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Queens Chronicle

Howard Johnson’s ups and downs

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:30 am

Howard Deering Johnson started his business in Quincy, Mass. in 1925. Success was found in the ice cream he served, which contained extra butterfat and was offered in 28 different flavors.

Due to the hard economic times of the 1930s, Johnson did not have the funds to open more of his own restaurants, so he started franchising. Architect Joseph G. Morgan perfected his distinctive Georgian-style buildings with their orange roofs with a calming white and blue-green exterior. And HoJo introduced the trademark mascots Simon and the Pieman.

By 1939 there were 107 HoJo restaurants. The 1940 Queens telephone directory lists two in Flushing, at Northern Boulevard and Prince Street and Northern and 165th Street; one in Rego Park at 95-25 Queens Blvd.; and one in Jamaica at Sutphin and Rockaway boulevards.

The crippling effect of food rationing during World War II caused all but 12 of the 107 to close, but the company roared back after the war, becoming the first nationwide restaurant chain and adding the motel business in the ’50s. It was an American icon.

HoJo peaked and started its decline in 1975, as the oil embargo reduced travel to motels and fast food cut into the restaurant side. Following a succession of owners and mergers, only two authentic Howard Johnson’s still survive — one in Lake Placid, NY and the other in Bangor, Maine.

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