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Swizzle Stick Mystery: Simon and the Pieman

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

Howard Johnson’s

Anyone remember the famous orange roof?

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the roof was synonymous with the Howard Johnson's chain of hotels, motels and restaurants,

The Howard Johnson’s chain had humble beginnings in the 1920’s as a pharmacy, a soda fountain and an ice cream shop. Surviving the stock market crash in 1929 and the great depression and World War II, by the 1960’s it was the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with more than 1,000 locations.

The unique icons of orange roofs, cupolas, and weathervanes on Howard Johnson properties helped patrons identify the chain's restaurants and motels. The restaurant's trademark, topping the restaurants signature swizzle stick was not, however, a cupola or weathervane. It was instead a logo known as “Simple Simon and the Pieman” created by artist John Alcott in the 1930’s.

Surviving the stock market crash of 1929 was due to an improbable set of circumstances: The mayor of nearby Boston prohibited the production of Eugene O'Neill's play, Strange Interlude, in his city. Rather than fight the Mayor, the theater moved the production to Quincy. The five-hour-long play was presented in two parts with a dinner break. The first Howard Johnson's restaurant happened to be near the theater; hundreds of influential Bostonians flocked to the restaurant. Through word of mouth, more Americans became familiar with Howard Johnson's. The restaurant chain grew, but their luck did not hold.

By 1944, only 12 Howard Johnson's restaurants remained in business. The effects of war rationing had crippled the company. Johnson managed to maintain his business by serving commissary food to war workers and United States Army recruits.

By 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson's restaurants in 32 states and in that same year, the company opened the first Howard Johnson's motor lodge in Savannah, Georgia.

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