It is impossible to separate Alex Ray from the restaurant family he has created and led since 1971. He literally IS the Common Man. From one small restaurant in Ashland, he has built a Common Man Family with 13 locations throughout the state of New Hampshire. As he grew his company, Alex instilled in his team a "can do" attitude and a corporate culture that each restaurant is part of a community and has a welcome obligation to "do good" and give back. Alex set the tone long ago. He continues to set an example for each of his more than 800 employees with his willingness to personally get involved, his unending enthusiasm and energy, and his desire that each event/fund-raiser be a complete success.
So that each employee has an opportunity to participate in giving back to their community, Alex and his management team encourage managers at each location to organize a quarterly fund-raiser, to support a project or organization important to the community in which their particular restaurant is located. Enthusiasm and creative ideas for these fund-raisers and fund recipients most often come from the employees of the restaurant involved. Alex long ago realized that people work the hardest for causes that they themselves feel strongly about. With that in mind, he instituted company-wide "Community Service Days" in which individual employees decide on the event or the charity for which they will volunteer. The employee donates time to the charity and the Common Man family reimburses them for up to two full days of pay.
Alex has also contributed to communities across New Hampshire, and the country for that matter, both with his own "sweat equity" and through his more than 800 Common Man family ambassadors. He is truly a dedicated, inspiring, whirlwind of a force for good.
While the Common Man's commitment to New Hampshire has always been strong, in 2005, the family of restaurants took on an even greater role and reached out beyond the state's borders, to Louisiana and Mississippi, to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Just days after the hurricane struck and caused unbelievable devastation, Alex Ray couldn't take watching the news reports from home anymore, wondering what could be done to help. He packed up the Common Man company van with cooking supplies, food and clothes, and drove himself down to the stricken areas to speak with people first hand and offer any help he could.
During his two-week stay in the affected areas, he found himself volunteering at the Baton Rouge River Center where he directed kitchen operations to feed more than 2,500 victims who had evacuated and lost their homes, running rescue missions with the SPCA into New Orleans to save pets who had been left behind, and making soup, coffee and other food for volunteers at yet another site where rescued animals were being brought in by the hundreds.
Meanwhile, back here at home, CEO Jason Lyon and the rest of Ray's Common Man staff jumped into action, setting up a "Common Effort" relief fund and converting all restaurants to benefit sites, hosting dinners over two nights for hurricane relief.
Management and staff at each restaurant were charged with organizing the event, gathering community donations for raffles and encouraging attendance. The Common Man Company Store in Ashland also participated, donating a portion of all sales to "Common Effort," and proceeds from a golf tournament and pancake breakfast were also donated. In all, the staff raised $108,000 for hurricane relief.
In November 2005, three months to the date the hurricane struck, the Common Man donated a total of $27,000 to the American Red Cross and $27,000 to Habitat for Humanity, to assist with hurricane relief efforts
In December 2005, Ray returned to the affected areas, and personally donated more "Common Effort" funds to local organizations, church groups and others who were still working to help hurricane victims rebuild. Although the outcome of Common Effort is impressive $108,000 raised, staff involvement that reached throughout our family of more than 800 employees at 12 locations for two consecutive nights, and the physical contributions Alex Ray was able to make on the ground in New Orleans the real impact of Common Effort goes beyond even this. What Alex and his staff gave to the people of New Hampshire was a real way to help their countrymen in a time of need. He exerted himself and showed us all that together we could make a difference. The atmosphere of hope and community was palpable at the Common Effort dinners.
Alex's blog during his trip linked New Hampshire residents and others following his journey to what was really going on in New Orleans.
A DVD he made of his trip has been shown in local elementary schools and has contributed to awareness of both the disaster and the ongoing need for aid to that region. Click here to view it.
Back here at home in late 2006, Alex and his Common Man family celebrated an exciting 35 years of doing business in New Hampshire with a unique way to say thank you with a charitable contest that allowed Common Man guests to vote for their favorite non-profit organizations.
The contest invited guests to stop in at any of The Common Man's 13 locations and cast a ballot for their favorite New Hampshire charity, to put them in the running to win a $3,500 grant, or the grand prize for the top vote-getter statewide of $5,000. There was no purchase necessary to participate, and votes were limited to one per person, per day. The votes came in fast and furious over the month of December, and in the end, more than 7,000 ballots were cast for more than 1,000 New Hampshire non-profits. The winners were surprised in early January 2007 in a "Publisher's Clearing House" style blitz across the state, with a prize team comprised of owner Alex Ray, CEO Jason Lyon, Vice President Diane Downing and Erica Murphy, Director of Communications and Community Relations, stopping at all 14 winning organizations to present the donations, balloons and gift baskets made up by The Common Man Company Store.
The New Hampshire Humane Society took the top spot for the most votes garnered statewide, winning the $5,000 prize. The charities receiving $3,500 each were The White Mountain Adaptive Ski School at Loon Mountain in Lincoln; The Barbara Christophel Fund in Plymouth; The Pemi Bridge House in Plymouth; The Circle Program in Plymouth; Main Street Program in Plymouth; Ashland Community Food Pantry in Ashland; CHMM Community Caregivers in Center Harbor; Community Health and Hospice in Laconia; Spaulding Youth Center in Northfield; Families in Transition in Manchester; Granite State Senior Games in Manchester; American Cancer Society New England Division in Bedford and Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter in Nashua.
And The Common Man family continues to lend a helping hand in local communities wherever it can. In the fall of 2007, The Common Man became heavily involved with The New Hampshire Food Bank, donating $10,000 and more than 1,600 pounds of food when the organization announced its supplies were at a critical low.
Over the course of the year, employees also hosted numerous fundraising events in each Common Man location, assisting organizations such as The Salvation Army in Manchester, The Humane Society for Greater Nashua, The Friendly Kitchen in Concord, and others.
The Common Man family will continue playing an active role in New Hampshire communities, living up to the company's mantra of "Doing Well by Doing Good."