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Our Story

The first Common Man Restaurant was opened on Main Street in Ashland, NH back in November 1971 by owner and founder Alex Ray. The restaurant, which was on the first floor of Alex’s home, could serve all of 35 people in its cozy front dining room.  There wasn’t a waiting area or lounge, so patrons would line up outside – even in the winter – and wait for an open table.

By 1974, the restaurant needed more space, and the carriage house out back was converted into a dining area. In 1977, Alex and his young family moved out of the rooms above the main restaurant and the space was converted into The Step Above Lounge.

The next location in our Common Man family was established in October of 1985, when the old Pollard Family home in Lincoln, NH was purchased, and an old barn was moved to the site, renovated, and attached for additional dining space. Just 47 days from the date of purchase, The Common Man Lincoln opened.

Things picked up steadily after that. In 1987, the old Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Concord, NH was purchased and renovated, keeping the old-style counter service and turning it into a real old-fashioned 50’s style diner.  The Capital City Diner became a popular local hangout and a must-stop on every local and national politician’s tour of the state.

In December 1991, after much negotiating, the Pike Family sold us the parking lot adjacent to their company headquarters just off exit 20 off I-93 in Tilton.  It was the perfect spot to park the 1950 steel diner that Alex purchased several years before. Tilt’n Diner opened in May of 1992.

In 1993, the Italian Farmhouse opened in Plymouth. The Farmhouse became a favorite for locals and tourists alike, with its fresh-baked bread, brick oven pizza, and warm, friendly atmosphere.  A large glass greenhouse was rescued and resurrected behind the restaurant.  The brick-floored greenhouse overflows with flowers and is a favorite spot for weddings and other celebrations.

In 1994, Alex opened the Squam Seafood Company in Holderness, NH, a seasonal restaurant serving fresh seafood in a fun atmosphere.  One of the many unique features of the restaurant was a real lobster boat beached out front.  Diners could order their meal and eat on board!  The restaurant was open for several years and now serves as the site of our commissary, where many of our homemade items are prepared and shipped to our facilities.

Also in 1994, we partnered with Meredith entrepreneur Rusty McLear to create the Inn at Bay Point and a new, upscale-dining concept called Boathouse Grille. The restaurant was in a renovated bank building located right on Meredith Bay. In the fall of 2003, the Boathouse Grille was transformed into LAGO, an authentic Italian Trattoria.

Twenty-five years after opening the original Common Man Restaurant, the Common Man family headed to southern New Hampshire and opened Common Man Windham in 1996. The new restaurant was located in a renovated barn that Alex had his eye on for quite some time. In 2008, in conjunction with the massive I-93 widening project in southern New Hampshire, major renovations were made to Common Man Windham to increase seating, parking, and offer a Bar ‘n Grill area upstairs, as well as private dining areas.

Also in 1996, The Common Man Company Store in Ashland, NH was opened in the converted Ashland Post Office building, selling New Hampshire and New England-made merchandise. The store offers a wide variety of Common Man goodies, and also stocks NH-made gifts, creative toys, C-MAN gear, and more. Most popular is the Common Man’s home-made fudge and penny candy counter.  In 2010, the old-time store merged with modern-day technology to offer its most popular Common Man items for sale online through

In 1998, the Common Man family again teamed up with the Inns and Spa at Mill Falls in the creation of Camp restaurant, located within The Chase House at Mill Falls in Meredith. Camp is a re-creation of days spent at summer camp on the lake and serves up great American fare with a camp flair.

In 1999, another try was made for a seasonal place, buying the old FrankenSundae on the Bay in Meredith and turning it into a take-out or eat-in summer dining spot called Town Docks. Town Docks features breathtaking views of Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee with deck seating, a Tiki bar, and Frankie’s ice cream shop, serving Common Man-made ice cream.  In 2001, Town Docks was transitioned from a quick-serve deli to a more traditional New England lobster pound and now has both indoor and outdoor seating April through September.

In 2000, the decision was made to replace the Capital City Diner in Concord with a Common Man restaurant. The old structure was torn down and a new, charming, New England home and barn was built in its place.  The Common Man Concord opened its doors in the fall of 2000. The restaurant features unique gathering rooms and a bar ‘n grill offering lighter fare and spirits.

A test of the resolve and drive of the Common Man family came in the summer of 2001, when an arsonist burned down the Common Man Lincoln. The shock and loss were felt throughout the company.  Lincoln STARS were kept on and loaned to other C-MAN family restaurants. The new restaurant – re-built in just 60 days – is a match of the historic home and barn that housed the original, with a few subtle improvements, including meeting and event space upstairs.

In 2001/2002, the Common Man family undertook a huge challenge – renovating a 60,000 square foot defunct wood mill in the town of Plymouth, and, retaining 90 percent of the original building, transforming it into the 38-room Common Man Inn & Spa, Foster’s Boiler Room restaurant, and event facility.  The Common Man Inn & Spa has won ‘Grow Smart’ and Main Street awards and provides what many consider to be a new center for the town of Plymouth.

Next up was opening Lakehouse Grille in Church Landing at Mill Falls in Meredith in 2004.  Lakehouse serves creative American cuisine in an Adirondack-style dining room that features hand-hewn exposed beams, fieldstone fireplaces, panoramic lake views, and a large event space with seating for 300 guests.

Soon after, the Common Man turned to a big, new project – a Common Man Restaurant in Merrimack, NH.  Hannah Jack’s Tavern was purchased, and the team set to work renovating the former home of Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The restaurant opened in the historic structure, which dates back to 1794, in July of 2005.

Just as the Merrimack project was finishing up, ground broke on the Airport Diner in Manchester, in the Holiday Inn on Brown Avenue. The historic photographs of Manchester Airport, vintage planes, and paintings that make up the diner’s aeronautical theme were selected in partnership with the NH Aviation Historical Society.  Since opening in December of 2005, the 50’s style diner has quickly become a favorite with locals and travelers, as well as political candidates and national media during the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary.

In June 2009, we grew in the western part of NH with the renovation of defunct mills in Claremont, on the banks of the Sugar River. This became our second Common Man Inn in New Hampshire, and a Common Man restaurant. This was another sizeable undertaking by the Common Man family and Rusty McLear, who converted brick mills that were downtrodden and stood unused for decades into a beautiful 35-room inn and restaurant.  Area leaders see the project as an important piece of the economic revival of the entire region.

Not waiting long for the next project, in October 2009, the Common Man family opened the 104 Diner in New Hampton on the former site of Bobby’s Girl Diner.

Rounding out 2009 and expanding into a new area, a defunct movie theater on Main Street in Plymouth, NH was purchased by Alex and re-opened as The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performing Arts Center. After undergoing an extensive renovation in April 2010, the historic 1920’s Vaudeville theater re-opened in July 2010, and now brings to northern New Hampshire GRAMMY-winning recording artists, comedy acts, first-run, independent and classic films, and regional theatrical productions.

In October 2013, The Common Man broke ground on an innovative public-private partnership with the State of New Hampshire, to transform the dated New Hampshire Welcome Centers on Interstate 93 in Hooksett.  After just 15 months of construction, the ribbon was cut on the northbound facility in March 2015, with southbound following shortly after.  The new Welcome Centers now offer 20,000 square foot NH Liquor & Wine Outlets, 3,000 square foot interactive visitor centers, NH General Stores, Common Man Roadside eateries in 10,000 square foot food courts, 16 Irving fuel stations, Tesla electric car charging stations, upgraded restrooms and more than 300 parking spaces each.  The northbound center was named in honor of the late Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton.

The Common man’s newest wedding and event venue, The Barn on the Pemi, sits high above the Pemigewasset River on a secluded hilltop with breathtaking mountain views off of historic Route 3 in Plymouth, New Hampshire.  Opened in April 2018, this 1855 barn originating from Canterbury, NH was lovingly disassembled and then relocated and restored to preserve its nearly two-century history.  Surrounded by wilderness, it offers the perfect mix of modern conveniences and rustic charm.  With 10,000 square feet of event space and seating for up to 300 guests, plus an expansive outdoor terrace, and a seasonal greenhouse for wedding ceremonies or rehearsal dinners, The Barn is the ideal setting for a unique and memorable event.

The success of the Hooksett Welcome Centers and Common Man Roadside model led to the construction of smaller versions, called Common Man Roadside Market & Deli, in Plymouth in 2019, Manchester in 2020, Epsom in 2023, and Portsmouth, slated for a 2024 opening. These locations offer Irving fuel pumps and a welcoming stop that serves up fresh food, fast – an uncommon twist on the everyday convenience store and gas station. The Roadside arm of our family also opened a cafe and dine-in restaurant in Manchester’s Millyard in partnership with Tru Hotel in 2022.

With a continued eye on revitalizing downtown Plymouth, The Common Man transformed a defunct storefront on Main Street into New Berry’s on the Common in March 2022. New Berry’s is a gift shop featuring local art, hand-crafted goods from local makers, vintage finds, and more. It’s a modern revival of an old Main Street favorite, J.J. Newberry’s department store, popular in the 1940’s-70’s. In 2024, a throwback to the traditional department store lunch counter was opened inside. JJ’s Breakfast & Lunch Counter serves breakfast all day and lunch daily.

While the Common Man family has grown in physical locations over the years, so too has its commitment to local communities by inspiring all of its STARS to live the mantra of “Doing Well by Doing Good.”  Each location is charged with holding community fundraisers, and employees are given paid time off to volunteer with non-profit organizations that are important to them.  Over the more than five decades of being a hospitality leader in New Hampshire, the Common Man family has donated hundreds of hours of sweat equity and thousands of dollars in sponsorships, food, and in-kind donations to local, national, and international organizations.

The Common Man is an award-winning company and has been recognized on both a local and national level. We have consistently received the annual NH Restaurant Neighbor Award for our charitable work, and in 2010 we received The Cornerstone Humanitarian Award from the National Restaurant Association. Other awards over the years have included Business of the Decade from Business New Hampshire Magazine, Business of the Year from the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Best Company to Work for in the Food Service Industry by The Griffin Report. We’ve repeatedly ranked among the Top 100 Private Companies in New Hampshire in Business NH Magazine, who also named us NH’s Hospitality Employer of the Decade. Our guests consistently vote us as the best in our state in polls from New Hampshire Magazine, NH Business Review, Hippo Press and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Alex Ray

Owner and Founder The Common Man Family of Restaurants

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.

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 15 restaurants, two Common Man Inns, The Lodge, a Spa, Company Store, the Barn on the Pemi event center, New Berry’s on the Common, Common Man Roadside locations, and The Flying Monkey Movie House & Performance Center, employing more than 650 people.

Click here to read The Common Man History” about the history and growth of The Common Man family in New Hampshire.

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.

Alex has a passion for saving old buildings. Among his renovation and revitalization projects are The Common Man Inn & Spa in Plymouth, a former wood mill converted into an Inn, restaurant, Spa and event center.  He partnered with long-time friend and Rusty McLear of Mill Falls at the lake to turn run-down textile mills into The Common Man Inn and The Common Man restaurant in Claremont, breathing new life into 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.  In 2016, he carefully removed the historic Peverly Barn, beam by beam and board by board, in Canterbury, NH, and revived the structure in Plymouth in 2018, opening as The Barn on The Pemi, an event space for up to 300 guests.

In March 2015, Alex again partnered with Rusty on a public-private partnership to breathe new life into the New Hampshire Welcome Centers on Interstate 93 north and south. The unique project resulted in the complete tear down and rebuild of the state 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. The Common Man Roadside brand has since expanded to locations in Plymouth and Manchester.

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 and beyond. It’s never long before Alex comes up with a new project and declares, “Here we grow again!”

Diane Downing

The Common Man Family of Restaurants

Diane Downing 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.