Just like any other business, even the most popular restaurant chains can eventually begin to disappear. For some brands, shutterings can affect locations far and wide all of a sudden—especially as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. For others, certain locations can manage to hang on, often with a bit of nostalgia attached to them. Now, another once-iconic restaurant chain has closed its final location for good. Read on to see which beloved dining establishment has finally called it quits after nearly a century in business.
The last two years have been difficult for the restaurant industry.
The restaurant industry is a notoriously risky, fickle place, where even the best prepared and skilled operators can find themselves with too little foot traffic to stay open. But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of unprecedented difficulty for restaurateurs as temporary closures, limited diners, ongoing supply issues, and lack of meaningful assistance forced many out of business. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 food and beverage establishments closed their doors in 2020, with annual sales falling from an expected $899 billion to $240 billion, per Fortune.
As the pandemic enters a new phase, restaurants are struggling to make up for lost time and confront a new landscape. Even some longtime names in the industry have felt the effects, forcing some out of business for good.
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The iconic restaurant's last location in New York has shut its doors.
Now, another beloved restaurant chain has called it quits after the last Howard Johnson's restaurant finally closed its doors. The location, which operated in Lake George, New York, for nearly 70 years, has been dormant and was recently listed for lease, local ABC affiliate WTEN reports.
"Lake George is officially dead," a fan of the once-iconic chain posted on Facebook alongside photos of the shuttered business, per CNN. "Cobwebs on the door. Right before Memorial Day rush up here."
The restaurant chain hit its peak in the 1960s as a popular stop for families during road trips.
The shuttering of the last Howard Johnson's restaurant ends nearly an entire century of business for the chain, which opened its first location in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1925. After the eating establishment became famous for its wide selection of 28 flavors of ice cream made using butter fat, its eponymous founder used the brand's popularity to launch into franchises, The Daily Mail reports. Coinciding with a major expansion of the American Interstate Highway system at the time, hundreds of orange-roofed locations sprouted up next to gas stations catering to families on the road looking for a rest stop and an easy meal.
By 1954, the chain dove further into its road-tripping roots when it entered the motel business, CNN Business reports. The restaurant chain finally reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when more than 1,000 locations were operating across the U.S.
But as a predecessor to many fast-food chains, the restaurant soon found itself in competition with nimble operators such as McDonald's that were better suited to turn a profit at a larger scale. As a result, dining locations began to dwindle over time—including a 1985 sale of the company to Prime Motor Inn that stripped many of the outposts of the brand's name—until only a handful remained. In 2015, one of the last remaining locations in Lake Placid, New York, closed permanently before the second to last outfit in Bangor, Maine, closed its doors in 2016.
The Howard Johnson brand still lives on in another way.
According to WTEN, a representative from the realty company overseeing the lease of the last Howard Johnson's location in Lake George "has seen interest" since it was put on the market months ago, meaning that someone could technically still salvage the space. However, it's not clear whether or not the new tenants would choose to operate under the iconic brand name.
But while Howard Johnson's restaurants may have served its last meal, the "HoJo" name still lives on in other ways. As part of the company's previous buyouts and sales, the brand's hotel chain is still in operation across the U.S. and Canada. The roughly 300 locations are currently owned and managed by hotel giant Wyndham, CNN business reports.