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Photographs August 1998
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Lasting an incredible fifty years, 1998 marked Afton's last season of serving Howard Johnson's famous fried clams, frankfurts, and many flavors of ice cream.

Above and Below: The last "Johnson" Girls and Guys posed for a quick shot behind the Dairy Bar.

Right: Installed in the early 1990s, Afton featured a towering highway sign visible from I-64 that displayed the FAI era triangle logo and reintroduced apostrophe 's'

 
 
 
 

 
 
Whither Frankfort?
Q: What's up with the Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain just as you get to skyline Drive? There's a sign on the front door that says "Closed for the Winter." When can I savor those famous Hojo's buttered franks again? Winter's over, Dude.--Chilly Cliff
 

A: As anyone who's recently peeled his caboose off a hot vinyl seat knows, winter is, as you say, over. And anyone who's driven up to the Skyline Drive this summer knows that Hojo's, usually in full swing by the end of July, looks suspiciously like a restaurant that has served its last platter.

That, friend is an unhappy thought. If you're like Ace, you probably count family meals at Hojo's among your fondest childhood memories. When he was just a pup, nothing made lil' Ace happier than a "Frankfort," that square-bun grilled hot dog treat, and a bog scoop of one of Hojo's 28 ice cream flavors.

Today, the mere sight of an orange roof with turquoise trim is enough to make my belly tingle. Yet as many patrons know, the last two decades have been unkind to the once-ubiquitous franchise.

 

 

In the 1970s, this proud nation boasted more than 1000 Hojo's eateries. Now, just a 10th of those wholesome, all - you - can - fry establishments remain. Counting the Afton location, Virginia has only six. Upon receiving your letter, Chilly, I could only guess that the Afton Hojo's had become the latest casualty in the downfall of a delicious dynasty. 

Fearing the worst, I scaled the mountain, Ace pick-axe in tow, and peeked into the darkened interior. The place was dead. No sign or smell of those famous fried clams. Back at the desk at Ace headquarters I made a call to Hojo's owner James "Phil" Dulaney and solved the mystery. Last December, Dulaney explains, he closed the restaurant for the winter, planing to re-open it by early April. Yet when hiring time came around, a shortage of local workers apparently forced Dulaney to keep Hojo's doors locked. Must be the downside of Charlottesville's exceptionally

 

 

low unemployment rate. Dulaney, who own a cluster of high-altitude businesses--the Skyline Parkway Motel, the Afton Inn, and a steak-centric restaurant called, um, Dulaney's, along with Hojo's--says he needs 100 workers to run the entire operation. Yet as of last week he had just 75 employees on the payroll and was short one cook at Dulaney's. When you're short-staffed at one restaurant, he says, it's hard to justify opening up another one merely a stone's throw away.

But don't fret, Cliff. Dulaney doesn't plan to let Hojo's-- which has been on Afton since the 1940s-- go gently into that goof night. Dulaney, who has a soft spot himself for Hojo's clam chowder and chocolate milkshakes, predicts that the restaurant will be up and running in the next few weeks. So while you can stop shivering, Chilly, you still might have to wait a bit longer for those nostalgia-inducing buttered franks.

By Ace Atkins

PostScript: Even as Ace reported that Mr. Dulaney would reopen the HoJo's, it never happened...
 
 
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