America's last Howard Johnson prepares for nostalgic visitors

The soon-to-be last Howard Johnson's restaurant in Lake George, N.Y. still serves iconic dishes that have been on the menu for decades.

The soon-to-be last Howard Johnson's restaurant in Lake George, N.Y. still serves iconic dishes that have been on the menu for decades.

With its signature orange roof and bright blue signage, Howard Johnson was once the most recognizable symbol of American family dining.

The second to last roadside eatery in Bangor, Maine will be closing its doors-- and frying its last famous clam strips-- on Sept. 6th.

That closing will leave just one Howard Johnson open in the U.S.-- in Lake George, N.Y. Owner John LaRock is sad that the once-booming restaurant chain is going the way of the dinosaurs. But he’s happy to keep serving customers and expects an uptick in business from nostalgic food fans.

“We are doing very well. Especially on the weekends,” LaRock told “We hold 225 people and lines are out the door from 8 to 2 p.m.”  LaRock says he strives to keep the place as original as he can by still serving clam strips, ice cream and not serving alcohol. Many nostalgic TripAdvisor reviewers say the restaurant has maintained the charm-- and original food style-- of classic Howard Johnsons. 

LaRock says he’s open year round but draws a bigger business in the summertime when he estimates 80 percent of his customers are tourists. But his counterpart in Maine hasn't seen the same influx of diners. 

Sally Patel who owns the Bangor restaurant says closing her restaurant just came down to a business decision. 

“I am sad to see the restaurant close, but it just wasn’t busy enough. It wasn’t worth keeping open,” Patel told Still, she says, she'll miss some of her favorite dishes. 

“I loved the Belgium waffles and french fries.” At this time Patel says there are no plans for the space.

Howard Deering Johnson started the chain with a simple soda fountain in his pharmacy in Quincy, Mass. in 1925. He made history when he cooked up the idea of franchising his orange-roofed-eateries and by the 1970s, over 1000 restaurants were welcoming hungry travelers across the country.

Howard Johnson enjoyed its heyday in the sixties when it went public and its stores and restaurants made over $78 million in one year.

But if you ask a millennial what a "HoJo" is they’ll wonder if it’s a name of the latest Pokemon character. But before Golden Arches dotted every mile along the freeway, there were the blue-trimmed-orange roofs and pie men weathervane of Howard Johnsons. The restaurants are best known for serving up orange sherbet in little metal cups, clam strips and 28 original ice cream flavors.

Now it’s up to the older generation to school the millennials on the importance of this trailblazing restaurant. 

Many who grew up in the "HoJo" heydey have fond memories of family outings to the restaurant. Lynn Dougherty, who grew up in the kitchens of her parents' diners in the 1950s remembers, can't believe the iconic chain is fading.  “I have fond memories of Howard Johnson. When you took a road trip, the first thing you did was map out where they were so you could plan to stop.” 

There's even a blog that pays homage to the chain. 

"I started my website to preserve the memory of HoJo's restaurants and ice cream," says Walter Mann, who founded the blog in the 2001. He says the chain strikes a chord with people. “I believe people long for a simpler time. Good memories going to HoJo's with the family.”

Now it’s up to the Lake George location to carry on Johnson's legacy. 

“The orange roof is like a beacon to our town, it’s the first thing you see as you enter the area," Tanya Brand of the Warren County Board of Tourism told “Lake George in itself is iconic, older people usually come up here with a lot of nostalgia surrounding this area that they want to share it with the younger generations, so the HoJos fits in perfectly.” She says he area is thrilled to be able to boast having the country's last Howard Johnson location.

Food Network star Rachael Ray even got her start in the kitchen at the Lake George outpost. LaRock remembers working at the restaurant alongside Ray. “She was the ice cream girl here. She evens pops in now to visit from time to time.”

The owner says he thinks his 67 year old restaurant will still be thriving for years to come.

Says LaRock, “I guess now if you want to remember Howard Johnson you’ll have to come here.”

Carey Reilly is a lifestyle blogger, TV host, comedian and lover of cocktails. She is the editor of Follow her on Twitter @careycomic and Instagram @careyreilly.