Cafe Society

The most famous line cook at HoJo's: Jacques Pepin

Dwayne Clark just opened his third Davies Chuck Wagon Diner — this one inside a Howard Johnson’s at 12100 West 44th in Wheat Ridge. I remember the days when every HoJo’s had its own restaurant, but the chain has not fared particularly well through the ups and downs of this roller-coaster decade.

Near as I can tell, there are only three Howard Johnson’s restaurants currently operating: one in Maine and two in New York. The flagship Times Square store in Manhattan went under in the summer of 2005 and was remembered in a great New York Times piece, "Howard Johnson's, Adieu," by the company’s most famous line cook, one Jacques Pepin.

After immigrating to the United States in 1959, Pepin worked at Le Pavillon, alongside Pierre Franey. Howard Johnson was a big fan of Le Pavillon, and he somehow managed to pop both men out of their positions in what was arguably the finest restaurant in the country at the time and install them at HoJo’s. Pepin spent months working as a line cook at a Howard Johnson’s on Queens Boulevard, flipping burgers and frying clam tongues for Mr. Johnson, and went on with Franey to become head chef of the main Howard Johnson’s commissary in Queens Village, where he worked for ten years, fussing with clam chowder and making true French burgundy stew for far-flung locations.

It’s always blown my mind that the man who would later become one of the first celebrity chefs, one of the most recognizable names in French-American cuisine and one of my heroes, made thousands of hamburgers and fried millions of clam strips for people who would never know his name. -- Jason Sheehan

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