And then there was one Howard Johnson’s

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With the recent closing of the Bangor Howard Johnson’s restaurant, there is now just one HoJo’s left, and Lake George, New York owns it. Like everything in New York, they do it full up, with authenticity and style.

Recently on a road trip adventure upstate New York, I found my way to the Lake George Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Obviously, with this dining establishment having been such an iconic part of my childhood–whether it was roadside dining or frozen dinners–I had to detour north to sup under the orange roof and blue spire.

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Driving north on U.S. 9, the restaurant was like a shimmering oasis in a desert of concrete and convenience stores. For anyone that grew up with Howard Johnson’s restaurants, it was undeniable to mistake it for anything else.

According to a New York Times article, Jon LaRock currently leases the HoJo’s in Lake George. With $200,000, he refurbished this restaurant, to maintain the authenticity of this once iconic, giant of a restaurant franchise.

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LaRock’s HoJo’s is truly now a dinosaur, a rare breed. But, this doesn’t mean it is doomed to fail. In fact, authenticity and nostalgia fuels many trends, hopefully this continues to attract customers, who yearn for the HoJo’s experience..

Lovers of the franchised New England dinner–such as myself and others–have purposely traveled out of their way to find this location. People from the tri-state area and even Maine–beside myself–have taken pilgrimage just to dine here.

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When I entered the doors of the restaurant, I was not disappointed. It was like I remembered from my childhood, when we traveled the highways in our 80s wood paneled, rear facing back seat, station wagon. Although not all HoJo’s interiors were modeled the same, there was always a feel, an aura, like all ballrooms from the 60s, replete in gold velour and crushed red curtains.

Howard Johnson’s started in Wollaston Beach, Quincy, Massachusetts, selling 28 flavors of ice cream, later adding grilled hot dogs and fried clams. Amazingly, it is rumored that 14,000 ice cream cones were dished out on one Sunday. It was the ice cream that was so popular, launching this empire into fame.

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While ice cream was the inception of Howard Johnson’s, it was their reliable fare that attracted customers with such zeal. Although Johnson opened a restaurant in Quincy, to grow his empire, he needed a fresh vision. The idea of a consistent New England home cooked meal, anywhere throughout the United States, really drove the customers in. This consistency was accomplished through franchises.

While HoJo’s dotted the highways and byways of the growing interstate system and turnpikes, their food remained spot on. This was achieved by the ingredients and food being purchased directly from the Howard Johnson’s company. Howard Johnson has even been credited as the father of North American Franchise.

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Whatever memory this chain sparks, Lake George HoJo’s is sure to satisfy. With their array of ice cream behind the counter, it harkens back to the companies inception of ice cream wielding Howard himself. Then there is the New England fare. One item that stuck out for me, was the uranium orange macaroni and cheese. Even the color was spot on. The noodles seemed perfect, the sauce as I remembered. It was like they raided my inner child’s memories and put it onto a plate.

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The orange roof and blue spire completed the whole affair for me. There was something satisfying pulling into this parking lot, to order my meal. Maybe it was just a bit of nostalgia, or whimsy, or romantic megrim, but either way, it was one of the best meals on my trip. And that orange cheese sauce made my day.

 

 

 

David Jester

About David Jester

David Jester lives in the Midcoast region of Maine. He received a masters degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Maine. David is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and writer, who maintains another blog www.firefighterwithapen.com. He travels the world, but chooses locales that many would never consider for vacation. The world is full of many different and unique places, why not see them all?