A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Hot Shoppes and the Mighty Mo Live (In Photos, At Least)

By Jason Jacks on February 16, 2011


A photo of a Hot Shoppes by Oliver Atkins. Courtesy of the George Mason University Libraries.

Toss in a dining landmark once adored by foodies across the region. Pepper it with a lot of research. And finish it off with some yellowing photos that capture a simpler time. So what’s cooking? A new project by Mason’s University Libraries documenting the rise and fall of the local restaurant chain Hot Shoppes.

Founded by J. Willard and Alice Marriott (before they got into the hotel business) in Washington, D.C., in 1927, Hot Shoppes eventually numbered more than 70 locations up and down the East Coast, including one in Tysons Corner and another not far from Mason’s Fairfax Campus (though the exact location is still being determined). They offered soul-satisfying comfort food like chicken noodle soup and its famous Mighty Mo burger.

However, never a significant money maker for Marriott, the last Hot Shoppes was shuttered in 1999.

“There is really nothing today we can compare it to,” says Rebecca Forrest, external relations and development assistant with Mason’s library system, explaining the chain came in three forms: a cafeteria, a drive in, and a sit-down restaurant.

As part of its  Special Collections and Archives, Mason has numerous photos of Hot Shoppes. Some were taken by famed White House photographer Oliver Atkins in 1948 while he worked for the Saturday Evening Post. Others were snapped by Charles Baptie, a former photographer for defunct Capital Airlines.

Inside a Hot Shoppes. Photo by Oliver Atkins and courtesy of the George Mason University Libraries.

To put context to the photos, library staff has also been scouring the Internet, finding a community still keeping Hot Shoppes alive online. Several sites, including eHow.com, reveal the recipe of the Mighty Mo. There are also online photos, numerous mentions in food blogs, and a Facebook page dedicated to the chain.

“Almost everyone in this area who is old enough,” says Forrest, “has some sort of memory of Hot Shoppes,” before adding, “From what I heard, the onion rings were to die for.”


16 Comments »

  1. My mom used to take us kiddos over to Capital Plaza in Bladensburg MD in our red Impala to get teen twists at
    the Mighty Mo. It was always a treat to go there and have a waitress bring our food out to our car. 1960′s

    Comment by Debora McCallum — September 16, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  2. Worked at Hot Shoppes as a curb boy in mid 60s. Would you happen to have any old pictures of the Silver Spring Hot Shoppes which was located on Georgia Avenue near the district line. Have a number of former Silver Spring residents that hung out at the Shoppes as it was called in the day and would enjoy any photos you might have in your collection.

    Tim Pfau

    Comment by Tim Pfau — November 11, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  3. Don’t remember a Hot Shoppes in Fairfax City. There was one at 7-Corners (Rt. 50 @ Patrick Henry Drive), one in Springfield, and one at Baily’s Crossroads. Arlington had several including one at Shirlington, one on Lee Highway near Kirkwood Road, one just outside of the old Twin Bridges Marriott hotel near the Pentagon, and one at Rosslyn. The Hot Shoppe in Rosslyn was on the site of what is now the Key Bridge Marriott.

    These were all full-service restaurants and most offered curb service and featured take out. People used to line up to buy their pies during the holidays.

    Marriott also ran Hot Shoppes cafeterias in several locations around northern Virginia. A Hot Shopees cafeteria was, I believe, one of the original tenants at Tysons Corner mall and operated there into the 90s.

    Eventually the company opened a chain of Hot Shoppes Junior fast food restaurants that also served the Mighty Mo. Most of these locations became Roy Rodgers restaurants (also owned by Marriott).

    At the time these restaurants operated (50s, 60s, 70s) there were not very many dining options. I grew up in Falls Church and we had a few small family restaurants, there was Howard Johnson’s at Fairfax Circle, some pizza and Chinese take out spots, and a McDonalds.

    There was another drive-in chain called Tops, which became the first place to offer Kentucky Fried Chicken in the DC area. Tops had several locations including Fairfax Circle, Falls Church (Rt. 7 at Shreve Road), Arlington (Rt. 50 at Glebe Road), and Alexandria (near Rt. 7 at Braddock Road).

    When someone wanted fine dining, they generally went into the district. Seems hard to believe today when there are so many great restaurants to choose from in NOVA.

    Back in the day, however, everyone really liked the Hot Shoppes.

    Steve Marut

    Comment by Steve Marut — December 3, 2011 @ 12:49 am

  4. I used to go to the Hot Shoppes in Prince Georges Plaza there was a Bobs Big Boys there also . My uncle used to work at the one on University Blvd in Langley Park back in the 50′s . I make all the sauces from that time to make sure my kids can keep the flavor alive

    Comment by Henry Wilcox — December 20, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  5. i am looking for the chicken noodle soup recipe,it was the best!!!

    Comment by tom clauss — February 20, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  6. i worked at the one just outside of the old Twin Bridges Marriott hotel near the Pentagon off Shirley Hwy in what was know as the mixing bowl, from 65-67 as a car hop,man that was a blast,then at the hotel which was know as the grand mother because it was the first on Mr. Marriott built, i can remember him driving up in his own car and coming in the back door to the restaurant and talking to all the line employee in the kitchen, the broiler chef in particular, was an older guy named Harold, he’d stay there 20 mins talking to him, while he cooked what a nice man!…

    Comment by Robert Allen — March 13, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  7. In High School, my first job was at the Hot Shoppe on New Hampshire Ave. and the 495 Beltway, Hillandale, MD. I started as a Car Hop and advanced to the Fountain, making Hot Fudge Sundaes, Fudge and Strawberry ice cream cakes, and another signature treat from Hot Shoppes, the Orange Freeze. The steak and cheese sandwich was pretty good too.

    Comment by Conrad Worthy — April 7, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  8. Went to the one in Eastover…loved all the food….sure miss it…the good ol days…

    Comment by E.Presley — June 7, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  9. Mighty Mo, Teen Twist, Orange Freeze – great food! Car hops & hot cars cruising and drag racing. I use to cruise the Hot Shoppes in Shirlington, Bailey’s X Roads & Alexandria in the 1960s. They were different times and we had a blast!

    Comment by David Yeager — July 21, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

  10. In July of 1967 in Las Vegas, NV.,I began a 37 year marriage-adventure with the former Carolyn Bassford, who was raised in Alexandria, VA. In the following October we went east for me to meet her family & see the environs of her youth including touring Washington DC. One of the 1st places we had to visit was a Hot Shoppe in Alexandria where we ate their famous hot fudge sundaes. Christmas 2004 Carolyn lost her life to a medical error at a hospital in nearby Fredericksburg, VA near to which we were then living. Like the Hot Shoppes, Carolyn’s gone, but still loved and certainly not forgotten. Thank you.

    Comment by Dr Stan Rocklin — January 25, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  11. Hello Everyone,

    I am looking for an African American man by the name of Thomas Wilson, I think he use to go by the name Tommie. From what I know of him, he should be in his mid 60′s to early 80′s by now. I have been told his is light/brown skinned, is short in stature and use to walk with a limp.

    I think he worked for Hot Shoppes in PG county between the late 70′s and early 80′s.

    I don’t know if this post will bring any results — BUT if you know a Thomas ‘tommie’ Lee Wilson and think that this post is reaching out to him PLEASE respond.

    Any help would be appreciated as I believe he is my father. I just want to make a connection.

    Grateful for any leads –

    Comment by Theresa — May 22, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

  12. I grew up going to the Hot Shoppes Drive-in at Capital Plaza. That was before all the local malls were built and before McDonald’s just past the light on 450 – by the Cherry Hill Apts. What I wouldn’t give for a Mighty Mo, onion rings and a large Coke from there right now. McD’s seemed to siphon off the younger crowd and then it disappeared altogether. Hot Shoppes Junior popped up here and there but it just wasn’t the same. We used to hit the Queenstown Drive-In movie then slide on over to Hot Shoppes. Those were some great nights out.

    Comment by John — May 29, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

  13. The Mighty Mo….The Sir Lioner @ Tops Drive In…..and ALL the other Great things The D.C. Area had to offer…………..Giffords, The Cellar Door, M-Street, A 4 finger bag for $20, Dixie Liquors, 7 Corners, Madres,………………………NOW …Nothing !!! (Retired & living in Scottsdale,AZ. )

    Comment by Mick — May 30, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

  14. there was one in fredericksburg , Va. back in 60′s we’d travel down to fred burg from woodbridge to meet up with street racer in the parking lot of Hot Shoppes , to set up the race but of coruse we’d eat there also alway a BIG MO ! loved those good ol days

    Comment by carl blanchard — August 10, 2013 @ 12:51 am

  15. I have a recipe for the chicken noodle soup which was the best but couldn’t figure out the seasonings. Does anyone know the answer?

    Comment by mary — March 21, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  16. Hey John, I graduated from Bladensburg high in 1966 and spent every Friday and Saturday night for many yrs at the Capital Plaza Hot Shoppes. I met my wife their and got married in 67, we are still married. I too ran over to the Queenstown Mo a lot. Our first apartment was at the Cherry Hill Apts on Warner Ave off Cooper Lane. Great memories of the Queenstown drive in too. Remember the Palmer drive in on Palmer highway (now MLK rd)? We lived on Upshur st in Bladensburg while growing up. Thanks for the memories.
    Wayne S.

    Comment by Wayne — March 31, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

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