The Automobile Age
by James J. Flink
[Howard] Johnson had, by the mid-1930s, parlayed a Quincy, Massachusetts, soda fountain acquired in 1925 and an ice cream manufacturing business that sold ice cream richer in butterfat at seaside stands into a string of roadside restaurants along the Massachusetts coast. He had begun franchising his restaurants in 1935. By 1940 some 125 Howard Johnson restaurants, a third of them company owned, were in business from Maine to Florida, grossing $14 million a year. Johnson had opened the largest roadside restaurant in the world on Queens Boulevard in New York City to serve visitors to the New York World's Fair. And he had secured an exclusive contract to built restaurants at the rest stops on the recently opened Pennsylvania Turnpike.
"Johnson's success derived from an uncanny ability to recombine current ideas into a new synthesis that unerringly appealed to a middleclass family on the road," writes [Chester H.] Liebs. "Ice cream, for instance, was an extremely common treat, but Johnson's restaurants offered an unusual selection of flavors embellished with a touch of showmanship -- he served it in a distinctive cone-shaped scoop that formed a rim of extra ice cream at the bottom, suggesting to the customer that he was getting an exceptionally large portion." Another shrewd step was his merging under one roof a full-meal dining room service and a quick-bite lunch counter with a fast-food menu, whereby he "addressed most everyone's needs in a single stop."(foot note here) By the late 1950s some 500 Howard Johnson restaurants across the United States - next to many of which now stood motels belonging to his new standardized chain - were serving up identical menus to middle-class Americans on the road.