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HoJoLand Stories
Restaurant Review: Waterbury, CT
Howard Johnson's Restaurant
(Waterbury, CT)By Phil LangdonSpecial to HoJoLand.comMy wife and I and two friends went this evening (January 10, 2002)to Connecticut's last surviving Howard Johnson's Restaurant, locatedin Waterbury (just north of Naugatuck, birthplace of Naugahyde). TheTendersweet (TM) fried clam dinner with fries and cole slaw for $8.50was delicious, as was the hot fudge sundae. I'm sure there were more than the regulation 19 to 21 clam strips per plate that HoJo adhered toduring its portion-control heyday.   We introduced ourselves to Nick Bakes, who bought the restaurant at auction in November and who intends to find out how well it does as a HoJo's. Business was a little slow this evening, as was the service, but very friendly. The mirrored glass with etched ice cream flavors and certain menu items on the wall behind the fountain counter looked great. I noticed that it advertised "frankfurts grilled in pure creamery butter." (I seem to recall that the original word at Howard Johnson's was "frankfort." In any event,  the printed menu has given up on the distinctive nomenclature and accepted plain old "hot dog.")   The HoJo Motor Lodge next door has become an "American Motor Lodge." Best day to go is Wednesday or Friday, when there's an all-you-can-eat fried clam or fish fry dinner for $6.25. One person in our group mischievously ordered a HoJo Cola (my wife regularly turned in customer comment cards in 1970-71 asking for Coke or Pepsi rather than the awful HoJo beverage), and was informed that there is no HoJo Cola--only Coke. It's worth the trip.HoJoLand Note: Phil Langdon is an author, who among other books, wrote "Orange Roofs and Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain Restaurants"-Alfred A. Knopf, New York, Publisher.(This book is a great book for those HoJo lovers and those interested in the area of chain restaurants)   

HoJo's Last Stand  In New Jersey
By FRAN WOODSTAR-LEDGER STAFF-Reprinted With Permission. The last time most of Bruce Springsteen's fansheard him sing "My City of Ruins" was at the televised "Concert for America," aired on Sept. 21. Viewers unfamiliar with his repertoire might even have assumed the lament was written for that occasion, so aptly do its lyrics and spiritrespond to the Sept. 11 attack on New York.  In fact, it was written more than a year earlier - as "a prayer" for Asbury Park, where Bruce began his climb to worldwide stardom. And last week, for five nights running, he sang "My City of Ruins" in Asbury Park's Convention Hall at his annual holiday benefit shows there. It was the rare occasion when that convention center opens in the off-season, and the brief economic infusion even spilled over to the Howard Johnson's next door, where hundreds of patrons converged before and after the shows. What they may not have realized is that Howard Johnson's is a story in itself. It's the last HoJo's in New Jersey, and its normal off-season hours are lunch only, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The truth is, of course, that in Asbury Park, a boardwalk restaurant must work hard to attract patrons even in season - and the fact that this one has endured gives it a striking resemblance to HoJo himself.  Howard Deering Johnson was all but broke when he bought his first enterprise in 1925, according to hojoland.com, an unofficial Web site for all things HoJo. It was a shop in Quincy, Mass., that sold patentmedicines, which was not making him rich. But defeat wasn't in Johnson's vocabulary. With an old ice cream maker he found in the basement, he experimented with added butterfat and exotic new flavors to create a sure seller.  In fact, he was on the brink of opening more stores - at the very momentthe stock market crashed and threw him into debt again. So Johnson devised an imaginative alternative: franchising. He persuaded a Cape Cod businessman to pay a fee to open a restaurant using Johnson'sname, food and ice cream. The concept worked so well that it began to grow. By 1935, there were 25 Massachusetts HoJos. By the late '30s, there were more than 100, stretching clear to Florida.  But World War II brought another setback when food rationing restricted Johnson's supplies and gas rationing diminished his customers. Faced with bankruptcy, he had to close most of his restaurants. But by supplying food to schools, defense plants and military bases, he maintained a cash flow and kept his franchise name active so he could reopen when the war was over - which he did. Next, a labor shortage made it hard to hire skilled chefs. So he began mass-producing menu items and shipping the food pre-prepared. By 1954, when the company began adding lodging facilities, there were 400 restaurants coast to coast. That success endured into the early 1960s, the orange-roofed restaurants conveying to travelers that here was a place they'd find reliable, affordable food and 28 flavors of ice cream. Ironically, what finally beat Johnson were fast-food franchises, which played a streamlined version of his own game. In 1980, Johnson's son sold the restaurant-motel chain to a British firm - which, after anunsuccessful attempt to create a new image, sold it to Marriott in 1985. Surprisingly, Marriott sold off or converted the lodgings but kept the restaurants. This didn't sit well with the franchisees, who feared theywould be squeezed out. So a group sued Marriott in 1986 and won the right to form its own company, using the Howard Johnson's name and keeping the original recipes for fried clams, macaroni and cheese and such. But the times had changed too much for old-style family restaurants. Without the national promotional push, most began to close.  In HoJo's heyday, New Jersey's highways were dotted with theorange-roofed oases. By the end of the '80s, those (HoJo's in New Jersey) in Middletown, Woodbridge, Paramus, New Brunswick, East Orange, Somerville, Clark, Livingston and Whippany were still open. But when Woodbridge closed in 1998, only Asbury Park remained. Today, it's one of just 17 Howard Johnson's restaurants left in the country. Like the rest of Asbury Park's boardwalk businesses, it's a bit down at the heels these days. But the space station design that was an architectural eye-catcher when it went up in the '50s remains. It still hosts local banquets, and the dining room opens for special occasions -like Springsteen concerts and, once, the filming of an episode of "The Sopranos."   Springsteen told his fans last week that Asbury Park is on its way back. Wouldn't it be a fitting salute to Americana if that resurrection carried the last HoJo's with it?
This page is in no way connected to or represented in any way by Wyndham Worldwide, owner of the "Howard Johnson" brand.

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