Alex Ray is the owner and founder of The Common Man Family of Restaurants, and is known just as much for his family-style restaurants across New Hampshire as he is for his tireless philanthropic work in communities across the state.
Born on April 6, 1945, Alex moved to North Conway at the age of 14, where he attended Kennett High School. During high school, he worked as a cook at "The Eatery" at Cranmore Mountain Ski Area.
In 1970, four years after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Alex opened Pineshore, a little summer restaurant on Squam Lake in Holderness, NH. He opened the first Common Man in Ashland, NH in November of 1971, and since then has built a thriving hospitality business throughout New Hampshire including 18 restaurants, two Common Man Inns, a Spa, a Company Store and The Flying Monkey Movie House & Performance Center, employing more than 1,000 people.
Click here to read "Our Story" about the growth of The Common Man family over the past 39 years.
Alex's mantra for The Common Man family has always been "Do Good," and he encourages all employees to get involved with their local communities, through hosting fund-raisers at each location and volunteering their own personal time. He allows employees a paid day off to contribute to a charity important to them, and supports employee efforts to raise funds for local organizations, sometimes making his own personal contribution.
Not one to sit still for long, Alex recently completed a Common Man Inn and Common Man restaurant in Claremont, having partnered with Meredith entrepreneur and long-time friend Rusty McLear to revitalize old mills that stood decrepit and defunct for decades. Alex also renovated the historic Daniel Webster homestead in Franklin, NH, preserving the historic structures and converting them into a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center called Webster Place Center.
The newest additions to the Common Man family are a Common Man restaurant in Portsmouth, Alex's first foray to the seacoast area, The 104 Diner in New Hampton, and a defunct movie theater which underwent extensive renovations and has now re-opened in downtown Plymouth as The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center. In March 2015, Common Man Roadside in Hooksett opened at the new New Hampshire Welcome Centers on Interstate 93. The unique public-private partnership resulted in the renovation of the welcome centers on both sides of the highway. The facilities now feature food courts comprised of all Common Man-made food, a 24-hour NH General Store, expanded New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, renovated bathrooms, 300 parking spots, Irving fuel pumps and Tesla electric car charging stations. The northbound building was named in honor of the late Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton and also features a Merrimack County Savings Bank branch and a retail store for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.
It's easy to see that the drive and creativity Alex had when he opened his first restaurant in 1971 has never diminished, and that he continues to inspire his staff and guests with his unending support of businesses and charities throughout New Hampshire.
Diane Downing is the Vice President of The Common Man family of restaurants.
Diane has been a part of the Common Man family since the 1970's, when the first Common Man restaurant was opened in Ashland. With the possible exception of owner and founder Alex Ray, no one knows more about The Common Man family, or has been more involved, than Diane.
She has worked at every level, filling in for servers on the floor, managing individual locations and developing the company's first wait staff training program. From the expansion of the original Common Man in Ashland to the construction of Airport Diner in Manchester, Diane has been involved in the development and building of all Common Man locations.
Diane developed the concept for The Common Man Company Store, and was its original buyer selecting merchandise and buying antiques for the converted Ashland Post Office building. She recently moved some of The Company Store's best sellers to an online store to make them available to guests near and far.
Her creative eye and flair for finding down-home Yankee decor is behind the distinct design of each Common Man location, and she never stops searching for those additional perfect pieces that make each Common Man location a home.
Her wine knowledge is behind the eclectic wine lists and the Common Man's own private label wine, found by Diane and Alex on a trip to Northern California.
Her influence on The Common Man's mantra of "doing good" has led to support of dozens of non-profit organizations over the years, including the American Cancer Society's Breast Cancer Research and the NH Humane Society. Diane also organizes the annual Winnipesaukee Wine Festival each summer to benefit local charities, as well as the BAD Jam Family Fun and Music Festival to benefit music scholarships.
Prior to joining The Common Man, Diane worked in management at The Lakewood Summer Theatre in Skowhegan, ME, The Manor on Winnipesaukee and at the Lakeview Restaurant in Wolfeboro.
Vincent Vella is the chief operating officer for The Common Man family of restaurants in New Hampshire, and oversees the daily operations of the hospitality family’s 16 restaurants. He is also charged with implementing strategic initiatives, driving business growth and leading the operations and management teams.
Vella came to The Common Man in 2014 and brings with him more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry in both the United States and overseas. Vella began his career as a general manager with the Riese Organization in New York in 1983, and served in that same role for Bennigan’s Grill and Bar, Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizza and Ground Round Restaurant over the course of 15 years.
In 1998, Vella became the food and beverage director for Dave & Buster’s in New York, until 2001 when he joined the Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group out of Chicago as operating partner, overseeing the opening and entire operation of a $3 million+ restaurant in Wes Nyack, NY. Vella moved into various roles with Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group over 12 years, including regional partner and vice president of operations, where he oversaw $80 million in annual sales and was responsible for all new unit expansions for Stir Crazy and Flat Top Grill concepts.
Vella became the chief operating officer for AFAB Group in Saudi Arabia in 2013, and was involved in the planning and development of corporate infrastructure to support current and future operations, as well as oversight of all operational functions of four franchise businesses totaling more than 200 units.
Vella is a graduate of De La Salle College in Cospicua, Malta and resides in Laconia with his wife. He is also the proud father of four children.
Cindy Bates, PHR, CHT, is the Director of Training for The Common Man and has spent
more than 23 years in various roles with the independent hospitality family in
Bates’ career with The Common Man began in 1992 as part of the opening team for the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, where she started as a server and worked up through the ranks of assistant manager and eventually to general manager in 1998.
In 2006, Bates was named Director of Training and took on the role of enhancing training programs, developing a management mentor program and conducting various training seminars across the company. As a member of the Operations Team, Bates continually works with management to implement best practices that lend to the company’s staff providing “WOW” guest service. She also advises on human resources policies and procedures and leads recruitment of new talent.
Bates is a Certified Hospitality Trainer (CHT) recognized by the National Restaurant and Lodging Association, and in 2014, achieved a Professional Human Resource designation (PHR) from the Society of Human Resources.
As part of The Common Man’s mantra to DO GOOD, Bates has always been actively involved in giving back to the community. In her time at the Tilt’n Diner, she led many fundraising efforts for local organizations including hosting benefit dinners and providing food and support for Cash N Cans and the WLNH Children’s Auction. She has also participated in the Made in NH Expo at The Common Man’s table, selling crab cakes to benefit CASA of NH, and contributes to numerous other Common Man charitable events each year.
Bates also represents The Common Man family as a member of the educational board of directors of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association (NHLRA), and serves as an advisory board member for the NH Technical College culinary program as well as the Hout Technical Center in Laconia and the Plymouth High School educational advisory committee. On a national level, she represents The Common Man family at several regional training programs and national conferences held by the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART).
Bates is a graduate of Colby Sawyer College and resides in Belmont with her husband. She is the proud mother of three daughters and grandmother to five granddaughters.
Maurice "Moe" Lafreniere
Maurice "Moe" Lafreniere is the CFO for The Common Man Family.
Moe joined the family in 2000, and spends a good deal of time on special projects, including property acquisition, site development and technology infrastructure.
Prior to joining The Common Man family, Moe owned and operated textile manufacturing companies in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
He is a Trustee of Meredith Village Saving Bank, and past board chairman, board member and treasurer of First Star Tonight, a local non-profit which assists terminally-ill children. Moe is also a trustee of the Squam Lakes Science Center, a Rotarian, and serves on various committees in the lakes region.
He received his degree from New Hampshire College.
Erica Auciello Murphy
Erica Auciello Murphy is the Director of Communications and Community Relations for the Common Man Family of Restaurants.
Erica joined the Common Man family in 2005 and leads all marketing, public relations, social media, branding, advertising, and media relations efforts for The Common Man. She also manages all charitable programs and contributions made by the family of 18 restaurants, two Common Man Inns, a Spa and Salon, Company Store and Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center.
In 2011, Erica was named a Woman of Influence in the Food Industry by The Griffin Report and in 2010 was selected as one of The New Hampshire Union Leader's Forty Under 40. Erica received the Media & Public Relations Award from the New Hampshire Travel Council in 2008 for her work with the Common Man and contributions to the travel industry in New Hampshire.
Prior to joining The Common Man, Erica worked for eight years as director of media relations and account director at High Point Communications Group, Inc. in Bow, NH, developing and implementing public and media relations strategies for more than a dozen of the firm's major accounts in health care, retail, hospitality, finance and other sectors.
Before joining High Point, Erica worked for WMUR-TV, New Hampshire's largest television station, as a news producer and freelance reporter. She has also worked as a staff writer for Neighborhood Publications and as a reporter for WZID-FM.
Erica graduated cum laude from the University of New Hampshire in Durham in 1995 with a BA in Communications. She is also a graduate of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Leadership Manchester 2000 program, and served for 10 years as a member of the Leadership Manchester steering committee, organizing Media and Communications Day.
Erica also volunteers her time and public relations experience as a member of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association's events committee, as a board member for the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction and on the New Hampshire Food Bank's marketing committee. She is a past President and board member of Noahs' Ark Child Care Center in Manchester, a former board member of The New Hampshire Travel Council, The Cinderella Project of New Hampshire and the Greater Manchester Chapter of the American Red Cross. Erica is often called upon to speak at conferences regarding The Common Man's implementation of social media in its marketing efforts, and has served twice as a panelist for the "A-HA" Social Media Summit.
Sal DeLorenzo is the Director of Operations of the six Common Man branded restaurants within The Common Man family.
Prior to joining our family, Sal held positions with fine dining and casual dining groups in New England, including Area and Regional Director. Throughout his career, Sal has successfully opened more than 30 restaurants. His accomplishments include several awards, and he is known for his high standards of excellence, focus on guests, and development of his teams.
He is a graduate of Boston College High School and The University of Massachusetts, Boston with a degree in Business Management.
Dan St. Jean
Dan St. Jean is the Executive Chef of The Common Man Family of Restaurants, overseeing all kitchen operations, chefs, menu creation and food events for the six Common Man-named locations.
Dan began with The Common Man as the Kitchen Manager for the newly-opened Lakehouse Grille in Meredith in 2004. He left to pursue other job opportunities, and re-joined the company in April 2014 as the Kitchen Manager at The Common Man in Windham. Dan was promoted into his current role in the fall of 2014.
A New Hampshire native, Dan’s love for the restaurant business started at age 13. He worked in several local restaurants throughout high school, until he enrolled as a student at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduation in 1994, Dan was hired as a sous chef at The Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville, VA.
Dan moved back to the Granite State in 1996, landing a job at one of the state’s only Four Diamond properties, The Bedford Village Inn. Over the course of eight years, Dan worked his way through the ranks from line cook to sous chef to special events chef before joining The Common Man to assist in opening Lakehouse Grille.
Beyond his Executive Chef duties, Dan is also committed to The Common Man’s mantra to “DO GOOD” and is often seen representing the company at community events and fundraisers. He has also competed in (and won) The Common Man’s Iron Chef competition.
Jennifer Tower Whitfield
Jennifer Tower Whitfield
is the Director of Sales and Inns for The Common Man family, overseeing both The Common Man Inn & Spa in Plymouth and The Common Man Inn & Restaurant in Claremont, as well as the company's event spaces and off-site catering.
Jennifer has been a part of The Common Man family since 2000, starting as a waitress at The Common Man in Lincoln while in college.
When The Common Man Inn & Spa opened in 2002, Jennifer became the Sales and Events Manager, and was promoted to Innkeeper and Director of Sales in 2006. She was promoted to her current position in August of 2015.
Jennifer is heavily-involved with the Plymouth-area community, hosting events and offering in-kind donations to many non-profit organizations. She is a board member of the New England Inns & Resorts Association (NEIRA), a member of The Council of Hospitality and Restaurant Trainers (CHART), a national industry group, and a board member for the Lakes Region Tourism Association.
In 2007, Jennifer was nominated as Innkeeper of the Year by the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association (NHLRA), and as employee of the year by The Common Man family. In 2014, Jennifer received the Innkeeper of the Year award from the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
Kristie Edmunds works in our Training Department, overseeing and conducting training courses, assisting with on-site evaluations and ongoing staff education, and developing employee programs and benefits.
Kristie joined The Common Man family in 2011, and has served in many roles, including General Manager of Airport Diner in Manchester, General Manager of The Common Man Concord, and Sales Director for Southern NH. She won the company's Rising STAR of the Year award in 2012.
Kristie graduated with a Culinary Degree from Le Cordon Bleu in 2003, and started her adventure in restaurants in the kitchen. She was the Kitchen Manager of the Barley House in Concord, and worked in the kitchen at the Hanover Street Chop House in Manchester. She switched gears to the front of the house in 2007 and became the General Manager of Nonni's of Concord. She has also managed at Cotton in Manchester and Tuscan Kitchen in Salem.
Malik Hammond is the Culinary Director for The Common Man family of restaurants in New Hampshire, and oversees all kitchen operations, chefs, menu creation and food events. He began with The Common Man as the Kitchen Manager for Lakehouse Grille in 2013, and soon took on the additional role of KM at The Common Man’s Camp restaurant before being promoted to Culinary Director in 2014.
Chef Hammond is a native New Englander who grew up in Maine and New Hampshire before venturing to New Mexico to hone his culinary skills. His experience in working in and leading kitchens at restaurants and resorts across the country has given him an extensive culinary background. Moving to New Mexico in the late 1990s, Chef Hammond worked for a variety of eateries and held numerous positions including baker, pastry assistant, sous chef, event chef, assistant manager, food and beverage manager, and executive chef.
In 2007, Chef Hammond became part of the team at Destinations Hotels and Resorts and assisted with changing concepts, re-branding and re-openings for the hospitality company, including the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, NM; The Hotel Telluride in Telluride, CO; and Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Seattle, WA.
Over the course of his career, Chef Hammond has led menu development, managed culinary teams, developed wine dinners specific to wine regions, led point of sale acquisition and installation and assisted in significant revenue increases at his restaurants.
A focus on fresh, local and organic products is important to Chef Hammond, and in previous positions, he has created on-site restaurant gardens that produced goods for his menus.
Chef Hammond has participated in numerous community events and fund raisers, including the Souper Bowl, Buckaroo Ball and Girl Scout Cookie Caper in Santa Fe; Food Life Line and Recovery Café in Seattle, WA and The Common Man Apprentice/Iron Chef Competition, which benefits scholarships for Plymouth State University students.
Chef Hammond resides in Plymouth, NH with his wife and two children.
Sean Brown is the District Operations Manager for The Common Man restaurants in New Hampshire, overseeing management teams, staff and daily operations at the independent restaurant family’s specialty brands.
Brown, who most recently served as general manager for Lago, Lakehouse and Camp Restaurants in Meredith, now oversees all front of the house operations for The Common Man’s specialty brands including all Meredith locations, and Foster’s Boiler Room and Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth.
For close to 20 years, Brown has worked for The Common Man in various positions, starting as a server at what was previously Boathouse Grille in Meredith, now Lago. The Common Man named him General Manager of the Year in 2007 and 2009, and he’s been nominated as General Manager of the year several times in his career.
Brown attended Plymouth State University and is active in the local community. He has served on the board of directors for The Greater Meredith Program as well as led many fundraisers for local organizations within the Meredith restaurants. He is currently a board member of The Lakes Region Association and leads The Common Man’s Apprentice Program with Plymouth State University students. Brown is a member of The Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) and frequently attends national conferences on behalf of The Common Man.
He enjoys everything the Lakes Region has to offer and resides in Moultonborough with his family.
Allen Zick is the Executive Chef of The Common Man family’s specialty concepts including Lakehouse, Lago, Camp and Town Docks in Meredith, and Foster’s Boiler Room and the Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth.
Chef Zick began his culinary career washing dishes at a small restaurant in Massachusetts called Heck Allen's. It was there that he fell in love with the atmosphere, energy and buzz of the kitchen. He moved into kitchen positions at other Bay State restaurants while in high school, and joined the U.S. Army after his graduation in 1991.
Upon returning from the service, Chef Zick worked in restaurants in Massachusetts and New Jersey, but found his way to New Hampshire with a position as sous chef at The Pasta Loft in Milford. After taking positions as sous chef and rounds chef at other New Hampshire restaurants, Chef Zick joined The Common Man family in 2005 as the Kitchen Manager of Lakehouse Grille in Meredith. Within three years, Chef Zick took on Camp Restaurant along with his Lakehouse duties, and became involved in creating menus for Lago.
Chef Zick took a brief hiatus from The Common Man to expand his culinary knowledge of institutional dining, serving as the Executive Chef at Cardigan Mountain School. He returned to The Common Man in 2014 to take on the newly created role of Executive Chef of The Common Man’s specialty concepts, in which he manages kitchen teams from six different restaurants, leads menu changes and oversees budgets.
Active in company-wide and community events, Chef Zick has appeared on WMUR-TV’s Cook’s Corner segment, WBIN-TV’s “The Chef’s Plate” and as a guest chef at the Seafood Festival in Hampton for “Wicked Bites.” He is currently a board member for Lakes Region Community College’s culinary program and has served as a judge for the Rotary Club of Henniker’s Chili Fest.
Mark Grotheer is the Director of Operations for The Common Man family’s Diner Division, which includes Airport Diner in Manchester, Tilt’n Diner in Tilton and Route 104 Diner in New Hampton.
Mark oversees the general managers and front of the house staff, as well as daily operations, of all three diners. Mark joined The Common Man Family in 2009 as the assistant manager of Town Docks in Meredith, and was promoted to opening General Manager of The Route 104 Diner that same year when The Common Man owner Alex Ray purchased the restaurant, formerly known as “Bobby’s Girl.”
In 2011, Mark moved to take on the General Manager position at Tilt’n Diner, and was promoted three years later to Director of Operations for the Diner Division.
Mark found his passion for the hospitality industry at the age of 15, bussing tables in Clearwater, Florida. He began his restaurant management career in 1994.
Bobby Welch is the Executive Chef of The Common Man family’s Diner Division, overseeing all kitchen operations, chefs and menu planning at The Common Man’s three 50’s style diners, Airport Diner in Manchester, Tilt’n Diner in Tilton and Route 104 Diner in New Hampton.
Bobby began his culinary career at age 15, as a summer dishwasher at a local restaurant. He then moved to Tilt’n Diner as a dishwasher, where he worked his way up the ranks to lead cook before exploring other restaurant opportunities both in and out of The Common Man family.
In 1996, Bobby became Kitchen Manager of “Bobby’s Girl” diner in New Hampton under its original owners. When the owners sold in 2003, Bobby returned to Tilt’n Diner as Lead Line Cook and Assistant KM, until The Common Man owner Alex Ray purchased “Bobby’s Girl” at auction and Bobby returned to what was now called Route 104 Diner as Kitchen Manager, assisting with opening and contributing to a successful first year. After some time back at Tilt’n Diner as Kitchen Manager, Bobby was promoted to Executive Chef of the Diner Division.
Bobby calls the diners his passion, and he is dedicated to cooking and serving home-cooked meals, just like he enjoyed growing up.