I keep having a recurring dream where I build a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in my local community. In this dream, I buy a long neglected plot of land and begin construction right away. The resulting restaurant was not a carbon copy of the dilapidated HOJO’s that have dotted the landscape in the past couple decades. No, this restaurant takes what was once thought to be the long gone glory days of this American institution and brings it back to the forefront of our consciousness. People who have spent untold years being disgruntled with their local restaurant chains will finally have a destination where people will take care of them. When they have a complaint, someone will be there to make sure that it’s addressed.
Is it possible for someone to feel nostalgic about a place they never visited from a time in which they never lived? I understand that there’s still one HOJO’s location trucking along in Lake George, New York. I could go there tomorrow if I really wanted to. At the same time, that HOJO’s is not the same as the ones that have people looking back so fondly. It’s a tribute to a time gone by. However loving of a tribute it might be, it’s not the same thing as the genuine article.
You might be thinking “Why are you dusting off an ancient franchise when there are so many modern ones to choose from?” I choose HOJO’s because HOJO’s is America. We had 1,000 locations to choose from. Through a combination of corporate greed and the apathy of the restaurant going public, we watched as an institution burned to the ground and we didn’t do a thing. Yet, we freak out and mobilize at the mere suggestion that the Lake George location might close soon. Our nostalgic hysteria will do nothing to fill the coffers of those who are running that location. The time has come for action.
I read the news every day in all its horrifying glory. One unifying them seems to be a desire to return to the simplicity of days gone by. What better way to accomplish that feat than to dust off a nearly century old restaurant chain and make it ready for prime time? Don’t throw a modern sheen on it and rob it of all its character though. The new HOJO’s should look like the people who built them fired up the time machine and brought them knack from a previous era.
I talk about these things all the time to my family. They think I’m crazy for liking old things. Perhaps I am crazy. I just know that we should not press forward at such a frantic pace without first acknowledging our history. So many of us like to go out to eat, yet we accept options that would be regarded as substandard in any era. We are the public that keeps these restaurants open, so if we want better, we need to raise our voices and demand better. Until then, we will be left with what fills so much of us with dread.
Who knows. Maybe my dream of building my own HOJO’s will become a reality. Maybe my location will be the one that re-establishes the brand to the level of an industry titan. I know that I will look forward to going back to dream land, walking into that orange-roofed building, and serving hungry people fried clams and 28 flavors. I don’t care that HOJO’s was the industry juggernaut of its day. If it were around today, it would be seen as a quaint mom and pop shop.
Articles in this Series
1. Take Me Back to Howard Johnson’s Introduction
2. Where Have All the HOJO’s Commercials Gone?
3. So You Wanna Build a HOJO’s?
4. Lake George’s Howard Johnson’s Restaurant: A Good Place to Start