Those orange roofs. I never had any problem spotting one of them from the back seat of the dark green four door Mercury we’d take our family road trips in. Howard Johnsons, and those orange roofs, meant one of two things: 1. Ice cream. 2. Motel with a swimming pool. As soon as I spotted one, I’d cross my fingers and hope with all my might that we’d pull in for one of the other. Or both.
Howard Johnsons was that kind of a place for a little girl like me. No matter how I looked at it, it always meant fun. I know now my parents loved the restaurants because the food they served was always good no matter what location we stopped at. They also knew us kids would spend hours expending energy in the swimming pools at the lodges if we decided to spend the night at one, making us much more agreeable to spend hours on the road with the next day. Howard Johnsons was a win-win for our entire family.
The 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 purchased that drugstore after his father died and left the family with $40,000 in debt.
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 German immigrant, William Hallbauer, who owned an ice cream shop in Quincy. Whoever the original source was, Johnson added more butterfat to the ice cream recipe and purchased a special freezer to help keep it “exceptionally” smooth. Word got around quickly about that excellent ice cream. That $40,000 debt was gone within three years.
“I think that building my business was my only form of recreation. I ate, slept and thought of nothing but my business.” – Howard Johnson.
And that’s exactly what he did over the next several decades – giving us a “Landmark for Hungry Americans” along the highways.
Oh those orange roofs….
Sources and further reading about the history of Howard Johnson’s:
There Will Soon Be Just One Howard Johnson Restaurant Left in the United States – Fortune Magazine, August 24, 2016
The Last Howard Johnson’s In The Universe – Eater.com
A History of Howard Johnson’s by Anthony Mitchell Samarco