< back
FAI images 1991: Walter Mann

A Capital Idea?
While Canton's new 1990s interior was nicely updated to then modern standards (along with a revised menu), its exterior makeover received much criticism from HoJo's purists.

The Restaurant's facade came to resemble an imitation of a Mansard box. While a portion of orange roof was retained, the main dining wing's newly added mansard was clad in a dull gray. Moreover the exaggerated pointed arch entryway became the focal point of the new design rather than the formerly eye-catching Orange Roof. FAI hoped to convince not just existing licensees to adopt the new look, but also to entice new franchisees to join the chain. In the end they had few takers with only a handful of locations adding the entry-arch (a few examples: Burlington, Lexington, Pittsburgh, St Pete Beach).


Photos May 2, 1999: Bob Koenig
A key objective for FAI with the Canton prototype was to create a new architectural image for Howard Johnson's that would appeal to "the younger generation." However the design was not enticing enough and failed to attract a new legion of HoJo's fans. Arthur Barrett, then president of FAI and overseer of HoJo's rapid decline, predicted in 1990 that the updated HoJo's positioned as a family restaurant, would be a good "niche for the next 10 years."

Canton didn't even last 10, for in 1999 FAI's "flagship prototype" location had been closed and sold. More than likely, FAI had cashed in on the site's valuable real estate to fund Mr. Barrett's upcoming retirement.


Photos March 25, 2001: Kummerlowe Archive

In 1999 Canton was sold to Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block fame. Wahlberg and a partner had planned to remodel the location into a trendy sports bar, but determined that the renovations would not be cost effective and allowed the Restaurant to lie vacant for several months.

By 2001, no changes to the facility had taken place--even the Howard Johnson's sign still beckoned, and the etched glass Simple Simon and the Pieman panels still divided the empty dining room's seating. However in a controversial moment Elma Wahlberg, Donnie's mom, had taken it upon herself to operate the restaurant without FAI's consent. But Barbara Leveroni, Barrett's heir in HoJo's ruination, should not have gotten her panties in a wad. Wahlberg was only selling coffee, juice, and pastries to morning commuters. Besides, her son had already sold the once distinguished Howard Johnson's Restaurant to another...

 < back