Where Are All the Michigan Howard Johnson’s Restaurants?
Howard Johnson Restaurants were fun to go to. When I was a kid I got my first Hojo experience on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes...they were all over the place on those 'pikes! I loved the Hojo fudge - best I ever tasted - along with the Tendersweet Clam dinner and their ice cream sodas, made with any of their "28 flavors".
The eatery had its beginnings in 1924 when Massachusetts resident Howard Deering Johnson owned a drug store with a soda fountain. He was making way more money with his sodas, which inspired him to start making his own ice cream. People began flocking to his shop for his ice cream sodas…made more flavorful thanks to the addition of extra butterfat. Soon, Howie had up to 28 ice cream flavors.
With this added success, he opened up a bunch of concession stands along the beaches in Massachusetts during the 1920s. He sold not just ice cream, but hot dogs and pop. He got even more successful, and it didn’t take much persuasion for Howard to get bankers to back his new venture: sit-down restaurants.
The first Howie’s featured his concession stand foods along with his soon-to-be-famous Tendersweet Fried Clams, baked beans, and chicken pot pies.
Howard Johnson restaurants were easily identified by travelers by the orange roof, cupola, and the “Simple Simon & Pie-man” logo. There were 200 locations pre-WW2, only 12 by 1944, and 400 by 1954, thanks to the many locations along the eastern turnpikes.
It was the most popular American restaurant chain during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Mid-Michigan had its fair share of these eateries and they are sadly all gone. By 1979, it's decline had begun. By the 2000's, there were less than ten in the whole USA and now there is only one left - in Lake George, New York.
Even though this last location still has the famous orange roof, you wouldn't know it was a Hojo if someone blindfolded you and set you inside.
So what happened?
Thanks to the oil embargo of 1974, most Americans could not afford to take trips. This meant little business along the turnpikes, where Hojo was making most of its profits. Fast food restaurants were now the thing, and places like McDonald's were taking a huge chunk of the Howard Johnson patronage. Also in 1974, singer Connie Francis was raped at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Jericho, New York, and won a 2.5 million dollar lawsuit, claiming lack of security. Along with a couple of other incidents (including a sniper who perched on top a New Orleans Hojo roof and killed several people) and some bad press, Hojo's reputation and business declined.
R.I.P. OUR MICHIGAN HOWARD JOHNSON'S, FORMERLY AT:
2380 Carpenter Rd, Ann Arbor
2590 Capital Ave, Battle Creek
6295 W Side Saginaw Rd, Bay City
35 28th St SW, Grand Rapids
1051 Boardman Rd, Jackson
3307 Kilgore, Kalamazoo
6801 S Cedar St, Lansing
E Saginaw St, Lansing
1440 N Dixie Hwy, Monroe
2910 Pine Grove, Port Huron
Even their frozen foods and ice cream are no longer marketed.
Miss ya, Howie.
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