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The Common Man Roadside - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

The Common Man Roadside, Hooksett, N.H.: The Most Welcoming Welcome Center in New England

For many, this Route 93 service area has become a beloved standalone attraction



Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. Story created on 2/5/2020. Unless otherwise noted, photos by Eric Hurwitz.

The Common Man Roadside has traveled where no other highway welcome center in New England has ever gone before.

Located on the north and southbound sides of Route 93 in Hooksett, N.H., The Common Man Roadside, at first sight, features an eye-catching sign and spotless Irving gas station with 16 fuel pumps...

Ther Common Man Roadside sign going northbound in Hookset, N.H.
The Common Man Roadside sign on the northbound side.

Driving past the gas station, however, reveals where the magic truly begins with a completely different welcome center world evolving within seconds (photos below from the northbound side). The huge New Hampshire General Store building with a rustic look -- juxtaposed with brand new 21st century-style solar panels on top -- suggests this visit isn't just going to be just a rest stop for fuel, fast food from the typical chains and restrooms. Far from it but, fortunately, so close by for many New Hampshire travelers as the welcome center is located just outside Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city.

Common Man Roadside General Store on Route 93 in Hookset, N.H.
The New Hampshire General Store at The Common Man Roadside.

Past the New Hampshire General Store reveals another most welcoming slice of Americana: the neon and chrome look of the 1950s-style Hi-Way Diner. The exterior not only begs a visit inside but also the "Real Food! Real Fast!" slogan that hints that the visitor can enjoy a home-cooked meal without having to wait forever.

Hi-Way Diner at the Common Man Roadside on Route 93 in Hooksett, N.H.
The Hi-Way Diner.

An impressive entrance built in stone and windows with mullions paves the way to access the general store, diner and, as, seen under the New Hampshire Welcome Center sign, a liquor store.

Entrance to the New Hampshire Welcome Center on Route 93 in Hookseet, N.H.
New Hampshire Welcome Center.

The presence of a gas station, general store, diner and liquor outlet should provide enough interest to stop for a while but that's only the beginning as evidenced by walking into the New Hampshire Welcome Center (also known as the Hooksett Welcome Center). It's a sight that is instantly memorable. Now, how many times has that ever been said about a highway welcome center?

A walk through the Common Man Roadside on Route 93 in Hooksett, N.H.
Inside the New Hampshire Welcome Center.

Lively and Local

A lively scene at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
A busy scene inside The Common Man Roadside (northbound side).

Much is missing from The Common Man Roadside and that's a good thing.

Visitors will not find any familiar national fast food chains, employees who would rather not be there, kiosks with cheap merchandise sold at unreasonably high prices or an uninspiring cookie cutter design and decor scheme that would instantly fail an HGTV visit. Instead, The Common Man Roadside focuses on creating its food local, as well as employing New Hampshire residents with high work ethic. It is truly a rest stop that never rests. That all makes sense, as its sister company The Common Man family of restaurants includes 16 restaurants and two hotels in New Hampshire. First starting in 1971, The Common Man has become a household name in New Hampshire and a staple for many travelers coming to the Granite State.

"We're local people owning and operating our own brands," said Brad Pernaw, a managing parter at The Common Man Roadside. "We choose not to have big brands."

It's clear the folks at The Common Man had a lot of fun creating a one-of-a-kind welcome center that comes across like a renovated mill building in a quaint but bustling New Hampshire village. In addition to making food on the premises food and the presence of an authentic general store, there's even a League of N.H. Craftsmen gallery store that showcases contemporary and traditional fine craft created by talented regional artists. All in all, it's like The Common Man Roadside folks tapped into the dreams of a traveler, en route to creating the perfect welcome center that was much-needed in New England but rarely found. For New Hampshire travel, The Common Man Roadside perfectly complements trips to and from the White Mountains and the Lakes, Seacoast, Monadnock, Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee and Great North Woods Regions, as well as up Route 89 into Vermont.

Alex Ray
, owner and founder of The Common Man, and partners Pernaw and Rusty McLear (who, until recently, owned for many years the famous Inn at Mills Falls in Meredith, N.H.) basically helped transformed an aging state rest stop that was losing money into the prosperous business it is today. In 2018, The Common Man Roadside served four million guests, employed 150 New Hampshire residents, served 454,250 cups of Fair Trade Common Man Joe Coffee, scooped and blended 58,129 Common Man-made ice cream and frappes and worked with 81 unique New Hampshire-based companies. Approximately 12 percent of the 30,000 cars driving this section of Route 93 daily pull into The Common Man Roadside.

Common Man Roadside interior, Hooksett New Hampshire.
Beautiful interior at The Common Man Roadside. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

Additionally, the business has become so successful that The Common Man recently opened The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli in Plymouth, N.H., a convenience store version of The Common Man Roadside with the same focus on fresh locally made foods
. The Common Man also plans to open a Common Man Roadside Market & Deli this May in Manchester, N.H. (more on The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli later in the article).

"The old rest areas were in poor condition, so the state of New Hampshire requested proposals in hopes of turning things around and we were the winning proposal," said Pernaw. “While the State owns the land, we created the vision. It's a win-win where the public and private sectors have come together."

Common Man Roadside Partners Brad Pernaw, Rusty McLear and Alex Ray.
Brad, Rusty and Alex. Photo Credit: Allegra Boverman.

Pernaw reflects the authenticity of the Hooksett Welcome Center, forgoing suit and tie for neat casual clothing and working in a pleasant but not palatial office on the second floor with an efficient, local salt-of-the-earth staff. Not too long ago, the New Hampshire native and Northeastern University graduate with a degree in finance worked many years in the real estate and business development fields. Pernaw eventually found himself employed in Kansas City, Mo., and later Chicago, Ill. where he and his wife found out they were expecting their first child. He was longing for New Hampshire and contacted Ray who he first worked for as a teenager at The Common Man's Town Docks Restaurant in Meredith.

"I was on the road 250 days a year," said Pernaw. "We needed a better quality of life and wondered what would be next. I did have the entrepreneurial bug, though. We wanted to go home to New Hampshire. I decided to reach out to Alex after all these years.  I asked him what was going on and he said, 'Well, we are working on this project...'. To make a long story short, I became a partner and have loved the job ever since. You surround yourself with people that complement you while bringing with you the best of the corporate world. That's what we have here."


Pernaw -- filled with grace and gratitude for the job -- loves that he isn't relegated to a distant corporate white castle office miles away from the customer. Often, he can be seen coming downstairs and interacting with customers from his home state, as well as visitors from all over the world (with a high concentration from the United States and Canada).

Flags drape the wall at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Flags drape the wall.

"There are families I have recognized for three years in a row," said Pernaw. "It's nice to be part of their New Hampshire journeys and destinations."

Bill Boynton, director of public relations and community engagement at Granite State Hospitality/The Common Man Roadside, said of Pernaw," I see Brad in the middle of the action. He's hands-on."

Pernaw added, "It's a fun place to be. There's no need for a necktie and clipboard. There are no corporate offices here. Alex is salt of the earth. He has given so much back to New Hampshire for so many years (as a humble, genuine philanthropist) and still drives around in his 2002 Toyota Prius. We have made it a very "New Englandy" type of place, not stuffy at all. We've built something special here in that independent New Hampshire kind of spirit."

Like A Microcosm of New Hampshire

The Hooksett Welcome Center displays wonderful scenes of New Hampshire in artful and architectural forms. It's like a reflection of so many of the good things about a New Hampshire vacation.

A waterfall inspires visitors with a rendition of one of the most beloved natural scenic attractions in New Hampshire...

Waterfall at the New Hampshire Welcome Center in Hooksett, N.H.
Waterfall at the New Hampshire Welcome Center.

The famous Old Man of the Mountain along with a bobcat (disclaimer: not a real one!) graces the peaks of the New Hampshire Welcome Center.

Old Man of the Mountain and bobcat at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
A little bit of the White Mountains at The Common Man Roadside.

There's even a covered bridge, a common hallmark of small town New Hampshire travel.

Covered Bridge at the New Hampshire Welcome Center in Hooksett, N.H.
Covered bridge.

As tourism plays such a major role in New Hampshire's economy, it's no surprise to see a Visit NH Information Booth (located on both the north and southbound sides...

NH tourism booth at the Common Man Roadside in Hookseet, N.H.
VisitNH tourist booth with water wheel (repurposed from a local mill) in the background located at the southbound side. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

and enough brochures to plan a lifetime of New Hampshire vacations.

Travel brochures available at the New Hampshire Welcome Center in Hooksett, N.H.
New Hampshire travel brochures for all ages and interests.

A huge New Hampshire topography map saturates one wall with a tribute shrine to the right honoring the late Raymond Burton, a well-known New Hampshire politician.

Topopgraphy map of New Hampsjire at The Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Huge New Hampshire map.

Adding further harmony to the overall experience, a black grand piano confirms that The Common Man Roadside plays a different tune when it comes to highway welcome centers. Many visitors have entertained the crowds on this elegant, pristine instrument. Other musical guests have entertained, also, including traveling college chorus groups.

Baby grand piano at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.

Grand piano.

And just outside, there's a relic from the past: an old passenger tramway from Cannon Mountain ski area in the heart of the White Mountains...


Car
Tramway rail vehicle from Cannon Mountain.

Ultimately, however, it's the fresh, locally created food that highlights The Common Man Roadside experience. The north and southbound sides both feature the Hi-Way Diner, Common Man Joe Cafe, Common Man Roadside, and Common Man Roadside Pizza and Salad. There is some overlap on what each food stop sells but is clearly marked with paper and wall menus.

"There are three layers," said Boynton, of the food concept at The Common Man Roadside. "There's the convenience store where you can get food the quickest. The food court where you can have food made to order. And then there's the diner where you can stay for a while."

A state-of-the-art food court is located in the center of the building and features that New Hampshire mill village look and an arched ceiling with a painted blue sky mural masterfully drawn by a local artist...

Food court at Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, NH.
Food court at The Common Man Roadside.
 
Created from its own local commissary instead of somewhere out in corporate food land, the food tastes fresh and even comes in the form of traditional New England favorites like lobster rolls and New England clam chowder. It's extremely rare to find these type of items at highway welcome centers and done so well.
 Lobster roll from the Common Man Roadside on Route 93 in Hooksett, NH.
Lobster Roll with fries from The Common Man Roadside.

"One of the challenges Alex talked about was how to make it so people could come in and eat 'real food, real fast,'" said Boynton. "We found a way and that is by keeping it local."

The Common Man Roadside also hand-tosses its own pizzas and and employs an oven that can cook the pies in two minutes. The result: a thin crust version that is a big hit amongst visitors.

Hand-tossed pizza from the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Pizza from The Common Man Roadside. Photo credit: the Common Man Roadside.

The Reuben is also quite popular with its tasty mix of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing grilled between slices of rye bread...


Reuben sandwich from the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, NH
Reuben sandwich. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

The Common Man Roadside also offers its fresh Common Man Joe coffee that truly strays from the bland chain store types. Cafe Monte Alto Coffee, of Plymouth, N.H., supplies the premium quality coffee beans brought in two times a year from a farming partner in Peru, South America.

Common Man Joe Coffee from the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Common Man Joe Coffee.

Various products, all created locally for or by The Common Man, are much better tasting than the usual...

Snacks aat the Common Man Roadside in Hookset, N.H.
Common Man products. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

The Hi-Way Diner honors and follows the tenets of the very best diners with plenty of neon and chrome, fast efficient service and comfort foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is no watered-down version of a diner as The Common Man Family of restaurants already owns two standout diners: the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton, Airport Diner in Manchester and Route 104 Diner in New Hampton. The Hi-Way Diner clearlypossesses the good diner genes of these well established Common Man diners.

Hi-Way Diner at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Hi-Way Diner.

Some of the more popular diner
menu items
items include breakfast sandwiches, burgers and fries, Reubens, onion rings, tuna melts, quesedillas, chicken tenders, grilled cheese, twin hot dogs, freshly-squeezed orange juice and frappes.

Burger , fries and frappe from the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Burger, hand-cut fries and strawberry frappe from the Hi-Way Diner.

"People love that they can come to a highway welcome center and order food that is fresh," said Pernaw.

The New Hampshire General Store

The New Hampshire General Store at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
New Hampshire General Store.

The New Hampshire General Store features the quaint look that we have all come to expect in local general and country stores but does possess a big difference: It is open 24 hours a day. All the greatest hits of a general store are here including real local maple syrup, honey, craft beers and other locally created items like soaps, clothing and gifts. If you are in a fix for a classic New Hampshire gift, this is also the right place. New Hampshire balsam-scented pillows,  "Live Free or Die" ballcaps, stuffed moose and postcards are prime examples.

Local Maple Syrup from the New Hampshire general Store at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Local maple syrup.

The General Store also features homemade snacks made daily and available for immediate consumption!

Yummy snacks from the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, NH.
Yummy snacks made fresh.

It's also a great place to stock up on New Hampshire essentials like camping supplies, bundles of wood, windshield fluid, bug spray and ice scrapers, as well as the aforementioned snacks (and beverages, fresh sandwiches and coffee).


Necessary New Hampshire items from the New Hampshire General Store.
Essentials from the New Hampshire General Store.

"There seems to be something for everyone at the General Store," said Pernaw.
"People love to explore what's here as it is much more than a convenience store."

Clothing area at The New Hampshire General Store at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, NH. Clothing area at the New Hampshire General Store.

Hidden Gem: the Apple Cider Donut Shop

Apple Cider Donuts at the Common Man Roadside (northbound side) in Hooksett, N.H.
Apple Cider Donuts building.

A separate small building with a welcoming front porch and almost cabin-like appearance stands right next to the Hooksett Welcome Center on the northbound side and it is also a must-visit destination. The aroma coming from the building brings visitors in to see apple cider doughnuts being made and better yet, to taste.


Apple cider doughnuts being made at the Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Judi Hermanson makes the apple cider doughnuts at The Common Man Roadside.

The apple cider doughnuts come in plain, cinnamon and sugar or maple glazed. Taking home a warm bag of these tasty treats is the intention of most customers but often these mouthwatering morsels are eaten on the premises or on the ride home. It's easy to understand why: These flavorful, moist apple cider doughnuts, in this writer's opinion, rank right up there with "the best of New England," including Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vt., Atkins Farm in Amherst, Mass. and 
Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.


Yummy homemade apple cider doughnuts from the Common Man in Hooksett, NH.
Apple cider doughnuts from The Common Man Roadside. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside North Facebook page.

"I bet those doughnuts don't make it home," said Boynton with a laugh to a customer. "They are so delicious!"

The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli in Plymouth (and coming soon to Manchester)

The Common Man Market & Deli in Plymouth, N.H.
New to Plymouth... The Common Man Market & Deli. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli on Route 25 (484 Tenney Mountain Highway) takes the 20,000 sq. ft. The Common Man Roadside concept and masterfully condenses into a 5,000 sq ft. convenience store with a focus on the "Real Food! Real Fast!" promise of the Hooksett locations. For travelers, it's an ideal place to stop as Plymouth is located between the Lakes Region and White Mountains.

Taking its restaurant background to the forefront rather than just offering the same old convenience food, The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli features a grab-and-go section, a cafe serving quiche and cinnamon buns, and a made-to-order food counter including omelettes, breakfast sandwiches and skillets, classic breakfasts (like eggs, bacon and toast), deli and grilled sandwiches, burgers, salads, homemade soups, pasta, and pizza.

Turkey and brie sandwich from The Common Man Market & Deli in Plymouth, NH.
Turkey and brie croissant sandwich. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

Additionally, The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli offers a barista bar where customers can make their own coffee, as well as featuring a "beer cave" and fresh pastries.  The atmosphere is inviting, too, with a fireplace, salvaged barn boards, beams and a tin roof from an 1800s-era barn.

Breakfast skillets from the Common Man Market & Deli in Plymouth, N.h>
Breakfast skillet from The Common Man Market & Deli. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

"There's definitely a need for fresh food in a convenience store setting," said Boynton. "You can get made-to-order food here within minutes. The location is more small town but the concept is the same (as The Common Man Roadside) -- you are greeted, there's a friendly local feel and you can enjoy a nice, fresh meal."

Margharita pizza from the Common Man Market & Deli in Plymouth, NH.
Margherita pizza. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.

Additional Observations and Concluding Thoughts on The Common Man Roadside

Food stop in The Common Man Roadside, Hooksett, N.H.
One of the many food options at The Common Man Roadside.

The Common Man Roadside has created a game changer when it comes to highway welcome centers. It has clearly become the gold standard for this type of service and in a quick amount of time. What a little ingenuity and local small business spirit can do!

At the typical welcome center, people want to get in and out as fast as possible so they can get to their destinations. The Common Man Roadside, however, has taken the welcome center concept and turned it completely around by first nurturing the customer experience through a unique local touch. That means a friendly, professional on site management staff that engages with the public and the type of food that you would love at your favorite hometown restaurant or that dining out spot you look forward to while on vacation.


Adding the look of New Hampshire through the likes of a waterfall, covered bridge and general store helps create an environment that fosters a sense of place even before arriving at the real thing -- the Lakes Region or White Mountains, as examples.
Additionally, having on site professionals at VisitNH lending travel advice provides a truly valuable service, as opposed to solely leaving brochures out on racks.

And then there are the reminders to get us excited about why we are in New Hampshire in the first place...


Nostalgic sign at The Common Man Roadside in Hooksett, N.H.
Poster of a grand New Hampshire tradition.

But wait -- that's not all.  The Irving fuel stations consistently look brand new as if they opened yesterday. The prices stay lower than most highway gas stations and six superchargers provide electrical nourishment for Tesla electric cars.

Irving gas station at the Hooksett Welcome Center in Hooksett, N.H.
Irving fuel pumps.


Ant there's also the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet. Owned by the state's NH Liquor Commission (a separate entity from The Common Man Roadside), the Commission owns 77 outlets across the Granite State. The Hooksett outlet comprises a spectacular 20,000 sq. feet and, like the other outlets, offers great value for the money and no taxes on purchases.

New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet in Hooksett, NH.
New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet.


Pernaw stops short of saying The Common Man Roadside is as much a part of the New Hampshire landscape as its most famous traditional attractions. While that is understandable as the business is less than five-years-old, many customers have embraced The Common Man Roadside as either a wonderful part of the New Hampshire journey or as a standalone destination. New Hampshire scenes, local artists' work for sale, classic diner food, apple cider doughnuts, a general store and the feeling of supporting small local businesses are part of the fabric that make the Granite State special, after all.

"There's an entire spectrum of people coming from the highway into The Common Man Roadside," said Boynton. "And they all seem to be having a great time, ourselves included."

The Common Man Roadside Northbound is located at West River Rd., Hooksett, NH.

The Common Man Roadside Southbound is located at 25 Springer Rd., Hooksett, NH.

Phone for both businesses: 603-210-5305. Web site: 
http://thecmanroadside.com/restaurants-menus/common-man-roadside/

The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli is located on Route 25, 484 Tenney Mountain Highway, Plymouth, NH. Tel. 603-210-5815. Web Site: https://thecmanroadside.com/common-man-roadside-plymouth/


Social Media

Facebook
Northbound: https://www.facebook.com/thecmanroadsidenhhooksettnorth/
Southbound: https://www.facebook.com/thecmanroadsidenhhooksettsouth/
Plymouth: https://www.facebook.com/thecmanroadsidenhplymouth/
Manchester: https://www.facebook.com/thecmanroadsidenhplymouth/

Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/thecmanroadsidenh/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/thecmanroadside

Northbound Hours

Barista/Common Man Joe Bakery – Opens Daily at 6am

Food Court
Monday thru Thursday –  10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
Friday- 10:00 am – 10:00 pm.
Saturday & Sunday- 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.

Hi-Way Diner
Monday thru Thursday – 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
Friday – 6:00 am – 10:00 pm.
Saturday & Sunday – 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
Lunch menu starts at 11:00 am.

Southbound Hours

Barista/Common Man Joe Bakery –  Opens Daily at 6:00 am.

Food Court

Monday thru Thursday 10:00 am –  9:00 pm.

Friday & Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.

Sunday – 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.

Drive Thru Hours (Southbound Only)

Mon-Thurs 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Friday thru Sunday 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Hi-Way Diner

Monday thru Saturday 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Sunday 6:00 am – 9:00 pm.

Lunch menu starts at 11:00 am.

Plymouth Common Man Roadside Market & Deli Hours

Open daily 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Food service until 9 p.m.


More small business reading:
Finding a great place to eat on the Massachusetts Turnpike

Discovering some of the best wood fired pizza at a famous southern Maine bread shop



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