Like any other business, even the most popular restaurant chains can end up disappearing. For some brands, closures can suddenly affect far-flung locations, especially as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. For others, certain places manage to hold on, often with a bit of nostalgia attached to them. Now, another once-iconic restaurant chain has permanently closed its last location. Read on to see which beloved restaurant establishment finally went out of business after nearly a century in business.
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The restaurant industry is a notoriously risky and unstable place, where even the most prepared and skilled operators can find themselves with too little foot traffic to stay open. But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in an era of unprecedented hardship for restaurateurs, as temporary closures, limited restaurants, ongoing supply issues and lack of meaningful assistance have forced many people to close their doors. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 dining establishments closed in 2020, with annual sales dropping from $899 billion to $240 billion, per year. Fortune.
As the pandemic enters a new phase, restaurants struggle to make up for lost time and face a new landscape. Even some long-time names in the industry have felt the effects, forcing some to close their doors permanently.
Now, another beloved restaurant chain has gone out of business after the last Howard Johnson restaurant finally closed. The location, which has operated in Lake George, New York, for nearly 70 years, is inactive and has recently been put up for rent, local ABC affiliate WTEN reports.
“Lake George is officially dead,” a fan of the once-iconic chain posted on Facebook alongside photos of the closed business, per CNN. “Cobwebs on the door. Just before Memorial Day, rush here.”
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The closing of the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant ends nearly a century of business for the chain, which opened its first location in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1925. After the dining establishment became famous for its wide selection of 28 flavors of butter-fat ice cream, its eponymous founder took advantage of the brand’s notoriety to launch a franchise, The daily mail reports. Coinciding with a major expansion of the U.S. Interstate Highway system at the time, hundreds of orange-roofed locations sprung up alongside gas stations for families on the road looking for a rest stop and an easy meal.
In 1954, the chain delved further into its road-trip roots when it entered the motel business, reports CNN Business. The restaurant chain finally reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when over 1,000 establishments operated across the United States.
But as the predecessor of many fast-food chains, the restaurant soon found itself competing with nimble operators such as McDonald’s, which were better able to generate profits on a larger scale. As a result, eating places began to dwindle over time – including a 1985 sale of the company to Prime Motor Inn that stripped many outposts of the brand name – until it only a handful remain. In 2015, one of the last remaining venues in Lake Placid, New York, closed for good before the second-to-last held in Bangor, Maine closed in 2016.
According to WTEN, a real estate company representative overseeing the leasing of Howard Johnson’s latest Lake George location “has generated interest” since it went on the market months ago, meaning someone might technically still reclaim the space. However, it is unclear whether or not the new tenants would choose to operate under the iconic brand.
But while Howard Johnson’s restaurants may have served his last meal, the “HoJo” name still lives on in other ways. As part of the company’s previous takeovers and sales, the brand’s hotel chain is still in operation in the United States and Canada. The roughly 300 locations are currently owned and operated by hotel giant Wyndham, CNN reports.
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