Ho Jo’s down to Bangor, 2 others

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WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) – Fans of roadside nostalgia will have one less landmark to visit when the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Connecticut disappears sometime within the next month.

The owners of the Waterbury Ho Jo’s have been ordered to stop using the brand name, which will leave just three of the iconic orange-roofed restaurants in the entire country – in Bangor, Maine, and Lake Placid and Lake George, N.Y.

Howard Johnson motor lodges still exist, but they’re not affiliated with the restaurants.

“Our company … is moving in a new direction for the Howard Johnson’s brand, and we felt the proprietors of the Waterbury property are not what we feel are good franchisees,” said David Kushner, president of La Mancha Group in New York, which owns the Howard Johnson’s brand for restaurants and food products. “Rather than have substandard operators, we decided to start fresh.”

Kushner said he notified Nicholas and Kristina Bakes of Stamford earlier this week that their franchise license has been canceled after negotiations to renew it did not work out, Kushner said.

A message seeking comment was left at the restaurant Friday. The Bakes have 30 days to remove all of the trademarked Howard Johnson’s items from the restaurant.

Kushner’s company bought the restaurant and food products brand from Wyndham Worldwide in 2004. Howard Johnson’s was founded in 1925 and grew to include more than 1,000 restaurants by the late 1970s. But over time, the chain suffered from aging facilities, a stale menu, lack of marketing or new ideas, and competition from other chains.

The company plans to debut a new Howard Johnson’s ice cream in April in the New York metropolitan area and Puerto Rico, then start selling it elsewhere. Once the ice cream is established, the company will start opening restaurants again, probably in mid-2008, Kushner said.

“What we wanted to do is make the brand stronger, getting into people’s minds, and then create the restaurant and ice cream shop concept and move forward that way,” Kushner said.

That means HoJo’s could return to Connecticut one day, but Walter Mann, who operates www.hojoland.com, a Web site devoted to the history of the chain, said he was saddened by the Waterbury restaurant’s demise.

“It would have been 50 years next year,” he said. “It’s sad to see a Waterbury landmark fade away.”

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