BANGOR — When Bruce O’Handley, a Canadian now living in Bangor, heard that Tuesday would be the last day the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Odlin Road would be open, he couldn’t miss his last chance to experience this fading piece of Americana.

“How retro is it here? Look at that milkshake machine,” he said, sitting at the counter soaking it all in before he paid his bill. “Look at the stainless steel, the wood paneling. You walk into places like this, and it’s a time machine.”

The Bangor Howard Johnson’s served its last plate of eggs Tuesday, which leaves just one HoJo’s in the entire country – in Lake George, New York. The New England-based chain was founded in 1925, and in its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s more than 1,000 restaurants were scattered across the country. Maine had several, with locations including Wells, Falmouth, Naples, and two in Portland.

Regulars, HoJo’s fans and the simply curious filled the diner-style stools, booths and tables to say goodbye in a gathering that felt something like a wake for an old friend. Thank-you cards with personal notes from customers were taped above the pass window at the kitchen, where Julie Jewett and April Pickering put out plates of waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs and pancakes as fast as they could. A large bouquet of sunflowers with three Mylar balloons sat at one end of the counter, a bouquet of lilies at the other.

The breakfast surge began around 6 a.m. as it usually does, said Julie’s mother, Kathe Jewett, 68, who has worked at the restaurant for 50 years, ever since it opened in 1966. The Bangor police arrived first, followed by local firefighters.

“They come usually every Monday, but Monday was a holiday, so they came today,” said Jewett, who hugged customers as they left with a friendly “See ya, dear.”



Ever since the owners of the restaurant (who also own the Howard Johnson Inn next door, which will remain open) announced that the restaurant was closing, it’s been getting four times the usual amount of business, Kathe Jewett said. Still, at no point in the morning were all of the 150 seats filled – not even close – an indicator of the trouble the restaurant has had appealing to modern-day customers living in a world of fast-food and newer chain restaurants. Indeed, the Bangor eatery looked a bit down on its luck, with carpet that was worn and soiled in spots and other signs of inattention.

Howard Johnson’s restaurants served up comfort food and 28 flavors of ice cream to a whole generation of baby boomers who kept their eyes peeled on family road trips for the chain’s distinctive architecture; the look, including an orange roof and turquoise spire, was designed by 20th-century modernist Rufus Nims.

Once the largest restaurant chain in the United States, “HoJo’s” is still referenced on TV shows such as “Mad Men” and has hundreds of hardcore fans. Walter Mann, a Connecticut man who runs the fan site, said he still gets emails every day from people wanting to know where they can buy the chain’s famous clam strips, chicken croquettes, and the candy and ice cream that they remember eating as kids. He has to disappoint them; the licensing for the chain’s food, he said, belongs to the Wyndham Worldwide Hotel Group, which has not yet revived any of the old products.

The irony of pining after a restaurant that they haven’t supported in years is not lost on HoJo’s fans. They are like people who appreciate a good Sinatra tune on occasion, but listen to Katy Perry on a daily basis.

“I think today, especially, people long for simpler times,” Mann said. “Whether it’s an old restaurant or old movie or old song, it brings you back to a different time when things were simpler, and you didn’t have to worry about things like terrorism and nasty politics.”



The Bangor restaurant does not have the distinctive orange roof, but it still has the old freezers where the 28 flavors – including peppermint, macaroon, and maplenut – once pleased children and adults alike. Most of the freezers are broken, so the restaurant now serves just one flavor – vanilla. Vintage Howard Johnson posters are displayed on either side of a modern flat-screen TV.

Dick Smith of Bangor enjoyed his usual meal at the counter – scrambled eggs and eggs over easy, served with an English muffin. He’s been eating at Howard Johnson’s since he was a kid, and at this particular one since it opened the ice cream bar. He now has a full head of gray hair, but can still remember how much he loved the hot fudge sundaes. He visited the Bangor restaurant three or four times a week for the eggs and the company.

“Usually I see someone I know,” he said.

Smith’s reaction when he heard the place was closing? “Holy mackerel!”

“I’m getting old,” he said. “I’m getting sad, anyway.”


Don Bohus of Dixmont came to enjoy his last plate of eggs Benedict and home fries, with a side of corned beef hash. He’s 60 years old now, but grew up on HoJo’s and Big Boy. He moved to Maine from Ohio in 1979, and had his very first meal in Maine right here, so he thought it appropriate to visit one last time.


Judy Richards of Orrington and her sister, Nora Maynard, brought Richards’ 7-year-old granddaughter Alleia for a last serving of her favorite chocolate chip pancakes after a morning swim.

“We’re sad that it’s the last day,” Richards said. “We’re trying to figure out where to go” next.

Richards said they liked that all three of them could eat for $22. Everything on the menu costs under $10, except for the steak and eggs. The original Howard Johnson’s menu included items such as a cream cheese and olive sandwich for 15 cents and an egg malted milk for 25 cents.

Kathe Jewett moved around the dining room quickly but with precision, never stopping as she cleared tables, delivered platters of food and handed out checks. As she moved around the counter and back to the kitchen area, her shoes made noise on the sticky floor.


Jewett was nervous about talking because every time she paused to reflect, her eyes filled with tears.

“It’s so hard to say goodbye to everyone,” Jewett said. “It’s just so sad.”

Jewett said she’ll retire now, and told one customer she hoped to sleep in on Wednesday. “It’s all about the people,” she said, summing up her time there. “We’ve had such wonderful, wonderful customers.”

Mann, of, said hope remains that someone might purchase the licensing from Wyndham and revive the restaurant brand.

“The problem, though, is that as the chain was allowed to die on the vine, there’s really a whole generation and then some who don’t know Howard Johnson’s as anything other than a place to sleep,” he said. “That’s really sad, and that’s going to be a momentous thing for someone to overcome if anybody ever was able to relaunch the brand.”

For now, the only place New England fans will find the restaurant is in the rearview mirror.


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