Jonathan LaRock, who ran Howard Johnson’s until he was arrested for sexually harassing his employees, will spend six months in jail leaving some in the community worried about the future of the iconic restaurant. The former proprietor may be heading off to jail, but a new manager has vowed to keep the country’s last stand-alone Howard Johnson’s open for business.
Howard Johnson’s was once the largest food chain in America. Now, only one remains and the conviction of its operator is calling the future of the iconic restaurant into question.
“There’s been a lot of confusion about whether or not we’re open, but we’ve been open continuously,” said Bill Sullivan. He’s taken over as manager, stepping into the role to try and save the nostalgic fixture once known for its fried clams and 28 flavors of ice cream.
“There’s a lot of fans of Howard Johnson’s and I think they’ll be glad to know that somebody’s here and it going to make some changes and do some things different,” Sullivan said.
That’s true for the Keiths, longtime customers who have fond memories of the place.
“It’s been here as long as I can remember and there was a lot of history here,” said Henry Keith.
“I used to love to come here and eat and it used to be so packed,” said Deborah Keith.
Now Sullivan is trying to get customers back through the doors and hoping the cloud of sexual harassment clears as the perpetrator – Jonathan LaRock – is behind bars.
“I kind of had a soft spot in my heart for this place because, like I said, I use to work here in the 80’s, so I said ‘I’ll give it a try’ and see what I can do,” said Sullivan.
He’s now hiring full time employees to carry on the tradition customers have come to count on.
“It’s really historic and it’s the only one left,” said Deborah Keith.
Replacing it with something else has always been an option, but Sullivan says it’s the customers who convince him otherwise.
The property itself is still owned by the DeSantis family and has been since the 50’s. Currently, the restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, but Sullivan hopes to expand the hours and the menu in the coming weeks.