Howard Johnson's is a chain of restaurants and hotels, located primarily throughout the United States and Canada. The name is derived from the founder of the original company, Howard Deering Johnson, who started the initial chain of restaurants and motels. Howard Johnson hotels are now part of Wyndham Worldwide, formerly a part of Cendant.
With his drugstore both successful and profitable, the Howard Johnson's company was founded in 1925. From then on the Howard Johnson name would begin to become a famous part of American popular culture.
Throughout the summers of the late 1920s, Johnson opened up concession stands along beachfront property along the Massachusetts coast. The stands sold soft drinks, hot dogs, and ice cream. Each stand proved to be successful. With his success becoming more noticeable every year, Johnson was able to convince local bankers to lend him enough money to operate a sit-down restaurant. Negotiations were made and, toward the end of the 1920s, the first Howard Johnson's restaurant opened in Quincy, Massachusetts. This first Howard Johnson's restaurant featured fried clams, baked beans, chicken pot pies, frankfurters, ice cream, and soft drinks. It was both successful and profitable as a local restaurant.
In 1929, both the restaurant and Howard Johnson's company received a great deal of fame due to an unusual set of circumstances: The Mayor of nearby Boston, Mayor Nichols, prohibited the planned production of Eugene O'Neill's play, Strange Interlude from performing in his city. Rather than fight the Mayor, the Theatre Guild moved the production to Quincy. The five-hour-long play was presented in two parts with a dinner break. The first Howard Johnson's restaurant happened to be near the theater and was also the best option available to hungry theatergoers. Hundreds of influential Bostonians flocked to the restaurant. Through word of mouth, Americans would soon become familiar with the Howard Johnson's company.
Johnson wanted to expand his company, but the stock market crash of 1929 prevented him from doing so. After waiting a few years and maintaining his business, Johnson was able to persuade an acquaintance in 1932 to open a second Howard Johnson's restaurant in Orleans, Massachusetts. The second restaurant was franchised and not company-owned. This was one of America's first franchising agreements.
By the end of 1936, there were 39 more franchised restaurants, creating a total of 41 Howard Johnson's restaurants. By 1939, there were 107 Howard Johnson's restaurants along various American East Coast highways, generating revenues of $10.5 million. In less than 14 years, Johnson directed a franchise network of over 10,000 employees with 170 restaurants, many serving 1.5 million people a year.
When the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Ohio Turnpike, and New Jersey Turnpike were built, Johnson bid on and won exclusive rights to serve drivers at service station turnoffs through the turnpike systems. There were 200 Howard Johnson's restaurants when America entered World War II.
By 1944, only 12 Howard Johnson's restaurants remained in business. The effects of war rationing had crippled the company. Johnson managed to maintain his business by serving commissary food to war workers and United States Army recruits.
After recovering from this loss, in 1947 the Howard Johnson's company began construction of 200 new restaurants throughout the American Southeast and Midwest. By 1951, the sales of the Howard Johnson's company totaled $115 million.
By 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson's restaurants in 32 states. About 10% were company-owned turnpike restaurants that were extremely profitable. The rest were franchises. Also that year, the company decided to open the first Howard Johnson's motor lodge in Savannah, Georgia. The company employed architects Rufus Nims and Karl Koch to oversee the design of the rooms and gate lodge. Nims had previously worked with the company to design Howard Johnson's restaurants.
In 1959, Howard Deering Johnson, who had found and maintained the company since 1925, turned the reins over to his son, then 26-year-old Howard Brennan Johnson. Howard Deering Johnson would observe his son's control of the company until his death in 1972 at 76.
By 1961, the year the Howard Johnson's Company went public, there were 88 franchised Howard Johnson's motor lodges in 32 states and the Bahamas. That same year, there were 605 restaurants, 265 of them company owned and 340 franchised. At this time, Johnson hired famed New York chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin to oversee food development at the company's main commissary in Brockton, Massachusetts. Franey and Pepin developed recipes for the company's signature dishes that could be flash frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing a consistent product.
In the early 1960s, Johnson tried a new concept for his father's company with the creation of a steakhouse restaurant chain called Red Coach Grills. Only a handful would open and, while they maintained some success, it wasn't profitable enough. Eventually all the Red Coach Grills closed.
In 1969, Johnson once again tried a new restaurant concept, Ground Round. It proved to be successful. Though it was not a Howard Johnson's restaurant, the Ground Round chain of restaurants were company-owned and -franchised, thus increasing the Howard Johnson's company profit. By 1975 the Howard Johnson's company had over 1,000 restaurants and over 500 motor lodges in 42 states and Canada.
The company reached its peak in 1975, but the late 1970s would mark the beginning of the end for the Howard Johnson's company. Because of the oil embargo of 1974, the Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges, who maintained 85% of revenues from travelers, lost profit when Americans couldn't afford to drive long trips or take frequent vacations. Also, the company model of serving pre-made food with high quality ingredients in traditional dining rooms was costly when compared to the innovations introduced by fast food outlets like McDonald's, which designed its products and restaurants to appeal to families with younger children.
Johnson attempted to streamline company operations and cut costs, such as serving cheaper food and having fewer employees. It proved disastrous as guests were finding this new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges irrelevant to the services they had come to know for years.
Desperate to make the company more successful and profitable, Johnson created other concepts, such as HoJos Campgrounds and 3 Penny Inns for lodging, as well as Deli Baker Ice Cream Maker, Chatt's, and Bumbershoot's for restaurants. All of these concepts failed, furthering the company's demise.
In 1979, Johnson accepted an acquisition bid from Imperial Group PLC of England and sold the Howard Johnson's company to G. Michael Hostage for over $630 million. That money would remain in the Johnson family estate, as would the chain of Ground Round restaurants, which became an independent venture after the selling of the Howard Johnson's company.
Hostage would be the last man ever to control the Howard Johnson's company. Imperial Group PLC obtained, circa 1979, all of the remaining 1,040 restaurants (75% company owned/25% franchised) and 520 motor lodges (75% franchised/25% company owned). After attempts to make the company more profitable and successful than it was when he and his company bought it in 1979, Hostage had no choice but to sell the Howard Johnson's company after years of failure. In 1985 he sold the company to Marriott Corporation.
Marriott was more interested in the motor lodges than the restaurants. While all of the company-owned and -franchised motor lodges remained untouched, Marriott quickly took all of the company-owned restaurants and had them either demolished or converted into other restaurant chains. The number of Howard Johnson's restaurants remaining circa 1985 were shortened as only the franchised restaurants would remain untouched.
One year later, in 1986, Marriott sold all of the company-owned and -franchised motor lodges to Prime Motors Inns. Prime Motors Inns continued to preserve the lodges, just as Marriott had. In 1990, Prime Motors Inns ceased operations.
Those involved with the company owned and franchised motor lodges, banded together and formed the "Howard Johnson Acquisition Corporation." They successfully obtained all the rights to operate and maintain the company-owned and -franchised lodges. With these rights maintained, they changed their name to "Howard Johnson International Incorporated," which became a subsidiary of "Hospitality Franchise Systems Incorporated," which eventually merged with other companies to form Cendant. In 2006, Cendant ceased operations.
"Hospitality Franchise Systems Incorporated" now became part of Wyndham Worldwide. Wyndham operates the Howard Johnson brand under many "tiers," based on price, level of amenities, and services offered. Howard Johnson Express Inns, Howard Johnson Inns, Howard Johnson Hotels, and Howard Johnson Plaza Hotels range from limited-service motels to full-service properties with on-site concierges and business centers. Howard Johnson recently has begun offering its "Rise 'N' Dine" continental breakfast.
While the Howard Johnson's company-owned and -franchised motor lodges have stood the test of time and continue to operate since the selling of the original Howard Johnson's Company in 1979, the restaurants have not. Because Marriott took control and eliminated all of the company-owned restaurants, the owners of the franchised restaurants, fearing elimination, banded together in 1986 while Marriott was selling the motor lodges to Prime Motors Inns. The new company that the owners of the franchised restaurants created was called "Franchise Associates Incorporated" or (FAI). In 1986, Marriott gave FAI the rights to operate and maintain Howard Johnson's restaurants. While the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain was preserved, FAI did not have enough money to expand with new Howard Johnson's restaurants.
When Cendant acquired the Howard Johnson's motor lodges, they offered to work together with FAI to ensure the expansion of the restaurant chain. With the exception of opening a new Howard Johnson's ice cream parlor in Puerto Rico, FAI never opened a new restaurant or expanded the restaurant chain. Instead, an already built and operating restaurant in Canton, Massachusetts was remodeled to serve as the prototype for a new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants. The concept failed and, after less than a decade of operation, the prototype restaurant closed in 2000.
FAI ceased operations in 2005. Cendant acquired all the rights to operate and maintain the remaining Howard Johnson's restaurants. In 2006, before Cendant ceased operations, they sold all the rights to "La Mancha Group LLC." La Mancha hopes to revive Howard Johnson's restaurants and make them as successful and profitable as they once were. La Mancha plans on maintaining various Howard Johnson's products in supermarkets and opening a new Howard Johnson's restaurant by the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008.
As of May 2007, there were only three Howard Johnson's restaurants in business. Each of them was a former franchised restaurant from the original Howard Johnson's company. The three restaurants are in Lake George, New York; Lake Placid, New York; and Bangor, Maine.
Over the course of the company's history, Howard Johnson's had five various building designs for its restaurants and three various designs for its gate lodges. These were: