Howard Johnson's

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Present-day corporate logo of Howard Johnson's restaurant chain (Franchise Associates, Incorporated)
Present-day corporate logo of the hotel chain, Howard Johnson's International, Inc. (division of Cendant).
Present-day corporate logo of the hotel chain, Howard Johnson's International, Inc. (division of Cendant).

Howard Johnson's is a chain of restaurants and hotels (now separate companies) 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.

Eventually, after noticing his soda fountain was the busiest part of his drugstore, he decied to come up with a new ice cream. He eventually came up with 28 flavors and opened a beach-front ice cream stand.

Quote: "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 decided to add hot dogs.

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 restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts. This first Howard Johnson's restaurant featured fried clams, baked beans, chicken pies, frankfurters, and, of course, Howard Johnson ice cream.

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

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

In 1935, he persuaded an acquaintance to open another "Howard Johnson's" restaurant in Orleans on Cape Cod under one of the nation's first franchises.

Soon there were 17 Howard Johnson's restaurants and by the end of 1936 there were 39 more franchised restaurants.

By 1939 there were 107 Howard Johnson 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 a million and a half people a year.

When the Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey turnpikes were built, and Howard Johnson bid and won exclusive rights to serve the hungry turnpike multitudes. There were 200 Howard Johnson restaurants by the beginning of World War II.

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

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

By 1954 there were 400 Howard Johnson restaurants in 32 states. About 10% were company-owned turnpike restaurants that were extremely profitable.

Also in the 1950s, Howard Johnson opened their first motel.

By 1961, the year the Howard Johnson Co. went public, there were 88 franchised Howard Johnson's Motor Lodges in 33 states and the Bahamas. That year there were also 605 restaurants, 265 of them company operated and 340 franchisee-operated.

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 Brennon Johnson, who succeeded him as president.

Howard Deering Johnson died in 1972 at the age of 76.

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 concept. Over 85% of the company's revenues depended on automobile travel, and when the oil embargo of 1974 created nationwide gas shortages and inflated gas prices, more and more Americans kept their cars in the garage.

In September of 1979, Howard Johnson's accepted an acquisition bid from Imperial Group PLC of Britain. Imperial obtained 1,040 restaurants (75% company owned) and 520 motor lodges (75% franchised). In 1980 the restaurant chain was sold to Marriott and all company-owned restaurants were changed to other brands. The lodging chain was sold to Prime Motor Inns.

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. The franchises that were all that remained of restaurant chain was acquired by Franchise Associates, Inc.

According to (, only six Howard Johnson's restaurants remain in business as of May, 2005.

Missing image
Corporate logo of Howard Johnson's circa World War II, showing "orange roof" building, characteristic typeface, and "Simple Simon and the Pieman" logo.

Icon of popular culture

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, 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's 31.

Howard Johnson's typified both the best and 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 (then) slogan, "Host of the Highways." In fact, its domination of turnpike locations and service plazas was so complete that people began to think of it as a place where you ate while on road trips because you had to, not a place that you went to at home because you wanted to. The nickname "HoJo," eventually officially adopted by the company, was as disparaging as it was affectionate.

The use of the Howard Johnson 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", presumably vanilla to match the color and attitude of the citizenry. 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".

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