A meal at a Howard Johnson was once as much as part of a road trip as the car itself. Now, one of the last two remaining restaurants is closing.
The location in Bangor, Maine, is shutting down next month, leaving a single restaurant in Lake George, New York, to carry the once-iconic name.
While the restaurant once served meals late into the night, it had more recently started closing at 2 p.m. daily. As business dropped off, rumors of its closure began circulating, the Bangor Daily News reported.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s nothing to be sad about,” waitress Kathe Jewett, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 1966, told The Associated Press. “I’ve been here for 50 years ― and it’s time.”
The restaurant’s last day will be Sept. 6.
Howard Johnson opened his first location, a “small, orange-roofed soda fountain” in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1925. According to HoJoLand, an unofficial website, Johnson opened a second location but couldn’t afford to expand further on his own so he entered into franchise agreements.
By the end of the 1930s, there were more than 100 locations along the East Coast. There were 400 HoJo by 1954, and that’s when the company started to open motels along with its restaurants.
Howard Johnson would become ubiquitous along highways, especially toll roads. The company was a pioneer in opening locations just off exit ramps, according to Roadside Fans, a website dedicated to diners and classic chains.
“When the motorist spotted a Howard Johnson’s, he knew exactly what to expect,” the website noted. “With standardized menus and building designs, a Howard Johnson’s miles away felt as familiar and comforting as the one back home.”
Howard Johnson would have more than 1,000 locations at its peak in the 1970s, with regulars enjoying the company’s famous 28 flavors of ice cream and popular meals, such as fried clam strips and pancakes. The company’s empire even included a line of frozen meals sold in supermarkets.
However, in the 1980s and 1990s, the company went through a series of ownership changes and parts of it were split up. Today, there are hundreds of HoJo hotels operated by Wyndham, but just two restaurants bearing the name ― each independently owned ― and in a couple of weeks, there will be just one.
“I’m devastated,” Christopher Leek, who has been dining at the Bangor location since his childhood, told AP. “It’s my favorite breakfast place. It’s a homey place.”