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Revisiting Howard Johnson’s

Oh those orange roofs!

I never had ANY problem spotting one of those orange roofs from the back seat of that huge mega-Mercury sedan our family took road trips in. As a little girl, sometimes I had to stretch, but I kept my eyes peeled for them. Back in the day, Howard Johnson’s, and those orange roofs, meant pure kid bliss in the form of one of two things:

Advertisement for the 28 flavors of ice cream

1. Ice cream, or…

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

2. A motel with a swimming pool. 

Artist’s rendering of Howard Johnson’s for advertising campaign in the 1960s.

As soon as I spotted one of those orange roofs, I’d cross my fingers and hope with all my might that we’d pull in for one or the other. Or both. I’m not kidding, I literally did this. 

I know now my parents loved the restaurants because they could trust that the food would be good no matter what location we stopped at.
This is the only menu at Howard Johnson’s I cared about.
Well, except for the ice cream menu.

Knoxville, Tennessee Howard Johnson’s

My parents were fairly intelligent as parents go and they knew us kids would spend hours expending energy in the swimming pool at the lodges, making us much more agreeable to spend hours with on the road the next day. Clearly, Howard Johnson’s was a win-win for our family.

Yeah, okay, the ice cream menus were definitely my favorites…

“I think that building my business was my only form of recreation”
– Howard Johnson.

Austin, Texas, circa 1960s.

It’s weird that he said that because his business was a big part of my recreation, back in the day.

Howard Johnson’s advertisement

Howard Johnson’s empire began in 1925 when Howard Deering Johnson started his first soda fountain in a drugstore he bought in Wollaston (Quincy), Massachusetts. He bought it, hoping it would be a way to pay off the $40,000 debt his family was left with after his father died.There’s a bit of a debate as to where the recipe for the now famous ice cream came from – some say it was his mother’s recipe, others say it was purchased from a German immigrant, William Hallbauer, who owned an ice cream shop in Quincy, Massachusetts. Whoever the original source was, Johnson added more butterfat to it,  purchased a special freezer to help keep it “exceptionally” smooth for his customers and sold it like crazy. By all accounts, word got around fast that this ice cream was the best around. That $40,000 debt was gone within three years.

For the next several decades, Mr. Johnson gave us a “Landmark for Hungry (and “sleepy!”) Americans” along the highways.

Oh those orange roofs….to this day, words can not adequately describe the love I had for those orange roofs. 

From the guest comment card of the 1960s.

Howard Johnson’s Palm Beach Florida, circa 1960.

New London, Connecticut restaurant.

Does Howard Johnson’s bring back good memories for you too? Any you’d like to share?

Sources for further reading about Howard Johnson’s:
There Will Soon Be Just One Howard Johnson Restaurant Left in the United StatesFortune Magazine, August 24, 2016
The Last Howard Johnson’s In The Universe –
A History of Howard Johnson’s by Anthony Mitchell Sararco


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