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Business and Economy

Bangor HoJo's Not Just a Memory, But It Soon Could Be

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Jay Field
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MPBN
A customer sits at the counter at the HoJo's in Bangor.

BANGOR, Maine - Just two Howard Johnson's remain open in the entire country, now that the HoJo's in Lake Placid, New York has closed its doors. One is in Bangor, not far from the airport. But just how long it will stay open is unclear, as the hyper-competitive fast food market makes it increasingly tough for old-fashioned places like HoJo's to turn a profit.

Jay Field dropped by the Bangor location recently to grab a bite and talk with regulars about what the iconic restaurant means to them.

Plenty of people probably have a memory that goes something like this: A family road trip, car packed to the gills, cruisin' down the highway. You're in the back, squeezed in next to siblings.

Everyone's hungry and more than a little cranky. And then, behold, that orange pointy roof. Dad has pulled over to treat the family to lunch. What to order? A cheeseburger, a milkshake, both?
 

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Credit Jay Field / MPBN
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MPBN
HoJo's menu of comfort food was once a big draw.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. It's either the Western Omelette or the Turkey Club. I'm sitting at the counter at the Howard Johnson's in Bangor. Restaurant manager Julie Jewett is doing the cooking today.

"I love our omelettes. And people love the clubs. You've gotta choose," she says.

"I'm gonna have the western omelette," I decide.

"Do you want cheese in it?" Jewett asks.

"Of course!"

"American, Swiss or cheddar?"

"American."

The signature orange roof disappeared from the Bangor HoJo's long ago. But the inside of the restaurant is like a trip back in time. A long lunch counter shines with that unique, high gloss, diner sparkle. Customers at the counter sit in comfy, cushioned maroon swivel chairs. Photos of classic HoJo's dishes line one wall. An old telephone booth still remains, back near the restrooms.

Waitress Kathy Jewitt has worked here for 48 years. Her daughter, Julie Jewitt, became the manager a few years ago. She's worked here for 30. "Right now, we're open and we want the people to come see us."

But Jewitt admits the future is uncertain for HoJo's in Bangor. The restaurant is trying to compete in a market with an ever expanding array of low-priced, fast food options. "We get the sales and get the business - we could stay open, you know."

Today, the lunchtime turnout is slow, but steady. At a corner table, Wendy and Roger Bossie are enjoying one of HoJo's signature dishes. "We're probably not supposed to be eating fried clams."
 

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Credit Jay Field / MPBN
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MPBN
The sign welcoming customers to the Bangor HoJo's.

The Bossies, who drove down from Aroostook County, stopped at HoJo's for lunch before Roger's cardiology appointment. It's become a ritual for them. "If you're going to die, die happy," he says.

A few tables away, another couple gives the waitress their orders. "I'm going to have the French toast with sausage," says Joyce Treankner.

All-day breakfast is just one of the things that Traenkner loves about HoJo's. Traekner lives in Old Town.

"We lived in Ohio for quite a while and there was one that we used to go to, when the kids were growing up. We'd take them there for a special treat all the time. So, I hate to see them go. And the fact that there's only two left, I mean it's just like everything else, you know, you get used to something you've grown up with all your life and it's gone."

"Maybe they ought to turn this into a relic and make it look like an old HoJo, like a 50's, 60's Hojo," says Bob Ziegler, who used to run the Bangor Airport. Ziegler has been eating lunch at this HoJo for 15 years. "From a community point of view, it would be nice to have the only HoJo left in the U.S. It might be a bit of a draw," he says.

For now, the Howard Johnson's on Odlin Road will contiue serving fried clams, all-day breakfast, sundaes and other comfort food until the owners say it's time to stop.