Baby boomers likely remember this old-school soda fountain/diner chain, but now there are only 2 left in the entire country
Howard Johnson’s, that ubiquitous restaurant chain of the ‘60s and ‘70s, is all but gone.
Do you remember getting a plate of fried clams and an ice cream cone at Howard Johnson’s? Unless you were born before 1970, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking, “isn’t that a hotel?” Howard Johnson’s isn’t just a hotel chain: in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, it was one of the largest casual restaurant chains in America. Rumors suggest that the Maine location may be closing soon.
Howard Johnson’s was known for classic American fare like root beer floats, fried clams, and ice cream sundaes, all served under its easily recognizable orange roof. The first location opened in 1925 in Boston, and by 1970, the chain had peaked at 1,000 locations across the continental United States. But after failing to grow alongside big-name brands like McDonald’s and Häagen-Dazs, the restaurant chain slowly faded. The remaining restaurants, according to The Associated Press, were grandfathered in in a contract with Wyndham Hotels.
"We have one of the last orange roofs left," John LaRock, who fries up breakfasts at the Lake George Howard Johnson’s, told The Detroit News. "We have a lot of people ask for the root beer floats… People love the fried haddock and clams, like it used to be."
With Nostalgia And A Last Nosh, 1 Of 3 Remaining HoJo's Closes
A vintage postcard (circa 1930-1945) shows the HoJo's on U.S. Alternate Route I, in Fredericksburg, Va.
In the 1960s and '70s, Howard Johnson's restaurants were the biggest chain in the country, with more than 1,000 locations.
Their iconic orange roofs were fixtures of the American highway, beckoning hungry motorists to come and dine at HoJo's, as they were affectionately called. The ultra-dapper Don Draper dines at one location in an episode of Mad Men. At one point, the chain even sold a line of frozen foods.
Now, almost all of the restaurants are gone. One of the three last surviving Howard Johnson's eateries closed its doors yesterday in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The restaurant was going nuts Tuesday as locals crowded in to get a last taste of fried clams or the "wonderful world of 28 flavors" of ice cream that HoJo's ads once boasted.
The Lake Placid HoJo's had been running since April 1956. It stayed strong even as the national brand faltered in the 1980s, falling behind as competition grew, and as other chains introduced fresher, more appealing menus.
The current owner, Ron Butler, worked here for more than a half-century. He had been keeping the Lake Placid HoJo's alive with long hours and help from his sons, Mike and Patrick. "We were here every day, and we took care of business and this was our life," Butler says. "We didn't have another life, right?"
"No," Mike replies with a laugh.
Michael Butler works the counter on the final day of business for a restaurant that opened in 1956. Brian Mann hide caption
Michael Butler works the counter on the final day of business for a restaurant that opened in 1956.
Mike Butler started working in the kitchen when he was 5 years old. "I'd stand on the milk crates and butter the roll pans and get a quarter or something," he recalls.
Long after the national brand faded, Lake Placid's Howard Johnson's was a place you could bring a hockey team or a big family on a budget. On this last day, two gray-haired businessmen, Robi Politi and Wayne Feinberg, sit at the lunch counter eating clams. They say they came here as boys, then brought their own kids.
"It's a landmark — everyone has good memories," Politi says.
Feinberg adds, "I remember coming to the Friday night fish fry with my parents many, many times when I was little."
The Butlers say they loved being part of the brand and part of this chapter of American life. But after 58 years, they're ready to step away from the restaurant business. It's a tough industry, with long hours and few vacations.
With the closure of this Howard Johnson's restaurant, there are just two of the eateries left in the whole country — one in Lake George, N.Y., and another in Bangor, Maine.
A version of this story first ran on North Country Public Radio.
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A few months ago, on a chilly Thursday afternoon in late October, Jon LaRock rubbed his hands together and looked out over the empty parking lot in front of his restaurant. As a blanket of thick, wet snow began to settle on top of it, LaRock started pacing. Snow signals the start of the slow season in the sleepy resort town of Lake George, New York, and it had arrived earlier than usual. The battered sign outside, ringed in burnt orange, seemed to beckon through the flurries to no one in particular: “Howard Johnson’s: Last One Standing.”
Fifty years ago, there wouldn’t have been a vacant parking lot here at lunchtime, regardless of the weather. Not in Lake George, and likely not at any one of the hundreds of Howard Johnson’s restaurants operating during its cultural peak in the early 1960s, when it served more meals outside of the home than any entity in America, except for the U.S. Army. Though merely a Mad Men set piece for most people under 50, it would be impossible to overstate the impact that Howard Johnson’s had on mid-century American culture and dining: Its vision of consistency, reasonable pricing, and quality food, replicated ad infinitum by franchisees along the highways from coast to coast, established the blueprint for the modern chain restaurant.
But the locals have long stopped coming to the only Howard Johnson’s restaurant left on earth. The fried clam strips, once so popular Howard Johnson’s was the sole customer of Soffron Brothers Clam Company, are purchased from a general distributor, while the salad bar is full of soggy broccoli, nearly translucent iceberg lettuce, and runny, unmarked dressings. The Howard Johnson’s brand of unique ice cream hasn’t been produced in decades, so LaRock uses Gifford’s, a brand from Maine that sells almost two million gallons of ice cream a year across the country. An iced tea plus a chicken sandwich, consisting of grilled strips laid between a moist bun, costs $18.
Jon LaRock, the man behind the last HoJo’s on earth
None of this is a problem during the summer, when out-of-towners who pack the quirky lakeside motels to capacity spend money on anything with even the slight vestige of authentic nostalgia. The rest of the year, LaRock’s lifeline is a weekly tour bus route that runs from Montreal to New York City every Friday, which stops in Lake George for breakfast. The buses, loaded with 60 or so people who pay $13 a piece for the breakfast buffet, are worth about two grand a week — and if the snow kept coming, the following day’s buses might not. As LaRock explained all of this to me, the only two customers in the restaurant got up and left.
LaRock leases the restaurant and the right to use the Howard Johnson’s name — and with it, a claim on the afterlife of an American icon and the memories of a generation that grew up passing time on road trips by spotting orange roofs — from Joe DeSantis, the son of the man who opened the Lake George location in 1953, but not much else. There’s no longer a corporate structure, or even fellow franchisees, meaning that the menu, marketing, and future of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant brand, such as it is, appears to rest entirely on LaRock’s shoulders.
When the only other Howard Johnson’s restaurant, in Bangor, Maine, shuttered last September, LaRock realized that not only was his the only one left, but it was likely the last restaurant to ever be able to use the Howard Johnson’s name. Because of the tortured ownership of the brand in its final decades, unless another former franchisee re-opens in their original location — or Wyndham Worldwide, which now owns the Howard Johnson hotel chain and all the relevant Howard Johnson’s trademarks, decides to give it another go — after more than 90 years of operations, the legacy of one of the most influential restaurants in American history will probably end with LaRock. In January, news broke that the restaurant and the associated 2.5 acres of real estate were up for sale, making the fate of the last Howard Johnson’s more tenuous than ever.
There are some days, like when a previous Howard Johnson’s owner drives to Lake George just to shake LaRock’s hand and wish him luck, or when a couple arrive from New Jersey just to eat fried clams at a linoleum HoJo’s counter again, when none of that feels important. There are other days, however, when LaRock tries to predict the weather while waiting for tour buses full of French-Canadians, and in those moments, and it feels like he is the captain, first mate, and chief steward of a ship that’s already sunk.
Howard Deering Johnson’s foray into the stomachs of America started at a drugstore in Quincy, Massachusetts, which he purchased in 1925. According to Anthony Sammarco’s A History of Howard Johnson’s, the store’s soda fountain and newsstand were immediately successful, but the real seller was the ice cream: Johnson developed a formula based on his mother’s recipe — or, some say, purchased one from William Hallbauer, a German immigrant with an ice cream shop in a nearby town — that used double the legally required minimum amount of butterfat and a custom-designed freezer to make his ice cream exceptionally smooth. Within a few years, Johnson arrived at his signature 28 flavors and opened several extremely profitable ice cream stands along the Massachusetts shore, laying the groundwork for his first full-fledged restaurant, which opened in 1929.
As the historian Paul Freedman recounts in Ten Restaurants That Changed America, Howard Johnson stumbled onto the bedrock of his future empire — a network of franchises adhering to precise specifications, tightly interwoven with the sprawling American highway system — a few years later, when he wanted to open another ice cream stand in a prime location in Orleans, Massachusetts, but had neither the capital nor the time. So he convinced Reggie Sprague, a member of the family who owned the land, to build a restaurant there, completely designed and exclusively supplied by Johnson. When it opened in 1935, it was a success, and within the next six years, there were more than 130 Howard Johnson’s restaurants replicated throughout New England, most of them franchised. In 1948, Johnson sold his five billionth ice cream cone, and told Life magazine that he hoped to make “a personal income of one million dollars” that year.
That was the same year that the prevailing architecture and design of the restaurant, an outline now firmly etched into the suburban landscape and the visual memory of generations of Americans, was established. Previously modeled on a colonial style, Freedman notes that the design, originally created for a new Miami location by Florida architect Rufus Nims, was based on “a single-story triangular structure with a considerable amount of plate-glass and a radically sloping hip roof,” which was obviously orange, while the “interior changed from rustic to minimalist modern — light with thin curtains, Formica tabletops, and partitions formed out of repeating circles.” And thus every Howard Johnson’s truly became, as its motto declared, “a landmark for hungry Americans.”
Every Howard Johnson’s location was good, too, according to Carl DeSantis, who paid $2,500 to open the Lake George franchise in 1953. “You could put one at the end of a dirt road in the woods back here and you’d do business,” he told me. “Howard Johnson’s was the king of the road. You could make money anywhere. A lot of guys ended up with Howard Johnson’s restaurants that wouldn’t have made it with any other brand or as independents.” Right off of U.S. Route 9 and with very few restaurants around, DeSantis’s franchise was popular almost immediately it regularly needed three hostesses to handle the crowds.
DeSantis opened five more franchises over the next two decades, and at one point in the ’80s, his company employed more than 600 people across nine restaurants. One them was a young Jon LaRock, who worked the night shift, from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m. after sleeping for three hours, he’d go to his day job, running a vending machine company. (Another, in the ’80s, was the future TV star Rachael Ray, who worked as a summer employee for her mother, a supervisor. “When Rachael was a counter girl, my brother-in-law was the director of operations, and he told me he was going to put Rachael as a hostess,” DeSantis said. “I said, ‘You can’t do that. The little kids are going to want to kiss her, the mothers are going to want to hug her, and the dirty old fathers are going to want her to sit on their laps!’ He said, ‘You don’t have to worry about Rachael. She can handle herself.’ And she did!”)
Under DeSantis’s ownership, Howard Johnson’s became something of a second home to many in the Lake George area, a cozy, convenient place to grab a meal. One of those residents, Tim Jansen, needs a calculator to remember how old he is, but he still recalled his childhood order when I asked: the No. 3, a Ham Quickie, which consists of a couple of eggs scrambled with chopped ham. In 1982, Jansen was out on the frozen lake for the winter carnival with a girl from West Virginia who he’d met the night before. She hadn’t dressed for the cold, so they went to Howard Johnson’s to warm up. “I thought if she could stand me eating at Howard Johnson’s, she would be a keeper,” Jansen said, realizing that next year will be their 35th anniversary.
While the food could differ slightly from region to region, the signature dishes, like the “Tender-sweet” fried clam strips and the “frankforts,” were always there, so that a HoJo’s in Maine ultimately didn’t feel much different from one in Georgia. The menu, a roving sampler of comforting, if bland, mid-century American dishes largely “uninflected by ethnic borrowing,” as Freedman puts it, was sizable even by modern standards for a low-priced chain: from decade to decade, it included various cuts of steak, lobster, chops, fish, eggs, triple-decker sandwiches, spaghetti, “frankforts” (a hot dog sandwich of sorts, grilled in butter), baked goods, pies, sundaes, and of course, the 28 flavors of ice cream.
Maintaining consistent quality at each location — a hallmark in the era before chains guaranteed predictability for drivers across the country — despite the dizzying scope of the menu was made possible by the enormous Howard Johnson’s commissary system, which produced, froze, and distributed much of the food to individual restaurants, where franchisees strictly adhered to the minutely detailed preparations laid out in the “Howard Johnson Bible.” For nearly a decade, the commissaries were overseen by the famed French chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pépin, who were hired by Johnson in 1960 from Le Pavillon, one of the great fine-dining restaurants in New York at the time.
The business was good to the 90-year-old DeSantis, who eventually became president of the New York State Restaurant Association and still lives in Lake George during the summer. Every week, he eats out at a different restaurant in the area with a group of friends who call themselves the Romeo WW club — Retired Old Men Eating Without Women. They’ve visited almost every restaurant in the surrounding towns, except one. “We go all around to eat, to dozens of restaurants, but we never go to HoJo’s,” DeSantis said. “Not that one. I’m not going there, not after what I’ve heard. It’s so bad. The service is poor, very poor, and the product is just not good anymore.”
In 1959, Howard Johnson stepped down as head of the company and his son, Howard Brennan “Bud” Johnson, formally took over. While the elder Johnson remained involved throughout the ’60s, it was arguably the beginning of the end: Bud focused relentlessly on cutting expenses, from marketing costs to the supervision budget, which had once ensured timely service and consistency across locations. Eventually, Bud went after the company’s food expenditures, which amounted to 48 percent of its gross revenue — far higher than the industry average of about a third.
After the company went public in 1961, DeSantis recalls mounting pressure from shareholders to cut spending as well. As falling budgets degraded the quality of the food, the iron-clad system that Johnson devised to maintain consistency became one of the restaurant’s downfalls, since it bound franchisees to a supply chain and brand that was rapidly deteriorating. In Lake George, DeSantis began hearing from customers that Howard Johnson’s felt like fast food served slow.
The rise of fast food and the resulting change in American tastes were death blows. A complicated series of sales, mergers, and spinoffs began in 1979, when Howard Johnson’s, which by then consisted of 1,040 restaurants and 520 motor inns, was sold to a British company for $630 million. Over the next several years, the brand was passed around from company to company: The motor lodges, which Howard Johnson began building in 1954 to extend his vision of hospitality for highway travelers, were split off from the restaurants as a hotel chain, while the franchised restaurants were cleaved from the corporate ones, which were then either rebranded or closed.
In 1986, the remaining franchise owners formed an association, imaginatively named Franchise Associates, and bought the exclusive rights to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant trademark and all remaining locations. They learned little from the company’s earlier mistakes — or perhaps people just stopped caring about HoJo’s — and by the early ’90s, only a hundred or so Howard Johnson’s remained, a number that continued to diminish over the next 20 years. Now there’s just one.
Carl DeSantis got out early. He starting selling his Howard Johnson’s and other restaurants in the ’80s, parceling them off one by one until he retired and handed the family company off to his son, Joe, in 1995. In 2011, Joe DeSantis closed the Lake George restaurant. As he began preparing it for demolition, he placed calls to former employees — really, anyone connected to the restaurant — to see if someone would take on the project of reviving the space, just in case.
LaRock, who used to run the graveyard shift, agreed to lease it from the younger DeSantis. The restaurant was ready to be leveled, so it was in disarray, its electrical wiring stripped and its panel boxes removed. LaRock spent close to $200,000 to make the place functional again, replacing the original kitchen equipment and electrical system in its entirety before re-opening in January of 2015. “I didn’t want to see another building get torn down, I guess,” he told me.
Even with improvements, the building turned out to hold far less value than the name, which LaRock is allowed to carry simply because it was grandfathered in from a previous franchise in a building still in the possession of its original owner. You can’t just open up another Howard Johnson’s anymore.
Despite LaRock’s pacing, the snow came and went throughout the day in Lake George. Later that night, there were just three open bars in town, and one of them lost power at around 8 p.m. a row of hotels went dark soon after, so everyone slushed over to the one tavern with a generator. Overnight, Lake George received around six inches of snow.
LaRock wasn’t awake to witness the brunt of it because, like most mornings, he had to rise at 4 a.m. to get the restaurant up and running. The roads were rough, but plowed — manageable enough to drive to the restaurant. Upon arrival, LaRock was dismayed to find that both the power and gas were out. Fifteen minutes later, they came back to life, allowing him to reset the gas valves and light all the stoves. The building began to hum.
There are usually six or seven cooks in the summer, but in the winter, LaRock is the only one in the kitchen. Not being able to afford another cook in the off-season means that he often doesn’t leave the restaurant all day. “I love it now,” LaRock told me. “I don’t mind putting in 80 or 90 hours a week because I enjoy it. It doesn’t feel like I have to go to work, I actually enjoy coming here. I get to meet a lot of people.” LaRock’s eyes match the light blue of his short-sleeve button-up, but are weighed down by the permanent bags of someone who has rarely seen more than a few hours of sleep a night for years on end. When I asked how old he was, after several scoffs, he admitted to being in his early fifties, though according to public records, he just turned 64.
The daily breakfast buffet
LaRock started cracking eggs and mixing pancake batter as other employees arrived and set up the dining room, wiping down tables and setting up jams and jellies. By 7:45, the pancakes were cooked. Eggs came out soon after, followed by bacon, sausage, and fruit. Wrapped in tin foil, everything slid in under the intense light of the heat lamps above the salad bar, which, surrounded by red booths and turquoise walls, sits in the middle of a dingy, vaguely mid-century modern dining room.
Thirty minutes later, the first bus rolled in. The passengers, who had left Montreal in the wee hours of the morning, were famished. They filed in, grazed around the buffet, and spoke softly to each other in French. LaRock, who does not speak a lick of it, bustled from table to table, refilling drinks and making small talk. “Cold?” he asked. “Have a good morning? Well, I’m happy you’re here.”
Only two of the three buses scheduled for that day made it down considering that the snow might’ve steered all three away, LaRock felt like it was a win. After the buses pulled out of the parking lot and continued on toward the city, he began to walk around the place, imagining what it would look like in a perfect world, a route I imagine he walks daily. He has big ideas and big plans, and the vision is always on his mind.
Nearly every conversation we had turned to what LaRock would do if only there was a little more money to go around. He wants to put another $100,000 into repairs, since a few issues require more immediate attention, like the old furnaces and cracked tiles in the front entrance, which the health department wants him to fix.
After that, he’d go after the obvious stuff, like mending holes in the drywall, replacing the soiled carpet, and fixing the cracked upholstery in the booths. Finally, he’d make the upgrades to directly capitalize on nostalgia: The roof would be painted entirely bright orange again — it is mostly blue right now — and a back corner could turn into a gift shop, selling hats and t-shirts from the last Howard Johnson’s. That could make some money, LaRock said, right after mentioning that he’s now gladly accepting donations. Three people, all unsolicited, sent him money the month before I visited, he claimed an 83-year-old lawyer from New York who’d never visited the restaurant sent him $100 just because he wanted to see the last Howard Johnson’s stay open.
As LaRock moved toward the back of the restaurant, he acknowledged that if he wants to stay open, he’ll eventually need to cater to a younger crowd. The people who still recognize the Howard Johnson’s brand are literally dying off. His plans for accomplishing that don’t include technology, though. “Every restaurant you go into now has televisions in them, they have their little computers on the end to order your food yourself,” LaRock said. “Here, we still do it where we write it on the tickets and bring it to the kitchens, and that’s what we want to keep doing. That’s part of the nostalgia. Plus, it don’t cost me any money!”
The restaurant doesn’t have a website, either, and LaRock, who says he’s “not much into the computer stuff,” has never looked at his Yelp page, which has an average of 2 stars from 33 reviews. (It was unclear in our conversation if he knew what Yelp is.) And while there’s a market for the brand under his care online — there’s a fan site full of every conceivable detail anyone would like to know about Howard Johnson’s, plus a competitive memorabilia Facebook group — he seems blissfully unaware of it all.
Instead, LaRock plans to start serving chicken wings, pizza, and beer in an auxiliary dining area in the back. He clicked open the sliding door to that room and stood in the middle, pointing out where the bar would go. There’s a glass wall that looks outdated, so he’d replace that with a nice brick wall. A fireplace could go there, maybe even a jukebox, one that wouldn’t require quarters. It’ll be friendly and comforting, a place you could go with both a date and your parents.
When I spoke with LaRock again last week, shortly after the building and lot were publicly listed for sale, he insisted that DeSantis’s listing “is not going to affect me at all. He’s had the land for sale for 25 years now, and he’ll have it for sale for the next 25 years now, unless I buy it. Ain’t nothing going to happen here.” (Repeated attempts to reach Joe DeSantis or a representative for DeSantis Enterprises were unsuccessful.)
Standing in the room where he used to serve Howard Johnson’s ice cream, back during better days for him and the restaurant, LaRock spent more than 10 minutes waxing a proper future for the building. The business builds quickly in his mind. One improvement would lead to the next, and soon, the place would be bustling. Then the snow wouldn’t matter much at all.
Update, 10/12/17:Jon LaRock has been arrested and charged with sexually abusing and harassing more than a dozen of his employees.
Great Memories of New England Restaurants That Are No Longer With Us
Part 1 Read New England Restaurant memories, Part 2 here
Chef Wilhelm's Hofbrahaus was a German restaurant located in Ogunquit, ME. We ate there a few times in the 1970s. It was always great eating German food in a coastal town when everyone else was eating lobster and chowder.
by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 12/19/16.
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While peers of mine in the 1970s were mourning the deaths of rock icons Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, I focused my respects on the passing of restaurants like Angelo's in Arlington, MA, and Jack and Marions deli in Brookline, MA. A great pizza and corn beef sandwich rang more true than an amplified guitar riff, I thought.
Restaurants leave us all the time. You thought that special place would last forever because no one would ever close a place so near and dear to your heart. Then you see that "For Sale" sign one day and your childhood temporarily goes right down the drain. You think, "How could they close this place when I liked it so much? Why didn't they contact me first before closing?"
You get cynical. A new restaurant opens and you promise not to get too attached because of past heartbreaks. Then, you break down and fall for a new place. Then, one day, they close and it's time to search for a new love.
The key is to enjoy restaurants when they're around and not get too down when they close. Restaurants like Angelo's and Jack and Marion's struck such a strong emotional chord to this writer because of joyful family experiences and the excitment of trying food that we had never eaten before (or old favorites that were done especially well). Perhaps if Angelo's and Jack and Marion's were around today, they would just be "another restaurant," but back then they were worshiped.
The following is a list of New England restaurants, gone but not forgotten in many of our native New England hearts and minds:
Fontaine's, West Roxbury, MA Fontaine's was one of the only dining spots where I was perfectly content to stay outside the restaurant. Nothing against the very good, family-style chicken dishes inside, but the main attraction was the exterior neon, waving chicken sign. For more than 50 years, this kitschy, nostalgic sign with the animated, spastic chicken brought happiness to passing drivers. Maybe since so many people today are driving and talking on their cell phones, looking at themselves in the mirror, or just trying to fit into the Boston lifestyle by driving recklessly and feeling self-entitled, perhaps the happy neon waving chicken sign became sad and lonely. It seemed pretty lonely inside, too, inside Fontaine's the last few years, as the quality slipped and families chose fast-food chicken places that reflected their always-on-the-go lifestyles. Fontaine's makes some of us long, however, for the innocent age coupled with a more relaxed, leisurely dining pace tailor-made for families that ate together and loved neon waving chicken signs.
Dave Wong's China Sails, Chestnut Hill, MA , and various eastern Massachusetts locations A great advertising campaign goes a long way. China Sail's advertised on television and radio frequently, to the point where it eventually became a household name. While the food was good, it wasn't better than many other places struggling to stay in business. China Sails usually seemed to attract a senior set convinced that the agreeable, mouthwatering advertisements were true. China Sails also attracted, it always seemed, inexplicably, very attractive women paired with goofy looking, socially inept men. Dave Wong seemed like a really nice guy, and that is probably why -- along with the familiar Chinese comfort dishes -- so many people went to China Sails. It was a true dining legend for many, many years.
Chef Wilhelm's Hofbrahaus, Ogunquit, ME Opening a German restaurant in a coastal town known for its seaside lobster dinners seemed a bit odd, but for those preferring wiener schnitzel to lobster, Chef Wilhelm's made a ton of sense. Outside, the big barrel with the smiling German man and woman wooden cutouts standing on top (they looked more Dutch than German) was a classic memory. Inside, Chef Wilhelm's looked more like a steak house chain with its red tablecloths, cheesy wagon wheel chandelier and drab drop ceiling.
Finnerty's Country Squire, Cochituate, MA Finnerty's Country Squire recently closed, leaving behind wonderful dining memories of a large, traditional New England restaurant that pleased many for generations. Finnerty's was the type of place where one could feel good to dress in their Sunday best for a family meal or larger function and never walk away disappointed at the straightforward chicken, steak and seafood selections. Now that Finnerty's is closed, it brings up the retrospective question, "Why didn't we go there more?" The food was consistently solid, management ran a tight ship, and the slightly out-of-date country decor, too-long hallway, the spacious dining rooms, wall-to-wall carpeting and relaxed New England country feel brought one back to simpler times. The current "business closed" sign in front of the door reads like an indication of "It's a Wonderful Life," where cold Pottersville has taken over charming Bailey Falls. Although we didn't dine there much, Finnerty's will always have a place in our hearts as an integral part of New England dining. We hope that if a restaurant takes over, it will be in the tradition of Finnerty's and not some overpriced, self-conscious gourmet restaurant. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but old-time tradition seems to slipping away from the New England dining scene, and that's sad.
The Old Oaken Bucket, Westford, MA The Old Oaken Bucket is a prime example of how a cool name and atmosphere can make one overlook the offerings of dried out meat and surly service. During a childhood stage where we aimed to be rural hicks despite living in urban Arlington, Mass. (perhaps by watching too much Andy Griffith, Green Acres and Gomer Pyle) , the Old Oaken Bucket delivered the goods in its rural Westford location in a frayed, rough-around-the-edges dining room that seemed on the verge of needing a huge facelift (the rundown feel, however, had a great charm). All was forgiven, however, as we could picture Gomer Pyle eating some home cooked food here (this quickly-passing rural stage perhaps reflected the lack of girls we met during this time). One day, many years later, after telling a friend about the Old Oaken Bucket , we enthusiastically drove out there and, sadly, found it closed. Many years later, however, the Old Oaken Bucket reopened and was, to our surprise, of much better quality, thanks to building upgrades and an innovative chef who implemented a nice combination of down-home, and upscale flourishes to meats that weren't dried out. The "new" Old Oaken Bucket didn't last more than a few years, however, as The 99, a very good local chain, bought them out. The good and bad versions of the Old Oaken Bucket will always remain with us, however, especially the bad version.
Longhorn Barbecue, North Woodstock, NH Childhood favored the Longhorn Barbecue over touring the stunning, beautiful nearby Mt. Washington and viewing some of the most spectacular scenery in New England, courtesy of White Mountain National Forest. The barbecue chicken and blueberry pie were amazing and the knotty pine, cowboy-like atmosphere was the closest we ever came to experiencing the "west," since we never went beyond Rochester, N.Y. The elongated gift shop was great, too, with cowboy belts, that had the novel distinction of having the beads fall off once out in the parking lot. The Longhorn faded one day at sundown as the barbecue chicken was drier than Pat Paulsen, they were all out of blueberry pie, and a waitress had her head down on a dining room table crying. Suddenly, the spectacular New Hampshire scenery seemed like a pretty good option. The Longhorn has resurfaced, however, as a good breakfast place, according to some sources who favor breakfast over the spectacular New Hampshire scenery.
Angelo's, Arlington, MA With dim lighting and a circular dining room that appealingly ended up where you started, Angelo's made the cheesiest, chewiest, tastiest pizzas and Italian-American food that was on par with the best Italian Boston North End restaurants. The staff, which seemed to work there 24 straight hours, seven days a week, was always pleasant by striking up conversation, remembering names of customers and always saying "Thank-you." This is quite a contrast to modern day Arlington, where the pace is much faster and thoughtfulness sometimes takes a back seat to adults who love their toys -- SUVs, cell phones and laptops. Angelo's, on the other hand, seemed well integrated into the thoughtfulness of earlier-day Arlington, the classic local business that emphsized "local" while bringing a viable business to hungry Arlingtonians on a low budget and a big appetite.
Jack and Marion's, Brookline, MA Why a household name-caliber restaurant closed, we'll never know, but Jack and Marion's served as the local leader of what some say was New York City quality deli food, with service and urban panache to match. While some other delis had surly service and didn't always give it their best effort, Jack and Marion's seemed like a model of hard-working consistency -- even to a then eight-year-old like me. One could fill up on great soups, a main meal and huge dessert in a bustling atmosphere. Jack and Marion's proved that running a restaurant as efficiently as a machine didn't mean dining in a charmless, sterile environment it just meant you could enjoy the great food and be taken care of in a really nice, pleasant dining room with deli aromas that seemed to extend a mile to our parking space in urban Brookline.
Bishop's, Lawrence, MA During its heyday, Bishop's served the best Middle Eastern food and french fries in New England. That's right, Middle Eastern food and french fries. The lamb kabobs, hummus, babba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves and, yes, perfectly cooked, shoestring french fries had no rival. The atmosphere was memorable too, with, as someone described, a dining room that resembled an aircraft carrier. Bishop's always had amazing service, with many "career" waiters -- the professionalism showed. We never thought Bishop's would close, but it did, and we had to find another restaurant to call a tradition for a revered annual family birthday celebration.
Gianelli's, Burlington, MA Easily a place where Richie Cunningham from Happy Days could have been spotted, the family-owned, family-oriented Gianelli's offered homemade Italian food in a remarkably informal, unaffected setting on a part of Route 3A in Burlington that mall shoppers probably never knew existed. Gianelli's didn't win any prizes for being pretentious and stuffy, which accounts for why they were in business for generations. The fact Gianelli's closed took away a part of many people happy childhood memories, as well as some adults who loved this timeless restaurant where food, family and service mattered most.
Green Ridge Turkey Farm, Nashua, NH We never found the Green Ridge nor the Turkey Farm on the incredibly congested Daniel Webster Highway, but the Green Ridge Turkey Farm always delivered the freshest turkey along with all the requisite sides -- stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. The quality slipped in the early 1990s and suddenly the charming old house-like structure morphed into a Barnes and Noble. We like to read books and Barnes and Noble satisfies that craving very much, but at that location we wish that great turkey could have remained forever.
Willow Pond Kitchen, Concord, MA Somehow, a redneck bar with stuffed moose on the wall and catfish and frog legs on the menu seemed out of place in Concord, one of the most affluent towns in Massachusetts. The cow stench across the street always had an endearing quality, sometimes serving as the warmest greeting at this dining spot. Short on manners and low on prices, the Willow Pond Kitchen wasn't all that great -- especially the turgid pizza -- but it was a place to return because it was so different from the rest of the vanilla restaurant pack. Admittedly, they had great lobster deals and an endless supply of oysters. When I heard about the Willow Pond closing, I had to go back one more time. I left disappointed in the food and the impending closure. Sometimes, we like things that aren't that great Willow Pond Kitchen expertly tapped into this pathetic human condition.
Nick's Beef and Beer House, Cambridge, MA The double cheeseburger plate for under 2.95, cheap beer, wisecracking waitresses and that unforgettable phony fireplace with the multi-colored logs pleased everyone from Harvard students to construction workers. No one ever admitted to truly liking Nick's Beef and Beer House, but that was disproved by the endless crowds eating foods bad for the cardiovascular system in this dark, cavernous eatery. Why Nick's had to go, we'll never know. It was like taking away from a baby his favorite toy.
Shakey's Pizza, Nashua, NH Hmmm, let's open up a restaurant that plays Laurel and Hardy movies, has a player piano and serves great pizza and root beer-- and nothing else worthwhile. Oh, and let's call this place Shakey's! This brilliant and visionary marketing strategy pleased parents and kids, alike. Shakey's is long gone, which is a tragedy. The combination of going to beautiful Silver Lake State Park in nearby Hollis and then having a grand time at Shakey's is the stuff that created great childhood memories.
The Wursthaus, Cambridge, MA The great thing about the Wursthaus was that everyone could wear a plaid jacket, horn-rimmed glasses, smoke a pipe and not get beat up. This long-time Harvard Square hangout proved popular with professors,students and phony intellectuals, as well as high school graduates who wanted to feel smart while drinking beer. The Wursthaus featured an enormous variety of beer and OK German food in a rather charming upstairs dining room. Here was a restaurant with personality, personalities and a presence that makes you wonder why so many restaurants in the once unique Harvard Square had to go generic.
Red Coach Grill, Hyannis, MA This place was like Howard Johnson's with some fancy rugs and more comfortable seats. Come to think of it, Howard Johnson's did own the Red Coach Grill, which operated in many New England locations and inexplicably, a place somewhere north of Lake George, N.Y. Our only Red Coach Grill experience was at the Hyannis rotary. As kids, we were somewhat nervous about going in the restaurant -- what if one of those crazy drivers missed the rotary and drove right into the restaurant? The steaks were OK, the chicken a bit dry and most of peas and mashed potatoes we didn't like ended up stuck under the table. On top of that, the Red Coach Grill didn't have Howard Johnson's 28 ice cream flavors. We'll always remember, however, those great black booths and the cool red rugs, although that didn't do one thing for our hunger.
Chadwick's, Waltham, MA Chadwick's was a wildly popular ice cream parlor that also served pretty good sandwiches. Chadwick's most memorable moments occurred on customers' birthdays when ear-splitting drums and singing shook the small dining room, and most likely, the entire Metrowest Boston region. A perennial kid's favorite, Chadwick's left a lot of great memories including some of the biggest sundaes encountered in the Western world and fun, fun, fun anytime during business hours.
The Acropolis, Cambridge, MA The repetitive playing of "Never on Sunday" on eight-track tape, that really nice, stoic bald Greek host with the twinkle in his eye, and some fabulous baked lamb with too-good-to-be true rice pilaf were just a few highlights that made the Acropolis a beloved Cambridge dining establishment. The Acropolis staff always made the diner feel at home at this small, dark, informal place that catered to families, Harvard University professors, romantic couples and poor college students (usually the romantic couples). That incredible Greek lamb -- so tender and abundant -- has never been duplicated, to our knowledge, even at some great local Greek restaurants. We'll never know why the Acropolis closed (actually we're journalists and could find out, but we won't because it feels better to not know and eternally be depressed and outraged about its unexpected closing).
Yoken's, Portsmouth, NH I was so excited I could barely contain myself. We were headed to Yoken's, a legendary Portsmouth, N.H., seafood restaurant famous for everything fried under the sun, a gift shop with nothing good, and the huge, amazing smiling whale sign.
It had been nearly 30 years since my last visit. Now, I could pass on my Yoken's-fueled childhood joy to our children. Instantly bringing back memories, I could see the esteemed Yoken's sign ahead. Eagerly awaiting the return of something so dear to my heart, we signaled left, drove into the parking lot, and found that Yoken's was gone. It was just a parking lot and a sign with the huge, amazing smiling whale. I was crushed. It was sort of like Homer Simpson driving his car into beyond-rural Spittle County, and seeing several appetizing billboard ads for Flaming Pete's barbecue restaurant -- only to heartbreakingly find out when arriving at the newly-beloved destination that Flaming Pete's had burned to the ground.
Nate's Deli, Arlington, MA I always loved Nate's Deli because every luncheon meat they served seemed to taste better than its competitors. Nate's also offered larger potions of deli meats than others. It was also a five minute's walk from home, located in what is now Camera's Inc. The atmosphere: a plain-looking, pure, classic small town community storefront with a staff that was most welcoming and prided itself on getting to know the customer. But what I liked most about Nate's was that the owner reminded me a lot of Inspector Fenwick from the Dudley Do-Right cartoon series.
As a college student in the 'sixties I spent several great summers working at a boys' camp on Lake Winnepesaukee, which thrives to this day. While the camp dining room has improved radically in recent years, in the sixties the camp food was, well, camp food, and my colleagues and I used to count the days until we could get to Wolfeboro to do some laundry and eat at Bailey's. On a sabbatical trip detour I visited Bailey's on the last day of their season in 1999, never imagining they might close one day, and they graciously let me take a menu. What a wonderful place, what lovely folks and really good food, and what what happy memories.
From Gary N.:
What a great article about restaurants we miss, sure brought back some memories and stirred up some more…..
Red Coach Grille…never went to the Hyannis branch but the ones in Framingham, and the original in Wayland were “big night out” for my parents, as well as an occasional Sunday dinner where a Filet Mignon was a big deal. Framingham had a nice view of the water. Other special meals in Framingham were at Armand’s Beacon Terrace and The Maridor, the latter being more for atmosphere than food, Spanish in design (along with the 60’s design Fonda del Corro Motor Inn adjacent), but all I remember was American food the place looked more like you’d dream of in Las Vegas or Hollywood…sort of a “Rat Pack” hangout. Framingham’s most romantic spot might have been La Rotisserie Normandie, at the Framingham Motor Inn, where you could get flaming food!
Bishops, Lawrence, MA…agree it was a destination spot but I think those great shoestring fries is what made the Lebanese food memorable, but for me the El Morocco, Worcester, MA was hands-down the best for Middle Eastern food. From when it actually was an after-hours hang-out for the “Rat Pack” crowd – it was fun looking at the celebrity photos in all the nooks and crannies of the old Worcester triple-decker where you dined in the first floor or basement in crowded booths or long tables where there was always a party going on to the “Bishop’s like” palace the Aboody family built across the street where once the sun went down, the twinkling lights of the city below, and the tinkling of the piano keys in the dining room let you imagine you were in some rooftop NY night club. Filled with couples, extended families, and crowds being served by tuxedoed wait staff , the El had the best Baba Ganoush, lemon-mint dressed salads, shish kabob, and my favorite – a variety platter of! (This was) the tastiest Lebanese food (and I compared Bishop’s, the old Red Fez in Boston’s South End, Lander’s in Lebanon, NH, but nobody could match the El!), ending with the best rice pudding anywhere…oh, how I miss the El!
And speaking of Worcester, another city landmark was Putnam and Thurston’s. Started in the late 1800’s, Put’s for years was Worcester’s version of Locke-Ober. When downtown was the region’s shopping hub, on Saturdays or on the nights the stores were open, it was a treat to go to Put’s which had two dining rooms, more casual on the left, an old time restaurant/coffee shop with counter and booth service and a menu with changing daily specials. You couldn’t go wrong, however when my Mom felt flush, she could be persuaded at the entrance to go right to the main dining room where Worcester’s power brokers, elite ladies, couples out on the town were welcomed by an older hostess who my mother got a kick out of how she gave big bear hugs to the old men who enjoyed traditional food with a few exotic twists like Lobster Newburgh or Beef Stroganoff served on silver and white tablecloths, all surrounded by masculine dark paneling. Once downtown deteriorated, so went Put’s.
Loved Jack and Marian’s. also missed deli food while in college in Boston at Ken’s at Copley and Deli Haus in Kenmore Sq. And speaking of Brookline, a favorite was the Hungarian restaurant Chardas, great food and much less expensive than the wonderful Café Budapest under the Copley Sq. Hotel.
Eastern European cuisine reminds me of the wonderful meals at the much missed Hofbrauhaus in Ogunquit when the extended family arrived in York Beach for summer vacations, for a few years Chef Wilhelm also operated a wonderful French restaurant high atop Isreal’s Head and the Marginal Way called Chateaubriand….first time I had sweetbreads! Other York/Ogunquit by-gone favorites….Spiller’s on Short Sands (for before beach breakfast, or family priced seafood dishes for lunch or supper – they closed early), Poor Richard’s (located in a number of spots in Ogunquit), and old resort style table d’hote breakfasts at York Beach’s Ocean House. Lastly, for a few seasons actress Julia Meade operated The Fan Club in the pagoda style former Dan Sing Fan tea room overlooking Perkins Cove her venue was Broadway comes to the Ogunquit Playhouse with the sparkling lights illuminating the white washed walls making a lovely summer setting, particularly for pre-matinee lunches that featured ite!
ms like Quiche Me Kate and items originating at NYC’s ‘21’ (i.e. ‘21’ Burger).
Other memorable vacation spots included Hickory Stick Farm near Laconia, NH for the best roast duck we had ever eaten Woodbine Cottage near Lake Sunapee, where I overheard a woman at the next table state that the food here was better than the Ritz (I only made it to the Café, never to the upstairs dining room of the Boston landmark) – it was good, especially the homemade tomato soup with a dollop of sour cream (why do I remember that?) the German food at North Conway’s Hoffmann House, later at the same location Scotch cuisine (if there is such a thing, other than the unusual oat cakes) at the Scottish Lion and “gourmet” food at The Springs in New Ashford or Le Jardin in Williamstown in the Berkshires.
China Sails reminded me of the days that Chinese restaurants were few and far between, as a youngster, we travelled about 20 miles for Egg Foo Young, and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (was many years before we learned Lobster Sauce was actually pork!) at Wellesley’s Chin’s Village on the Natick line.
I did not know of Hartwell Farm until after the fire, but for country fare we headed further west to Phillipston’s Fox Run, a drafty old barn with stalls and an inside well, down a long country road, and up a hill with a view of Monadnock. The atmosphere was more memorable than the food, though. Another destination spot, famed for its Roast Beef with popovers was the Black Lantern on the road to Keene, NH.
My folks had a number of banquets and we had some Sunday dinners at Alphonse’s in Maynard, but I fondly remember meals at La Petite Auberge. Only around the corner from the Powder Mill, this cozy, romantic, recreated French auberge quickly transcended you to the French countryside. And the table d’hote meals, including a wonderful hors d’oeuvres tray with every meal, classics like Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon with those fried mashed potato dumplings (yum!), often served by the owner/chef’s wife, who would light the waxy wine bottle candles, made you forget you were in some eastern Mass. mill town.
Ah, the good old days before Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday’s, Cheesecake Factory, and PF Changs took over the restaurant world.
Chadwick's Ice Cream Parlor (and fine foods) was located in Lexington, not Waltham as you list it (it was near the Waltham line a Bright Horizons is now on that site). I worked at Chadwicks from '78 to '82, off and on, flipping burgers and carrying bellybuster sundays on the stretcher to the unwitting customer. And though they were after my time, Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch (of Saturday Night Live and more) worked there as well.
Addendum to missing restaurants from Harvard Square: Cardells, the Zum Zum, and the Underdog (best hot dogs in Boston, 1974 or so). Steve
From Bruce B.:
I was just reading your list of restaurants that are no longer in business. (By Eric H. ) Sadly, I remember many on that list, and some others.( I liked the Wursthaus in Cambridge. A good knockwurst platter, and a good beer was all I asked. ) At my age now, I have grown to accept the fact that time passes andthings do indeed change. Still, it "stings" just a little, when I find that these places are no longer with us. On my list:
Ritcey's Seafood Kitchen, Waltham MA In business for a long, long time, Ritcey's was the place to go for seafood, and home made french fries that I believe were the best on the planet. It was so popular, that on Friday's during the traditional "Supper Time", they suspended dining room service for about two hours, to give full attention to their take out service. If there was/is any restaurant that does broiled haddock any better, I'd like to know about it. I was taken there as a youngster back in the 60's, and had my last meal there about five years ago. It closed about three years ago, and some sort of yuppie italian place stands on the property now.
Tasty Tower Pizza, Dennisport MA This pizza place was the place to go during my late teen summers. After days spent water skiing, "cruisin" and just helling around with like-minded teenaged male friends, those pizzas hit the spot. It was located at the intersection of Shad Hole Rd. and Lower County Rd. It boasted huge garage doors, that they would open during the summer months. It was almost like eating outside, and lots of people, mostly young, would come and go. The interior tables were seriously heavy duty picnic table, arranged in a haphazard fashion. They sold one size of pizza only. Good times. I'm told the
Tasty Tower in neighboring Yarmouth is still there, but under different ownership now.
Pizza Pad / Kenmore Deli, Kenmore Square, Boston, MA As a college student in Kenmore Square in the mid-70's, I spent a lot of time (and cash!) at the Kenmore Deli. Good, basic food, and portions designed with young males in mind. I probably did more studying there than anyplace else.
Frankenstein's, Boston MA This was an unusual beer joint. The gimmick was that they served huge, gourmet hot dogs, had reasonable beer selections, and. the showed feature movies! Nothing first run mind you, but plenty of science fiction stuff, and movies for the artsy-craftsy crowd. Oh yea, the beer was
inexpensive. Definitely designed for the college crowd, of which boston has plenty. I think only a few folks, say, those of us 45 years of age and up, will remember Frankenstein's. Not sure when it closed or why. I could not believe it was due to a lack of
The Italian Moose, Lincoln, NH It was located right in Lincoln, near the end of the Kancamagus Highway. This restaurant had delicious food. The sauces were quite thick and zesty, and the pasta was definitely homemade. The garlic bread was some of the best I've had anywhere. The building itself was like someone's
house. The dining room was small, and decorated with
little cartoonish mooses everywhere, sort of like Bullwinkle. A huge stuffed Moose was suspended over the small bar. It seemed popular, with a line for a table on summer evenings. Most of the clientele consisted of families on vacation.
Not sure when it closed, or why. I just recall taking a ride up there in the mid 80's, and it was just gone. Alas. No one seemed to know anything.
Bailey's Ice Cream, Boston and Cambridge, Mass.
Schrafft's Tea Room, Boston, MA
With fond memories of my Boston University days in the late 1960s, I recall Bailey's Ice Cream Parlor where peppermint ice cream was served in old-fashioned silver dishes, set on silver plates, dripping with hot fudge that spilled over plenteously onto the silver plates. While there was a Bailey's in Harvard Square, my favorite was the Bailey's located on the street that led down from the Park Street Station to the now defunct Jordan Marsh and Filene's Department Stores. Those were the good old days. Innocent and sweet yet not forgotten.
In those days, I worked as a dining room waiter at one Boston's few remaining Schrafft's Tea Room Restaurants. There was one on Boylston Street and one on Milk Street. I worked at the Schrafft's in the Prudential Center on the Huntington Avenue Side of the old Pru Center. I was back there last Christmas time. It's a different world.
Albert H. Black, New Haven, Conn.
Original Cafe, Cambridge, MA
I miss "The Original Cafe," Main Street, Cambridge. it was a comfortable place near MIT where one could get a decent meal and a beer on a student's budget.
And then there was "Cronin's" near Harvard Square. Great student hang-out with old comfortable booths with initials carved into them by Harvard and MIT students.
Most of all, how about "The F&T Diner" in Kendall Square? A great shame that it is gone. The old historic diner car was attached to a deli-style restaurant of the same name, so you could have your choice if the limited seating was all taken in the diner. Many world-class mathematical equations were solved by MIT professors and students in the booths of the F&T!
Alphonse's Powder Mill Restaurant, Maynard, MA
Alphonse's Powder Mill Restaurant in Maynard Mass., was in operation by the Alphonse family from 1965-1985. It was the place for dining and dancing during the 60's and 70's and the place for many weddings. Digital Equipment Co., one of the first computer pioneers based in Maynard, put the town on the map before being bought out by Compac . Before the powder mill was Uncle Pete's Twin Tree's. The location is now the Maynard Elk's club.
Editor's note on Alphonse's Powder Mill: Mr. Alphonse:
Thank-you for your great message. A lot of us do indeed miss Alphonse's Powder Mill. I have fond memories of Alphonse's. Growing up in Arlington, our parents took us to a lot of restaurants. Alphonse's Powder Mill stood out for its
great restaurant name, a neat split-level look with big windows, wonderful food and attention to detail. It looked like a restaurant, operated like a restaurant, smelled like a restaurant and
had something on the menu for everyone. Pride of ownership was apparent. How
restaurant today meet all that criteria? To me,
not too many. I'm glad the Elk's have a nice building -- they are a great organization
-- but, selfishly, I wish Alphonse's could have lasted forever. Thanks for the great memories in a great town.
Bailey's, Wolfeboro, NH One must recall Bailey's in Wolfeboro, N.H. They served 29 fresh flavors of hand cranked ice cream and frappes. They had the original pine paneled restaurant off of 109 in Wolfeboro, and an old converted Boston&Maine railroad depot on Wolfeboro Bay, Lake Winnipesaukee. Their lobster rolls gave you a pound of lobster for $6.99, and the cheeseburgers were 1/2 pound of choice sirloin for $2.99. They started in June of 1936 and closed in June of 2004. All the waitresses were from the finest Colleges, Dartmouth, Brown, Smith, Wellsley, Radcliffe, and TCU, Texas Christian University as well as others, and they looked like models out of a LL Bean catalog, tan, tall and lovely. The views of the lake were million dollar views, which is what a 2 bedroom cottage on that lake costs today. One the greatest New England treasures of all time vanishes into eternity.
Joe D.'s, Burlington and Woburn, MA We miss a little pizza shop that was located in Burlington, Mass. It was called Joe Ds Pizza. this restauranat had the best italian pizza in the area, along with great breakfast and dinners. Its specialty was a great pepper steak sub and also had great clam chowder. This restaurant was first located in Woburn, Mass., and relocated to Burlington in 1977.
The White Turkey Inn, New York City The White Turkey Inn was a wonderful New England restaurant in the heart of New York City that I still remember from my boyhood days in the late 1940's and early 1950's. It was my first experience with an assortment of relishes and a dollop of cottage cheese, and interesting breads and rolls, instead of the usual white bread and butter fare most restuarants offered as starters when you first sat down. I remember there being an impeccably clean atmosphere, and excellent service, with what I now know to be an unimaginative menu but which, at the time, felt as though I was dining among kings. Was it the restuarant itself, or a nostalgic longing for youth, that brings a smile to my face when I recall my family's visits to this restaurant, which I believe was part of a chain, that I thought would be there forever.
Thank you for providing the opportunity to reminisce,
The Hartwell Barn, Concord, MA Say there, you MUST include a historic restaurant, which, tragically burned to the ground in 1968 on route 2A, between Lexington and Concord. built in the 1600s, Hartwell Farm. Here was a restaurant, where one could walk into the kitchen, and purchase massive pecan rolls to take home. Service was friendly and prompt. The atmosphere was magnificient the menu extensive the view from the very large main dining room looked toward the east over acres of field. The attached barn had its own intimate, rustic atmosphere. Hartwell Farm was a gem.
Korb's Bakery, somewhere in Rhode Island Hello, I miss Korbs Bakery, in Rhode Island! I would love their old recipes. I can still taste the Russian Tea cakes, giant chocolate chip cookies, cream puffs, and the bread. Unbelievable bread!!
Other New England restaurants that have closed that you might remember (no descriptions):
Hilltop Steak House, Saugus MA
Ma Glockner's, Bellingham, MA
The Kernwood, Lynnfield, MA
The Falstaff Room, Boston, MA (Sheraton Copley)
Jimmy's on the Mall, Burlington Mall, Burlington, MA
Billerica Seafood, Pinehurst, Billerica, MA.
Victoria Station, Burlington, MA
Ararat House of Bar-B-Que, Watertown, MA
Arsenal Diner, Watertown, MA
Bailey's (ice cream), Belmont and Boston, MA
Bamboo Hut, Arlington and Belmont, MA
Porterhouse Cafe, Cambridge, MA
Pewter Pot, various Massachusetts locations
J.B.'s Steak House, Newton, MA
Mel and Murray's Deli, Liberty Tree Mall, Danvers, MA
Pacific Hut, Burlington, MA
Capucino's, Brookline and Newton, MA
The Rib Room (Hotel Sonesta), Cambridge, MA
Igo's, Cambridge and Waltham, MA
Neptune Room (Hyannis, MA, Airport)
The Sizzleboard, Boston, MA (Hippie college waitress yelled at my folks for being indecisive)
The Hot Shoppe (Burlington Mall), Burlington, MA (cafeteria-style food not quite as good as the school lunches)
York's Steak House, Burlington, Mall, Burlington, MA
Royal Hawaiian, Burlington, MA (where ex-JV hockey players from Billerica got in fights, it always seemed)
Buzzy's Roast Beef, Boston, MA
Mills Falls Restaurant, Newton, MA
Harold's Deli, Chestnut Hill Mall, Chestnut Hill, MA
The Chuck Wagon, Walpole, MA
Do you have a restaurant that you miss very much? If so, let us know, at Visiting New England.com.
Read New England Restaurant memories, Part 2 here Or, go to the Old School Boston blog for more back in the day memories.
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Only Remaining Location of Bill Johnson's Big Apple to Close and Become a Parking Lot
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Things have been rough for the folks behind the Bill Johnson's Big Apple family of restaurants for quite some time. On November 12 the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but that didn't stop the restaurant's locations in Mesa and North Phoenix from shuttering last year.
That left only one restaurant open, the original Bill Johnson's Big Apple located at 3757 East Van Buren in Phoenix. Now, according to The Arizona Republic, that restaurant is set to close, too.
The more than 60 year old restaurant will be sold to Gateway Community College, which plans to pave over the restaurant in order to make room for a parking lot. According to the story, the college will pay $945,000 for the restaurant and lease it back to the company for two years, after which time they will turn the land into a parking lot.
The issue appears as "Approval of Lease of Restaurant Property to Bill Johnson's Restaurant, Inc." on the agenda for a Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board meeting to be held on Tuesday, January 27.
In May last year the North Phoenix location of the restaurant closed, followed by the Mesa location within the next month. Memorabilia from those locations were auctioned off online.
Bill Johnson, a cowboy/radio personality/stuntman/actor, opened the original restaurant in 1956 and used to broadcast his radio show from inside the dining room. He would feature famous guests such as Wayne Newton, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. Johnson passed away in 1966.
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In the '60s and '70s it was almost impossible to travel any distance without spotting a bright orange roof and that Simple Simon weathervane. There were close to 1,000 Howard Johnson's restaurants back then, each of them serving 28 flavors of ice cream and platefuls of fried clams.
The clams were small yet meaty, with a thick and crinkly veil of batter fried to a beautiful golden brown. A menu staple since the first Howard Johnson restaurant opened, they had been revamped by one Jacques Pepin--so despite being frozen in some corporate kitchen and trucked around the country, they had some culinary cachet.
Yeah, the menu did list other items--but to what purpose? As far as I was concerned at the time, HoJo's clam strips represented the peak of fried shellfish perfection.
Diners in New England debate the validity of strips versus whole clams, bellies and all. Advocates of the latter point out--correctly--that whole clams are not only more delicate, but also present more pronounced flavors. Strips can be tougher, akin to overcooked calamari.
On the other hand, Howard Johnson's strips carried enough of the sweet-briny flavor of clam to convince you of its seafood pedigree. And that chewy texture made a nice contrast to the rich, reassuring crunch of their crust.
But just maybe circumstance plays a role in my memory of HoJo's. I've had fried clams at The Clam Box in (I think) Ipswich, Massachusetts--as well as at the two famous Boston area fried clam stops, Woodman's and Farnham's. However good, the first thought was always "but of course, they should know how to make them here." My experience with Howard Johnson's, on the other hand, was along landlocked stretches of highway, where the thought of decent fried clams seemed special.
My family used to stop at the Howard Johnson's in Jacksonville, Illinois, on the way to Cardinals games. This was in the 70s, as the chain approached its moment of demise--which started gradually, after the Johnson heirs sold out to a British company in 1979. The Brits failed to make a go of it and unloaded the non-franchise locations on Marriott, which began dismantling the old orange roof restaurants.
Granted, some were shabby and population shifts had left others in less than desirable settings. But these were icons, as recognizable as the golden arches--though somehow more meaningful.
There are now only three Howard Johnson's restaurants left from a roadside empire that once stretched from coast to coast.
So I guess it would be difficult to find out if their fried clams were ever as good as I remember.
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A History of Howard Johnson's: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon (American Palate)
The author gathered his different sources and then stuck them together to make up a pastiche of a book. This is why you get to read about the founder dying almost 3 times in the first chapter. Yeah Johnson dead before he even started. There is very, very little actual analysis and much is drawn directly from old company handouts complete with the advertiserize and haliography.
Where this book really descends into helpless farce is when he lists out all the special Howard Johnson’s rec Cut N Paste
The author gathered his different sources and then stuck them together to make up a pastiche of a book. This is why you get to read about the founder dying almost 3 times in the first chapter. Yeah Johnson dead before he even started. There is very, very little actual analysis and much is drawn directly from old company handouts complete with the advertiserize and haliography.
Where this book really descends into helpless farce is when he lists out all the special Howard Johnson’s recipes but not really ‘cause he doesn’t have them, but here’s how his mother did them.
On Amazon, the book fell to $2 before I bought it. You should wait until they offer to pay you. . more
Howard Johnson’s are all but gone, but fond memories remain
Word came this summer that the restaurant chain was closing one of its last two locations — Bangor, Maine — and that only a lonely outpost in Lake George soon would remain. An Associated Press story in Newsday said the outfit was “on the brink of extinction.”
This may not be a catastrophe equal to the disappearance of the great auk or sabre-toothed tiger, but news of HoJo’s retreat came as one more troubling piece of evidence that, just as everyone says, nothing lasts forever.
Was it so long ago that a hungry traveler could park the family sedan at the sign of the Pieman for a root beer float and plate of fried clams? Wasn’t this a pleasure so simple and pure that perpetuity was assured? Afraid not. HoJo’s is nearly kaput.
At one point, more than 800 HoJo restaurants served happy customers around the country. There were 28 ice cream flavors. There were “frankforts” and “grilled hamburg plates” and “Welsh rarebit en casserole” — 20th century soul food. What went wrong?
One analyst says the business launched by Howard Deering Johnson in 1925 “never evolved.” Another says fast food joints brought too much competition. Somebody else claims millennials — your grandkids — didn’t dig the nostalgia, or the food, either. What chance does a humble “frankfort” have in the age of Shake Shack?
Okay, HoJo’s wasn’t the hippest place in the world, but its bright orange roof and reliable menu is sweetly recalled in the uncool precincts inhabited by me, that’s for sure.
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Late summer, 1962, I was switching colleges and heading west from Brooklyn. With me was Winky, the Jersey girl I was going to marry, also ready to start classes. But we were not alone. Nope, at the last minute, Mom and Dad, dear Fred and Winnie, decided they’d make the trip, too — motoring right behind our ’51 Ford in Dad’s ’57. That wasn’t all. For company, they invited along my aunt and uncle, Tillie and George. We were a regular rolling family reunion.
Ordinarily, Dad would have considered even a jaunt to Long Island better suited to Buck Rogers. This was a man who never drove to Manhattan — “what’re you, nuts?” — and when I got a license, told me I shouldn’t either.
But that summer, Dad unexpectedly was lured by adventure and the open road. Columbia, Missouri, was 1,000 miles away, and 1,000 back. That kind of mileage, Dad wouldn’t average in a year. He was getting older, hadn’t seen much. Maybe it was nothing more than that. Whatever the reason, he studied maps like Magellan and said he was ready to roll.
We left Bay Ridge early on a steamy morning and cruised — without air conditioning — along the Jersey Turnpike to the Pennsy, windows down, warm air sweeping over our faces.
Nightfall, we reached Wheeling, West Virginia. We stayed — you betcha’ — at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge. We ate dinner at HoJo’s, where else? Dad walked around the parking lot, looked at the sky.
“Stars,” he said. “You don’t see them so much in Brooklyn.”
He was in a great mood. Dad made Mom and Aunt Tillie and Uncle George laugh at the old vaudeville jokes he adored. He told stories I hadn’t heard before. He smoked a cigar — his beloved Chesterfields recently abandoned — with great pleasure, blowing billowy puffs toward the dark, distant hills.
Late in the evening, Dad had an inspiration.
“Hey,” he announced. “How about ice cream sodas?”
“Black and whites, all around,” Dad told the waitress. “And,” he said, grandly, “I’ll take the bill.”
They were the best, those black and whites — chocolate soda, creamy vanilla ice cream. “Yowza,” said Dad.
Couple of days later, we were in Missouri. The older folks stayed overnight and headed home. I got settled into my dorm and Wink, hers.
Fall was beautiful in the Midwest — a new world of corn fields and soybeans and Burma-Shave signs. Wow, I told myself, it wasn’t Bay Ridge, anymore.
Just after Christmas, my mother called on the dorm pay phone. Usually, Mom had news of church or neighborhood. Not this time.
“Worse,” said Mom, voice shaky. “A lot.”
By the time Wink and I married in June, Dad was gone.
I had seen him in the hospital — woozy but otherwise the same good guy. He said nothing and there was no need. Looking at him pale and without words, I understood the long Missouri trip a few months before and his comic routine in West Virginia, and the way he looked, fondly, at a sky draped with stars. Splurging for ice cream sodas at HoJo’s, I understood that, too.
11 Defunct Restaurant Chains That Are Sorely Missed
Sometimes there’s nothing more frustrating than having a sudden food craving for something from a restaurant that’s been out of business for a decade. Unfortunately a particular signature hamburger or special recipe pizza sauce can leave a powerful mental imprint that long outlasts the lifespan of the product.
Some of the now-defunct chains listed below were regional, some have one or two lonely outlets still hanging in there, but their common bond is that they are nostalgic favorites for a lot of folks. How many of them bring back fond food memories for you?
The original Lum’s was a hot dog stand which opened in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1956. The chain eventually expanded into a family-style restaurant, but their signature menu item remained their steamed-in-beer hot dogs. Lum’s also purchased Oliver Gleichenhaus’s recipe for his famous Ollieburger for $1 million in 1971. Gleichenhaus spent 37 years perfecting his recipe for “the world’s best hamburger,” which included a very specific (and secret) mixture of herbs and spices. The Lum’s chain went belly-up in 1983, but there are still a few Ollie’s Trolley locations in operation—still serving up those spicy Ollieburgers and equally spicy fries.
2. MOUNTAIN JACK’S STEAKHOUSE
Mountain Jack's was an upscale steakhouse with a unique take on the traditional salad bar: individual lazy Susans filled with salad makings were brought directly to your table. Their specialty was prime rib, which was slow-roasted to tender perfection and edged with a crunchy herb crust. Sadly, the chain’s California-based parent company, Paragon Steakhouse Restaurants, filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and by 2008 the majority of its Mountain Jack’s properties had been shuttered.
3. RED BARN
The first Red Barn opened in Ohio in 1961, and 10 years later there were approximately 400 barn-shaped outlets in 22 states and parts of Canada. Red Barn’s double burger was called the Big Barney and actually predated the Big Mac by four years. Their quarter pound burger was called a “Barnbuster," and their fish sandwich . didn’t have any fancy, farm-related name. The chain, according to franchise owner Bill Lapitsky, was the first fast-food restaurant to offer a salad bar, but their true pièce de résistance was their fried chicken (which was sold in a barn-shaped cardboard box). The chicken was breaded in a special coating mix and then deep-fried (36 pieces per “run”) in large pressure cookers that were manufactured specifically for Red Barn restaurants. Anyone who has tasted the perfection that was Red Barn chicken will confirm that no other chain since has come close to that unique flavor.
4. SHAKEY’S PIZZA
Picture it: Sacramento, 1954. Armed with a pizza recipe and a love of Dixieland jazz, Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson, who acquired his nickname after suffering some nerve damage during World War II, approached “Big” Ed Plummer with the idea of opening a pizza parlor—the first of its kind. The J Street restaurant in East Sacramento served only pizza (no salads or pasta dishes), draft beer, and soft drinks. The combination of Johnson’s tasty pies (with their crispy made-from-scratch thin crusts) and live ragtime and jazz music provided by local bands meant Shakey’s Pizza Parlor had customers lining up for tables just one week after it opened.
The partners began selling Shakey’s franchises in 1957 and by 1974 there were 500 Shakey’s locations across the U.S. The chain was bought out in 1984, and then sold again in 1989 by which time the menu and recipes had changed and the majority of the U.S. stores (save for those in California) had closed.
5. BURGER CHEF
In 1971, Burger Chef was poised to surpass McDonald’s as the largest hamburger chain in the U.S., with 1200 locations nationwide. Not too bad for a restaurant that was created as an afterthought to showcase the General Restaurant Equipment Company’s new flame broiler. In addition to their Big Shef (double burger) and Super Shef (quarter pound burger), the company introduced a Fun Meal, which included a burger, fries, drink, dessert, and a toy for the kids. (Burger Chef sued McDonald’s six years later in 1979 when that company introduced their Happy Meal.)
General Foods purchased the chain in 1968 and added menu items such as the Top Shef (bacon/cheeseburger) and a chicken club sandwich (with bacon). The Works Bar allowed customers to purchase a plain burger and pile it high with the toppings of their choice. But in 1982 General Foods decided to get out of the burger business and sold the chain to Imasco Ltd., the parent company of Hardee’s. Many of the Burger Chef restaurants closed, and those buildings that remained were converted into Hardee’s.
Chi-Chi’s Mexican cuisine might have been about as ethnically authentic as Chef Boyardee’s canned pasta, but those cheese-smothered enchiladas and chimichangas were pretty tasty when washed down with a jumbo frozen margarita or two. And, of course, you’d want to save room for their signature dessert: Mexican fried ice cream. The chain was already ailing financially in 2003 when the final death blow was struck—an outbreak of hepatitis A (eventually traced back to some scallions imported from Mexico) that infected over 600 patrons in the Pittsburgh area. The $40 million Chi-Chi’s paid out in lawsuit settlements added to its financial distress and hastened the chain’s demise in the U.S.
7. BILL KNAPP’S
This family-style chain opened in 1948 and had more than 60 outlets in five states—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Florida—at its peak. Bill Knapp’s prided itself on its “made from scratch” menu items with items delivered fresh daily in Knapp’s own fleet of trucks. The menu stayed fairly static, concentrating on family favorites like fried chicken, meatloaf, steaks, and burgers to encourage repeat customers. The chain also had a fairly extensive bakery and offered a free whole chocolate cake to patrons celebrating a birthday or wedding anniversary. On top of that, birthday celebrants received a percentage discount on their entire bill equal to their age, which is why a lot of seniors tended to have their birthday dinners at Bill Knapp’s. The last restaurant closed in 2002, but many of Knapp’s pastries and desserts—including that chocolate cake—can be found today at Awrey’s Bakeries.
8. FARRELL’S ICE CREAM PARLOUR
The original Farrell’s opened in Portland, Oregon in 1963, and 10 years later there were about 130 of the 1900s-themed ice cream parlors nationwide. The chain also offered “regular” food, like burgers and sandwiches, but its specialty was elaborate ice cream concoctions, like The Zoo, which was carried out on a stretcher by employees accompanied by a bass drum and blaring sirens. The chain had offered a free sundae to folks celebrating a birthday, and they made paying the bill a treacherous journey for parents because they had to make their way through an elaborate store that featured a huge selection of colorful candy and toys to get to the cashier. Declining sales hurt the chain in the late 1970s, and by 1990 almost all of the original chain stores had closed.
9. HOWARD JOHNSON’S
For some 50-plus years the bright orange roof of Howard Johnson’s restaurants was a familiar sight along America’s interstates for hungry travelers. The chain became famous for their fried clams, which were served as strips rather than the entire clam (including the belly) which had previously been the standard. Kids loved their hot dogs, which were grilled in butter (the buns were toasted in butter as well), and everyone loved the ice cream, which contained twice the butterfat of traditional brands and was available in 28 flavors.
The Marriott Corporation bought the chain in 1982 with an eye on the prime roadside real estate most HoJo’s occupied. They began dismantling the corporate-owned Howard Johnson’s restaurants and replaced them with motor lodges. The franchised outlets that remained suffered without corporate support and slowly went out of business, with a few staunch holdouts lasting until the early 21st century.
10. GINO’S HAMBURGERS
Folks who grew up on the East Coast in the 1960s and 1970s remember the great sirloin burgers at Gino’s, a regional chain founded in Baltimore in 1957 by several Baltimore Colts players, including defensive end Gino Marchetti. Their signature burgers were the “banquet on a bun” Gino Giant and the Sirloiner, a quarter pound patty made from ground sirloin, and French fries that were cut and cooked on the premises. The chain expanded to over 350 outlets at its peak, and most stores doubled as a Kentucky Fried Chicken carry-out since the Gino’s guys owned the Mid-Atlantic KFC franchise. Marriott purchased the brand in 1982 and slowly turned the remaining Gino’s stores into Roy Rogers restaurants.
11. CHICKEN DELIGHT
Chicken Delight was hatched in 1952 in Illinois when Al Tunick purchased some deep-fryers on the cheap from a restaurant going out of business. He experimented with food items other than fries that could be cooked in the fryers, and hit upon lightly breaded chicken pieces. (Up until that time, chicken was traditionally pan-fried or roasted, and the lengthy cooking time required nixed it as a fast food menu item.) Deep-frying the coated chicken sealed in the juices and cooked the meat in a matter of minutes, and a new franchise was born.
Howard Johnson’s retro-hip redo: Don’t worry, orange and turquoise still rule
Back in the day, Howard Johnson’s orange roofs were as recognizable as McDonald’s golden arches. The first “motor lodge” opened in 1954 as an addition to the wildly popular roadside restaurant chain.
Though the restaurants are gone, there are still more than 200 HoJos in the U.S. and Canada, including 23 in California.
The brand, now owned by Wyndham Hotels & Resort, is refreshing rooms coast to coast with a $40-million retro-hip makeover that preserves the classic turquoise and orange decor. Each varies depending on location.
Southern California properties include hotels in Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Orange, Pasadena, Pico Rivera, Reseda, Torrance and three in the San Diego area.
“Through this major design refresh, our largest in more than 25 years, we wanted to reflect and pay tribute to our rich heritage while introducing elements that encourage a new generation of travelers to make quintessential HoJo memories,” Clem Bence, the company’s vice president and brand leader, wrote in an email Monday.
New contemporary touches designed to reflect the brand’s midcentury past include:
▶ rounded mirrors inspired by George Nelson’s marshmallow sofa from 1956
▶ desk chairs that echo the Eames wire chair of 1951
▶ a side table inspired by Eero Saarinen‘s pedestal table, circa 1956 and
▶ patterned headboards reminiscent of Florence Knoll’s pintuck sofa from 1954.
The chain started in 1925 as an ice-cream shop outside Boston by Howard Deering Johnson, who became such a skilled franchiser that at one point a new HoJo restaurant opened every nine days. The last restaurant closed in 2017.
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As Los Angeles Times assistant Travel editor, Mary Forgione writes and edits stories for the digital and print Travel section. She loves tips and stories about running, hiking and anything to do with the outdoors. She also writes The Wild, a weekly newsletter featuring insider tips on the best of Southern California beaches, trails, parks, deserts, forests and mountains.
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