The History of the Lake Placid Howard Johnson’s
Howard Johnson’s Restaurant stands on the site of the former Lamb Lumber Saw Mill. In 1956, Frances & Louise Brewster opened the Howard Johnson's Restaurant. Since September 1, 1958 this restaurant has been owned and operated by the Butler family.
Frances & Louise Brewster were descendants of one of the first families to settle in Lake Placid. Their family settled on what is called table land on the Bear Cub road. They were sisters and both were never married. They were very successful in the high end retail dress business. They had a dress shop in Palm Beach on Worth Avenue that was open during the winter season and the dress shop in Lake Placid that was open in the summer season. In the winter of 1954 they were at a cocktail party on a yacht in Palm Beach where Howard Johnson Sr. was also attending. In conversations with Howard Johnson they expressed to him that they would love to have a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Lake Placid. He said let’s make a deal. So in the winter of 1955-1956 this restaurant was built at its current location. They built it as a 100 seat restaurant. Howard Johnson created franchising when he started the Howard Johnson’s company in 1925.
Ron Butler was hired on the phone by Louise to be the assistant manager in the winter 1955-1956. Before the restaurant opened Ron was sent for a seven day training period to the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in North Oxford MA, even though Ron had spent a lot of time working in other restaurants and cooking in the US Army, he was really not prepared to perform this duty, but every day brought new experiences. The restaurant opened on Thursday, May 17th, 1956. When Ron was hired he assumed the restaurant would be opened year round. But these were the days before Whiteface, which did not open until 1958 so that is why in mid-October the Brewster sisters decided to close the restaurant until May 1957. They assured Ron and his wife Jeannine that they would have a job with the Howard Johnson’s company. The Howard Johnson’s supervisor at the time Bill Pendergast told them to be at mile 57 on the Maine Turnpike, 17 miles north of Portland to be the assistant manager at that restaurant. At the end of March he was sent to Rochester, NY to be on the opening team of a new Howard Johnson’s restaurant there. In early May Ron returned to Lake Placid as manager of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant having been assured this time that the restaurant would remain open year round. In those days, winter in Lake Placid is nothing like it is today. There was very few busy days in the winter which resulted in a very limited number of staff. Many days the restaurant was run by Ron as the cook & dishwasher and his wife Jeannine along with Don Benjamin, his former roommate at Paul Smiths College. In the summer of 1958 the Brewster sisters and their nephew Bill Madden decided to sell the restaurant. There were numerous people looking to purchase it from them. So one day Ron said to Bill Madden that he and Jeannine would like to buy the restaurant from them. Ron and Jeannine had $10,000 in cash that they used as a down payment to acquire the restaurant from the Brewster sisters and Bill. The remaining balance of the selling price was held by them. The transfer was completed on September 1st, 1958. The monthly mortgage payment that the Butlers had to pay was $934.00. They managed to pay off the mortgage by August of 1967. In the meantime they had added another room at the restaurant seating 44 people in 1963. To this day this room is called the Lamp Lighter room. In the winter of 1966-1967 they added what is called the Loft on the back of the restaurant which added another 66 seats bringing the total the restaurant could seat now to 210 people. During this period in the summer time the restaurant had a standing line everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner and was open from 7am until midnight every day. Needless to say during this period there were far fewer restaurants then there are today. For example, McDonalds did not exist until 1973. Today there are 70+ restaurants in the Lake Placid area along with 5 convenience stores and one major supermarket.
In the winter of 1975-76 the Butler family constructed the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge next door to the restaurant. The Motor Lodge opened on July 1st 1976.
From the early 1960s to the early 90's the sales at the restaurant continued to increase.
The 1980 Winter Olympics was a great year with ABC television taking most of the rooms at the motor lodge and eating their meals at the restaurant. This lasted for approximately 7 months. During the Olympics the restaurant was opening 24 hours a day. The NYS Health Dept. made a visit every day during the Olympics. During the lunch and dinner we had 5 cooks on each shift and 2 prep cooks. On the all night shift, 11pm to 6am we had 2 cooks and sometimes 3. Personally I had the privilege to see the USA Hockey games against Finland, Germany, Sweden, the Czechs, and the Miracle on Ice against the USSR. We also had the privilege to be at the opening and closing ceremonies as well as many of the award presentations. Our home was like a hotel during the Olympics. We hosted some relatives as well as the translator for the Finland team, his wife and his father-in-law. There was also another couple that came by TrailWays Bus from Florida. During the Olympics the restaurant was also the TrailWays Bus stop. This couple got off the bus and certainly they were not prepared for winter in Lake Placid. They had no place to stay. So I took them home and introduced them to my wife Jeannine and they slept in the living room along with Jeannine's niece and her husband. The couple was with us for several days and we did outfit them for the winter weather. Needless to say, Jeannine fed everyone before attending the events each evening. This couple before they left to go back to Florida presented Jeannine and I with a complete set of hand cut Germany glassware which included a dozen of each highballs, water, wine, beer, and Cordial glasses. What a great gift this was. At our house on Lake Placid, Mr. and Mrs. Henry and sons were our guests. Mrs. Henry is Howard Johnson Junior’s sister. I had purchased them tickets for the events and she informed me after going to a couple of the events to give the balance of the tickets to our employees and that they would watch it on TV. When that family left the house on the Lake it was then occupied by the ambassador of Finland, who when he departed left us several cases of Finland's vodka.
Some highlights of the Olympics were the party we hosted for Herb Brook’s U.S. Olympic hockey team and the Czech Team after their game against each other. As I remember we served Roast Pork and many bottles of beer. We also did a lot of catering, one of the parties we did was for the East Germany Olympic team. The East German's were the only ones that paid cash (US dollars) for their party. Every other group said bill me or they gave us a credit card. Rolfe Schulte was the lead chef for the East Germany party. As I remember we had all kinds of
wursts, German salads, including Herring and smoked eel. On my birthday February 21st 1980, the team from Finland invited me and family to have lunch with them at the Olympic village. This was a great event. This facility after the Olympics became a federal prison which is still operating today. Some infamous people who have residing there since, include the Texas Chainsaw murder and both John Gotti Sr. and Jr.
3 days after the Olympics ended and most of the ABC Techs left the Motor Lodge it was somewhat depressing seeing we have been so busy for so long.
In the fall of 1980 I had received the Award as the Outstanding Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in the entire chain. In that time the chain consisted of 100 restaurants. The award was certainly appreciated as it was a three week vacation for me, Jeanine and our four children to Hawaii with all expenses paid. We started out in Honolulu at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a week, a week in Maui at the Hyatt Hotel and a week on the big Island of Hawaii in a Condo owned by long time Lake Placid resident Howard Baker.
1981 was somewhat of a down year since we were suffering from the after Olympic loss and the country was in a recession.
November 1981 Mr. Howard Johnson Jr. announced at the annual meeting in Boston that he was stepping down as President. The Imperial Tobacco Company of London was buying the Howard Johnson’s Company for 650 Million. At the same meeting I was asked to be on the Board of Directors of the National Operators Council.
The first meeting I attended was in Vail, Colorado. What a great location and great skiing. We were introduced to the new president of the Howard Johnson’s Company, Mr. Hostage. Everything stayed pretty much the same with the company until the late summer of 1985. When there were Rumbles that the Howard Johnson’s Company was being sold again.
At a meeting in September 1985 of the National Operates Council both Restaurant and Motor Lodge in Woodstock, Vermont we were told that the company would be sold again to Prime Motor Inns in New Jersey and Marriott Corporations.
The next morning at 5:00 Am the Restaurant and Motor Lodge council had a secret meeting to discuss our options. We all agreed that it was time to get an attorney of National standing who could help us. That morning at 8:00 Am when my costage came down for Breakfast and found we were having a secret meeting he was FURIOUS. He told me and George Crater to meet with him immediately. He subsequently lectured us like two school boys and told us if we were thinking about getting an attorney that would not be a good idea. Naturally that was our signal to move forward. Over the next two weeks we interviewed Lawyers in Boston, and New York City who thought they could help us. At one of those meetings a licensee from MACON said that he knew the former Attorney General under President Carter, who was the lead attorney for Coca-Cola and several other Corporations based in Atlanta within the week he met us in a hotel room in Boston. He was very convincing that he could do the job. Someone asked him what it would cost us and he said with his Southern Drawl, “It won’t cost you a cent.” Marriott and prime Motor Inns will pay all of my expenses and all of your expenses including transportation, meal and lodging. He appointed one of his attorney’s in the firm Felton Jenkins to represent us. For the next six months we met on a weekly bases in New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston. Prime Motor Inns was represented by three Attorneys’ and Marriott was represented by four Attorneys’ and we were represented by just one Attorney. It was my duty to attend all those meetings.
Finally in Mid June of 1986 we reached an agreement where Prime Motor Inns and Marriott agreed to pay all legal fees and other expenses including Attorney fees plus 1.5 Million dollars to set up a new Restaurant company to represent Licensee’s. There were approximately 141 restaurants licensee’s like me. We thought that was a lot of money at the time, but proved to be not an ample amount. We did set up another restaurant company with Arthur Barret as President.
1984 we added a conference room and a banquet facility to the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge which had the capacity of 350. It could also be divided in to four separate conference rooms.
On the Motor Lodge side Prime Motor Inns promised by written agreement to continue to pledge 5 Million a year in advertisement funds. Naturally that was the beginning of an end to the Howard Johnson’s Company. The entire Commissary’s were closed. The intent of Marriott had been to take all the company restaurants and convert them to be a Coffee Shop chain called Allies. They immediately converted a couple of the restaurants in California and realized it was way too expensive. Needless to say someone did not do there due dalliance. They subsequently sold off almost all of the company restaurants with a few exceptions and they reappeared as Chinese Restaurants, Lube oil change facilities, account offices, and even a bank in Williams Town Massachusetts.
Prime Motor Inns took the company Motor Lodges and franchising of Motor Lodge and continued to operate their own hotels.
The following late June 1986 our annual meeting was at the Del Cornato in San Diego, California. Prime Motor Inns was romancing us to be good Licensee’s. They subsequently proved to be extremely arrogant and really didn’t get the picture that we were their customers. In 1990 they filed bankruptcy.
Again we were called to New York to meet with Henry Silverman who was part of the Black Stone Group. He told us that the Howard Johnson’s company would be part of Cendant Corporation, along with Ramada, Days Inn, etc, etc. This proved to be a fairly good relationship through the 1990’s and up to the 2000’s.
1980’s-1990 were very good to Lake Placid and us, as we continued to enjoy increase sales in both restaurant and Motor Lodge.
In 2003 me and my two son’s Patrick and Michael met with representatives of Country Inn’s by Carlson, Marriott, Hampton’s Inn’s and the Comfort Inn’s.
Howard Johnson’s offered us a reduction in our license agreement and a large cash amount, but because of the decline of the Howard Johnson’s name and the number of Motor Lodges we decided for everyone’s future we better invest and be part of the Comfort Inn chain which was growing.
June 22, 2004 we went online as a Comfort Inn. Our sales did increase so for 2008 being the best year, but our expenses increased subsequently since we spent approximately two million in upgrades. It proved to be not a smooth trade, since the interior design company that the Comfort Inn Company recommended filed for bankruptcy before our job was done.
2009 proved to be a very deep recession and we are currently not out of it yet.
Unfortunately we are an event driven community with CanAm Hockey, Canadian Hockey Enterprises, Lake Placid Horse Shows, Ironman, Rugby Tournament, Lacrosse Tournament, and the fall Bus Tours.