years, Johnson directed a franchise network of over 10,000 employees with 170 restaurants, many serving 1.5 million people a year.

The unique icons of orange roofs, cupolas, and weather vanes on Howard Johnson properties helped patrons identify the chain's restaurants and motels. The restaurant's trademark Simple Simon and the Pieman logo was created by artist John Alcott in the 1930s.[6]

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Ohio Turnpike, and New Jersey Turnpike were built, Johnson bid for and won exclusive rights to serve drivers at service station turnoffs through the turnpike systems. There were 200 Howard Johnson's restaurants when America entered the Second World War.

By 1944, only 12 Howard Johnson's restaurants remained in business. The effects of war rationing had crippled the company. Johnson managed to maintain his business by serving commissary food to war workers and United States Army recruits.

In the process of recovering from these losses, in 1947 the Howard Johnson's company began construction of 200 new restaurants throughout the American Southeast and Midwest. By 1951, the sales of the Howard Johnson's company totaled $115 million.

Entering the hotel business[edit]

HoJo motor lodges used a lamplighter character lighting a lamppost with the Simple Simon character pointing to the light.

By 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson's restaurants in 32 states, about 10% of which were extremely profitable company-owned turnpike restaurants; the rest were franchises. This was one of the first nationwide restaurant chains.

While many places sold "fried clams," they were whole, which was not universally accepted by the American dining public. Howard Johnson popularized Soffron Brothers Clam Company's fried clam strips: the "foot" of hard-shelled sea clams. They became popular to eat in this fashion throughout the country.[10][11]

In 1954, the company opened the first Howard Johnson's motor lodge in Savannah, Georgia. The company employed architects Rufus Nims and Karl Koch to oversee the design of the rooms and gate lodge. Nims had previously worked with the company designing restaurants. The restaurant's trademark Simple Simon and the Pieman was now joined by a lamplighter character in the firm's marketing of its motels. According to cultural historians, the chain became synonymous with travel among American motorists and vacationers in part because of Johnson's ubiquitous outdoor advertising displays.[12]

In 1959, Howard Deering Johnson, who had founded and managed the company since 1925, turned the reins over to his son, then 26-year-old Howard Brennan Johnson. The elder Johnson would observe his son's control of the company until his death in 1972 at the age of 76.

Howard Johnson's Company went public in 1961; there were 605 restaurants, 265 company owned and 340 franchised, as well as 88 franchised Howard Johnson's motor lodges in 32 states and the Bahamas.

In 1961, Johnson hired famed New York chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pépin to oversee food development at the company's main commissary in Brockton, Massachusetts. Franey and Pépin developed recipes for the company's signature dishes that could be flash frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing a consistent product.

New chains and a changing public[edit]

In the early 1960s, H.B. Johnson tried a new concept for his father's company with the creation of a steakhouse restaurant chain called Red Coach Grills. Only a handful would open and, while they maintained some success, they were not profitable enough and eventually all the Red Coach Grills closed. In 1969, Johnson once again tried a new restaurant concept, Ground Round. It proved to be successful. Though it was not a Howard Johnson's restaurant, the Ground Round chain of restaurants were company-owned and -franchised, thus increasing the Howard Johnson's company profit.

By 1975, the Howard Johnson's company had more than 1,000 restaurants and more than 500 motor lodges in 42 states and Canada. The company reached its peak that year, but the late-1970s would mark the beginning of the end for the Howard Johnson's company. Because of the oil embargo of 1974, the Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges, which maintained 85% of revenues from travelers, lost profit when Americans couldn't afford to drive long trips or take frequent vacations. Also, the company model of serving pre-made food with high quality ingredients in traditional dining rooms was costly when compared to the innovations introduced by fast food outlets like McDonald's, which designed its products and restaurants to appeal to families with younger children.

The company also suffered from two infamous incidents at a property in downtown New Orleans within 18 months of one another. The first was a July 1971 fire, set by two irate guests who had been kicked out of the hotel, which killed six people.[13] The second, in January 1973, was a harrowing day-long siege. Former Black Panther Mark Essex used the hotel's roof as a sniper's perch, killing three police officers, the hotel's general manager and assistant general manager, and a couple from Virginia, who were on a belated honeymoon. He also wounded policemen, firemen and civilians. Then, in Jericho, New York, on November 8, 1974, singer-actress Connie Francis was raped at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson's Lodge. She sued the motel chain for their lapse in security and won a judgment of $2.5 million, one of the largest such judgments in history at that time, leading to a reform in hotel security. Her rapist was never found.

Johnson attempted to streamline company operations and cut costs, such as serving cheaper food and having fewer employees. This strategy was unsuccessful, because patrons compared this new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges unfavorably to the services they had previously come to know. In a further effort to make the company more successful and profitable, Johnson created other concepts, such as HoJos Campgrounds and 3 Penny Inns for lodging, as well as Deli Baker Ice Cream Maker, and Chatt's for restaurants. All of these concepts failed, furthering the company's demise.

In the late 1990s, the Howard Johnson's Candy Factory and Executive Offices in Wollaston were purchased and renovated by the Eastern Nazarene College to form the Adams Executive Center.[14]

Changes in ownership[edit]

In 1979, Johnson accepted an acquisition bid of more than $630 million from Imperial Group PLC of London, England. Imperial obtained 1,040 restaurants (75% company owned/25% franchised) and 520 motor lodges (75% franchised/25% company owned). In 1981 Imperial hired G. Michael Hostage, then CEO of Continental Baking Company and formerly executive vice president of Marriott Corporation, to replace Johnson as CEO. After three years, however, and despite considerable evidence of favorable trends in the company's condition, Imperial decided to give up and divest. Having declined to entertain Hostage's proposal to lead a leveraged buyout, Imperial employed Goldman Sachs who, with Hostage's assistance, sold the company to Marriott in 1986.

Howard Johnson's restaurant painted in 1970s "environmental" color scheme
A former Howard Johnson's restaurant in Bay City, Michigan which closed in 2005. Note the adjacent former motor lodge, now occupied by Econo Lodge.

Marriott was interested in the company-owned restaurants not as a going concern, but as real estate. It already owned Big Boy Restaurants and Roy Rogers Restaurants; in 1982, it acquired Host Marriott Corporation, which it was building as a highway rest stop operator. Many of the established Howard Johnson sites were in prime highway locations which could be profitably converted to Big Boy or various fast food banners. As Marriott quickly demolished the company owned restaurants or converted them to other restaurant chains, the number of Howard Johnson's restaurants remaining circa 1985 was sharply reduced; only the franchised restaurants remained untouched.

Marriott left all company-owned and franchised motor lodges untouched as the deal called for them to be sold a year later (in 1986) to Prime Motors Inns, an existing franchisee with 63 motels.[15]

Divestment of motor lodges[edit]

Prime Motors Inns continued to preserve the lodges, just as Marriott had, until weak hotel and real estate markets caused it to sell off its assets and cease operations in 1990.[16] Those involved with the company owned and franchised motor lodges banded together and formed the Howard Johnson Acquisition Corporation. They successfully obtained all the rights to operate and maintain the company owned and franchised lodges. With these rights maintained, they changed their name to "Howard Johnson International Incorporated," which became a subsidiary of "Hospitality Franchise Systems Incorporated," which eventually merged with other companies to form Cendant. In 2006, Cendant split itself into Wyndham Worldwide and three other companies.

Wyndham operated the Howard Johnson brand under many "tiers" based on price, level of amenities, and services offered. Under Cendant/Wyndham, the chain became a parking place for franchise conversions, which were existing independent motels which had been renovated and added to the chain in order to provide them with access to a nationally recognised name and central reservation infrastructure. As these properties were not originally constructed as Howard Johnson sites, they lacked the distinctive architecture and some had no restaurant at all.

Howard Johnson Express Inns, Howard Johnson Inns, Howard Johnson Hotels, and Howard Johnson Plaza Hotels range from limited-service motels to full-service properties with on-site concierges and business centers. Howard Johnson began offering a "Rise 'N' Dine" continental breakfast at some economy limited service locations.[17] The chain plans to abolish the multiple price tiers by 2015.

Divestment of restaurant brand[edit]

While the Howard Johnson's company-owned and franchised motor lodges have stood the test of time since being sold by the Howard Johnson's Company in 1979, the restaurants have not. Because Marriott eliminated all the company-owned restaurants, the owners of the franchised restaurants feared elimination and banded together in 1986 and created "Franchise Associates Incorporated" or (FAI). In 1986, Marriott gave FAI the rights to operate and maintain Howard Johnson's restaurants. When Cendant acquired the Howard Johnson's motor lodges, they offered to work together with FAI to ensure the expansion of the restaurant chain.

As early as 1987, FAI chairman George Carter acknowledged that "We have the concept, but it desperately needs to be modernized, internally and externally. Howard Johnson was allowed to become tired and stale. We must get rid of that plastic image... Anything can be salvageable if a great deal of time and money and effort is put in it. And Howard Johnson needs all those same things."[18] Attempts were made to revamp 25% of the menu and create new signage, but these efforts proved insufficient as the long-neglected chain continued to lose ground to mass-market fast food operations.

While the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain was preserved, FAI did not have enough money to expand to new locations or revamp the brand. With the exception of one Howard Johnson's ice cream parlor in Puerto Rico, FAI never opened a new restaurant or expanded the chain. An existing restaurant in Canton, Massachusetts was remodeled as a prototype for a new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants, but the concept failed, and after less than a decade of operation, the prototype restaurant closed in 2000.


By 2005, there were fewer than eight surviving restaurants. A combination of no vision, no reinvestment of capital, aging restaurants, a stale menu, lack of marketing or new ideas, and competition from other chains had taken their toll; restaurants were closing their doors.[19] FAI ceased operations in 2005, the same year that the Springfield, Vermont location and the last New York City restaurant in the chain closed.

Cendant acquired the rights to operate and maintain the remaining Howard Johnson's restaurants. In 2006, Cendant sold them to La Mancha Group LLC,[20] which had proposed an aggressive expansion of the restaurant chain that never materialised. After the Waterbury, Connecticut restaurant became The Brass House Restaurant in April 2007,[21] only three locations remained. Cendant split into four smaller companies in 2006; its hotel group became Wyndham Worldwide while other pieces were spun off separately to become Avis Budget Group, Realogy, Travelport and Affinion Group.

A line of Howard Johnson-branded frozen foods disappeared from grocery stores after Fairfield Farms Kitchens shut down its Brockton, Massachusetts plant in 2006[22] and America's Kitchen of Atlanta, Georgia shut down in May 2008.


In spring 2012, one of the last three original Howard Johnson's restaurants closed in Lake George and was listed for sale.[23] Television personality, chef and author Rachael Ray once worked at that site while living in Lake George as a teenager.[24] By 2013 only two original restaurants remained opened, but the Bangor (hotel and restaurant) no longer had the distinctive orange roof. While the highest tier in the hotel franchise (HoJo Hotel Plaza) does include a restaurant, there is no requirement that these replicate menus, format or branding of the former Howard Johnson restaurant chain.[25]

With La Mancha Group LLC no longer active, Wyndham Hotel Group owns the rights to the HoJo’s food business as well as the Howard Johnson hotel chain.[26] In 2013, Wyndham proposed a Howard Johnson Brand Reinvigoration which would bring select flavors of ice cream back to the hotels, adopt a new logo, phase out the multiple branding tiers and give the properties a facelift and redesign as a lower-midscale chain starting in 2015.[27]

In August 2014, the Lake George restaurant regained the Howard Johnson's name when the lease was transferred from its original owners, DeSantis Enterprises, to John Larock.[28] The restaurant reopened January 10, 2015, briefly bringing the number of locations back up to three. On March 31, 2015 the Lake Placid, N.Y., Howard Johnson's closed, leaving only two locations remaining. Then in September 2016, the Bangor restaurant closed, leaving the Lake George restaurant the very last location remaining out of the original 1,000-plus.[29][30][31] On January 25, 2017, the Lake George Howard Johnson's restaurant site's parcel of land went up for sale, questioning the future of the restaurant.[32] At present, the Lake George, N.Y. location is the only remaining Howard Johnson's restaurant left.

In popular culture[edit]

The film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was "one of the very first to carry 'product placements' for companies" such as Howard Johnson's, whose logos appear aboard the space station.[33] The chain's lamplighter was also updated to the "Earthlight Room" on the space station, a Howard Johnson's lounge for passengers taking the moon shuttle. In the scene where the Russian scientists share a drink with Dr. Floyd, it is shown that the restaurant chain servicing the space station is Howard Johnson's.[34] The chain featured a 2001 tie-in in their children's menu.[35]

A substantial portion of the Mad Men season 5 episode, "Far Away Places", involves Don and Megan Draper's trip to the Howard Johnson's Restaurant and Motor Lodge in Plattsburgh, New York. However, exteriors were actually shot in Baldwin Park, California.[citation needed] In response, Howard Johnson's launched a promotion referencing the appearance, to include a letter addressed to the character of Don Draper in the style of letterhead used in that era.[36]


  1. ^ a b "Wyndham Hotel Group - Company Backgrounder" (.pdf). Wyndham Hotel Group. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Wyndham Worldwide Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2015 Results". Press Release. Retrieved 9 February 2016. 
  3. ^ Cermak, Marv (28 July 2014). "Marv Cermak: Talk around Lake George has HoJo's re-opening". Times Union. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Chandler, Adam (9 September 2016). "The Very Last Howard Johnson's". The Atlantic. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  5. ^ Sugars, Bradley J. (2005). Successful Franchising: Expert Advice on Buying, Selling and Creating Winning Franchises. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-07-146671-4. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Hinckley, Jim; Robinson, Jon G. (2005). The Big Book of Car Culture: The Armchair Guide to Automotive Americana. MotorBooks/MBI. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-7603-1965-9. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Boyett, Joseph H.; Boyett, Jimmie T. (2002). The Guru Guide to Entrepreneurship: A Concise Guide to the Best Ideas from the World's Top Entrepreneurs. John Wiley and Sons. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-471-43686-7. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  8. ^ The Nation's Business (1968). Lessons of Leadership: 21 Top Executives Speak Out on Creating, Developing, and Managing Success. Doubleday. p. 48. 
  9. ^ "28 Flavors Head West". Life. Time Inc: 71. 6 September 1948. ISSN 0024-3019. 
  10. ^ "Thomas Soffron, 96, Creator of Clam Strips". New York Times. 28 February 2004. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Sovich, Nina (1 May 2004). "Clam King". CNN. Retrieved 18 September 2012. Like many famous Greeks, and not a few New Englanders, Thomas Soffron found his fortune at sea. An immigrant from Calamata, Greece, Soffron invented clam strips: battered and fried slices from the "foot" of hard-shelled sea clams (which held up better when frozen than did the coastal variety). For years Soffron Brothers Clam Co., based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, served as the exclusive supplier of clam strips to the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain, which sold the whole country on this Down East delicacy. Few HoJos are left, but the clam strip's enduring popularity stands as its creator's legacy. Soffron died on February 21, 2004 at age 96 in Ipswich, his hometown. 
  12. ^ "Rubenstein Library / ROAD / 1920-1929 (Outdoor Advertising Timeline: 1920-1929)". Duke Libraries. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  13. ^ Evarts, Ben (23 July 2011). "Today in fire history: hotel fire kills six". National Fire Protection Association Blog. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "Cecil R. Paul Center for Business". Eastern Nazarene College. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  15. ^ Horovitz, Bruce (25 September 1985). "Marriott and Partner Buy Howard Johnson". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  16. ^ "Company News; Prime Motor Inns in Trouble". The New York Times. 15 September 1990. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  17. ^ "Howard Johnson Tiers". Howard Johnson International. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "Restaurant Chain Fights Stale Image Operators Hope To End Howard Johnson Slump". Orlando Sentinel. 30 April 1987. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Clarke Canfield (May 14, 2005). "HoJo restaurants fading fast". Bangor, Maine. Associated Press. 
  20. ^ Chesto, Jon (22 July 2009). "Fading HoJo's chain seeks new knight in shining armor". Milford Daily News. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  21. ^ "Broken Chain: State Loses Last Hojo's". Hartford Courant. 15 April 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  22. ^ "44 Companies Closing 48 Plants + 18 Bankruptcies (Fairfield Farm Kitchens closing Brockton, Ma plant)". Plant Closings: 2. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  23. ^ Cermak, Marv (9 July 2012). "Restaurants served a slice of Americana". The Albany Times Union. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  24. ^ Severson, Kim (13 June 2011). "Summer Jobs of the Rich and Famous". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  25. ^ For instance, contains a restaurant... but it's a Denny's.
  26. ^ Chesto, Jon (10 June 2012). "Wyndham Hotel Group is still planning for a HoJo's revival despite the challenges ahead". Mass. Markets. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  27. ^ "Much-Anticipated Howard Johnson Brand Reinvigoration Unveiled at Wyndham Hotel Group Global Conference" (Press release). Wyndham. 10 September 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  28. ^ Anderson, Eric (28 July 2012). "Lake George Howard Johnson's to reopen". The Albany Times Union. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  29. ^ Lake Placid HoJo's to close its doors WCAX, 24 March 2015
  30. ^ Mann, Brian (1 April 2015). "With Nostalgia And A Last Nosh, 1 Of 3 Remaining HoJo's Closes : The Salt : NPR". NPR. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  31. ^ "Howard Johnson restaurant to close; only 1 left". Retrieved 2016-08-24. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ Brake, Mark (2013). Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology. Cambridge University Press. p. 254. ISBN 9780521491297. Retrieved June 16, 2014. 
  34. ^ Hahn, George (November 8, 2011). "Early Skype and Ho-Jo's Earthlight Room in '2001: A Space Odyssey'". Retrieved 2013-10-04. 
  35. ^ Sisson, John (8 May 2013). ""2001: A Space Odyssey" Howard Johnsons Children's Menu (1968)". Dreams of Space. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  36. ^ Hunter, Marnie (24 April 2012). "HoJo is just mad for Don Draper". Retrieved 4 December 2014. 

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