Remember the distinctive orange roofs of Howard Johnson’s restaurants? Clam strips? The Ho-Jo’s 3-D cheeseburger? Twenty-eight flavors of ice cream? This week, the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the country, in Lake George, New York in the Adirondack region, closed its doors. Looking for a business opportunity. The 7500 square foot property is listed for the astronomical price of $10 (not a typo)!
The restaurant on Market Street in Youngstown opened in 1951 and was owned by Harry G. Barmeier. I remember times in high school and college meeting up with friends at the Market Street restaurant. At one time, they also had restaurants that I know of on Belmont Avenue, with an attached hotel, and in Austintown, as well as on Route 422 in the Niles area. Some of these were eventually purchased by other restaurants. I don’t know when Howard Johnson’s ceased in Youngstown, but I would guess during the 1980’s when a number of businesses closed in the wake of mill closures and competition.
My favorite memories of Howard Johnson’s were on trips I took with my grandparents on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. At one time, Howard Johnson’s had the rights to operate restaurants at the rest stops on the Turnpike (I believe that was also the case on the Ohio Turnpike at one time). I remember climbing into their padded booths, opening what looked like a gigantic menu with a gazillion choices. Many times, I would order the cheeseburger plate with a pile of fries and coleslaw. According to a 1964 menu, that would have cost $.85. I found Sometimes I would try the clam strips, which we would never have at home, dipping them in clam sauce. A side of these cost $.75. My grandfather loved to get the clam chowder, a bowl costing $.45. Then you could finish off the dinner choosing one of the twenty-eight flavors of ice cream, a serving costing just a quarter.
The chain’s heyday was the 1950’s and 1960’s when they eventually operated over one thousand restaurants, including the Ground Round brand. They were one of the first to pioneer the idea of a standard menu you could count on coast to coast. Then other national chains arose, from fast food places like McDonalds to sit down family restaurants like Denney’s, Friendly’s, Applebee’s, and others. Howard Johnson’s failed to update its menus.
The Howard Johnson’s name is still alive as part of the Wyndham Hotel chain. About 300 motor lodges, inns and hotels still bear the Howard Johnson name. The news of the closing of the last HoJo’s restaurant brought back those rich childhood memories. What were your memories of Howard Johnson’s?
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!