Howard Johnson's food may yet return to N.J.
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 06/11/06
BY SHANNON MULLEN
Without realizing it, someone who ate at Howard Johnson's in Asbury Park last Sunday during the city's gay pride celebration might have consumed a historically significant meal.
That's because the restaurant subsequently closed down, meaning that, for the time being, at least, New Jersey is now officially without a "HoJo's" for the first time in many decades.
Nationwide, just four franchises remain — in Waterbury, Conn.; Bangor, Maine; Lake George, N.Y.; and Lake Placid, N.Y., according to Walter Mann, 41, of North Haven, Conn., creator of the Web site HoJoLand.com.
After five or so years chronicling the closing of one Howard Johnson's after another, however, Mann finally has some good news for fans of the fast-disappearing franchise, which once had as many as 1,200 restaurants.
In January, the LaMancha Group, based in New York City, purchased the franchise naming rights and the rights to all Howard Johnson's food products from Cendant Corp., based in Parsippany, according to David Kushner, LaMancha's managing partner. Kushner said the group plans to market Howard Johnson's ice cream and frozen foods to supermarkets and hopes to open "a couple" of new Howard Johnson's restaurants on the East Coast before the end of 2007.
"We are relaunching the brand," he said in a telephone interview. "This is a real American, iconic brand that was let go."
Control over the Howard Johnson trademark has passed through multiple owners since the original company was sold to a British conglomerate in 1979. Cendant retains ownership of Howard Johnson inns.
Mann, for one, is optimistic that Kushner and his partners recognize the value and potential of the Howard Johnson name, though it will be a challenge to create a new identity for Howard Johnson's restaurants among a younger generation that might associate the name more with a chain of motor lodges.
Nevertheless, he said, "he seems to be the white knight we're looking for."
Kushner, however, said he was under the impression that the Asbury Park location would remain a Howard Johnson's franchise — "We're going to keep that name there," he said — but that doesn't appear to be the case.
Larry Fishman, chief operating officer of Asbury Partners, the city's designated oceanfront redeveloper, which purchased the restaurant's liquor license and contents last week for $250,000, said the restaurant will not be a Howard Johnson's franchise when it reopens under a different operator on an interim basis later this summer.
In the long term, Fishman said, Asbury Partners will seek a "first-rate" restaurant to occupy the site. He said he wasn't familiar with Kushner or the LaMancha Group, but he wouldn't rule out the possibility of a new Howard Johnson's franchise returning to the boardwalk some day.
ON THE WEB: Visit our Web site, www.app.com,
and click on this story for a link to HoJoLand.