Remembering Kalamazoo’s Howard Johnson’s, As the Last One Closes
If you ask longtime Kalamazoo residents about their favorite restaurants, there are few that bring more nostalgic reactions than (Battle Creek') Bill Knapp's and (nationally) Howard Johnson's.
(CBS Sunday Morning via YouTube)
A CBS Sunday Morning feature from a half-dozen years ago noted that in 1965 Howard Johnson's was the biggest restaurant chain in the country, with more sales than McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC combined. But, whatever you do, don't say "That was then, and this is WOW". That was the late 1990's marketing campaign from the new owners of Bill Knapp's that helped kill Bill Knapp's. Lifestyles and eating habits changed and these types of places became dinosaurs.
And so, the last HoJo closed in Lake George, New York.
But the memories remain. And so do the birthday cakes from Bill Knapp's. You can purchase those in stores and as of two years ago, there was an outlet store in Saline, Michigan.
Howard Johnson's had two locations in Kalamazoo. One was by the airport and the other one was at the bottom of Westnedge Hill. Everyone had their favorite menu items. Two that stood out were the Clam Fry and the ice cream and sherbet.
Virginia Arsenaux was a hostess and waitress in Kalamazoo and reminisced on Vanished Kalamazoo. "They had the best food! I loved their Char Steak, Clam Roll, & their Friday Night Fish Fries. The best fountain where I learned to make the best Hot Fudge Sundaes, malts, sodas. Of course they had the best ice cream to make them with."
And for old-timers, no Howard Johnson story can go without remembering that late talk-show host Tom Snyder worked next door at Ch. 3, and one night, wasn't happy with the food he'd been served and shared that with his audience. That apparently ended the Kalamazoo portion of this storied career.