Whatever Happened to Howard Johnson's Restaurants?

Once a staple of roadside dining, the last HoJo's closed its doors in 2017. R.I.P. fried clam strips.

Remember Howard Johnson's restaurants? If you do, you're not alone. The popular purveyor of roadtrip staples once boasted hundreds of locations in the U.S. That's no longer the case. Take a nostalgic trip down memory lane with your taste buds to learn the restaurant's fate.

In the 1950s and '60s, the restaurant chain affectionately known as HoJo's was a can't-miss attraction for baby boomer kids being carted around in the car by their Greatest Generation parents. Howard Johnson’s was a pioneer of the nationwide roadside restaurant, replicating from coast-to-coast everything from its signature orange roof, cupola, the Simple Simon and the Pieman plaques, and its limited-menu food items. Howard Johnson's presaged the success of McDonald's doing the same thing. At its zenith, Howard Johnson's operated more than 1,000 restaurants, including the Ground Round brand.

So what took the mojo out of HoJo? Failing to update its menu -- centered around fried clams, chicken, hot dogs and ice cream -- its infrastructure and its marketing, along with increased competition from the likes of Friendly's, Applebee's and Chili's, sealed the fate of the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain. The last location closed in 2017, in Lake George, N.Y. (Note: The Howard Johnson hotel chain is still operating.)

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"They relied on a road travel-based crowd that changed or disappeared when airline travel became more affordable," says Alex M. Susskind, professor of Food & Beverage Management at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

Learn the fates of 13 more classic restaurant chains including Bennigan's, Chi-Chi's and Beefsteak Charlie's.

Bob Niedt

Bob was Senior Editor at Kiplinger.com for seven years and is now a contributor to the website. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.