Herb Applegate moved from Detroit to Phoenix in the 1960s. He has a strong background in restaurant management and was able to quickly find investors for his new venture, which is a family-friendly, affordable coffee shop and restaurant.
Hobo Joes Coffee Shops had a mascot named after him. He was meant to be an urbane, sophisticated, and charming tramp. He was described in the ad copy by being a World Traveler and Philosopher and Connoisseur for Good Food. His goal was to inspire refined taste and thriftiness. He wore a pair of worn-out shoes and a rope belt, but he also had a copy the Wall Street Journal and the key that indicated his membership in Phi Beta Kappa honor societies. One Hobo Joe's Coffee Shop had a statue of Hobo Joe that was 22 feet tall, while other shops had smaller versions.
Hobo Joes Coffee Shops exploded in Phoenix. Within a short time, the company had at least six locations and plans to expand into other regions. Despite this apparent success, there were serious problems behind the scenes. Local reporters claim that Herb Applegate lived a double life, taking over a million dollars from the business to pay for an extravagant lifestyle, which included a mansion with waterfalls and mistresses. Unofficially, Applegate was also suspected of being involved in a Las Vegas shooting that resulted in the death of his wife.
Applegate sold Hobo Joes beginning in 1970s. The chain was defunct by 1980s. Applegate died in 1974. Don Bolles, an investigative reporter, had already begun to investigate political and financial corruption in Arizona. He had suspicions about Hobo Joes' founder and possible connections with organized crime. Bolles had discovered financial and personal ties between Herb Applegate, and the Detroit mafia. Bolles was unfortunately murdered by a remote-controlled bomb attached at his car on June 2, 1976. This hindered his numerous investigations into corruption in Arizona.
Hobo Joes' story is full of mystery. The statue in Buckeye, Arizona is no exception. The Applegates widow claims that the giant statue is not an authentic Hobo Joes symbol. David Madrid, a writer for AZ Central, suggests several theories. One theory is that the statue was made to promote a Hobo Joes branch. This theory states that the artist never received any compensation for his work. He kept the huge mascot for himself and eventually gave it to a friend who put it up outside a Buckeye slaughterhouse.
The giant Hobo Joe, authentic or not, stood outside the slaughterhouse for many decades and became a local icon long before the original Hobo Joe restaurant was mostly forgotten. A local campaign was launched to raise enough money to pay for the restoration and relocation of the statue to a better location. The project was completed in 2020 and the restored Hobo Joe stands proudly on a pedestal overlooking downtown.