The location in Lake George, New York was for a number of years the final outpost in what was once one of the nation’s biggest restaurant chains, with a history going back to a single location in 1925. That one, in Quincy, Massachusetts, was described by the company as a “small, orange-roofed soda fountain.” Eventually the look included the signature cupola with a Simple Simon and the Pieman weathervane on top.
All of those elements can still be seen on the location that shuttered this week.
“When the motorist spotted a Howard Johnson’s, he knew exactly what to expect,” the RoadsideFans website noted. “With standardized menus and building designs, a Howard Johnson’s miles away felt as familiar and comforting as the one back home.”
At one time, the chain had about 1,000 restaurants ― many run by franchisees ― including three iconic locations in the heart of Times Square along with numerous motels. However, the company fell on hard times in the latter part of the 20th century, with multiple ownership changes, franchise disputes and corporate breakups. Many locations were shuttered and the final Times Square location ― just below a strip club ― closed in 2005.
The unofficial HoJoLand offers a more detailed history.
Most of the other locations fared no better, with the chain fading out as locations closed. The second-to-last HoJo restaurant shut its doors in 2016.
The Yelp reviews of the Lake George location suggested that the restaurant hadn’t exactly been at the top of its game in recent years. One called it “a shell of its former self” while another said the “place has been going downhill for years.”
“If you come here expecting those nostalgic memories to come back, you will be disappointed,” wrote one reviewer.
What was going on behind the scenes was even worse than what was left of the menu. In 2017, then-operator Jonathan LaRock was arrested, and more than a dozen girls and women ranging in age from 14 to 43 complained of harassment including unwanted touching, the Albany Times Union reported.
LaRock was sentenced to 6 months in prison and a new operator took over. In recent years, the restaurant has had inconsistent hours and extended closures.
The location is now listed for $10 on a local real estate website, which noted it could be “converted into a large showroom, flagship store, or used as is.”
While the restaurants are no more, the hotels still exist as part of a different company. Wyndham currently owns and operates nearly 300 Howard Johnson Hotels.