Common Man Roadside/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
The Common Man Roadside, Hooksett, N.H.: The Most Welcoming
Welcome Center in New England
many, this Route 93 service area has become a beloved standalone attraction
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
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
Located on the north and southbound sides of Route 93 in Hooksett,
The Common Man Roadside, at first sight, features an eye-catching sign and spotless Irving gas station with 16 fuel pumps...
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
Hampshire General Store building with a
rustic look -- juxtaposed with brand new 21st century-style
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.
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.
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
New Hampshire Welcome
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?
Inside the New Hampshire
Lively and Local
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
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
local people owning and operating our own brands," said Brad Pernaw, a
managing partner at The Common Man Roadside. "We choose not to have big
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.
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.
Beautiful interior at
The Common Man Roadside. Photo credit: The Common
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.
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
Rusty and Alex.
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
many years in
the real estate and business development fields. Pernaw eventually
found himself employed in Kansas City, Mo., and later
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
to New Hampshire. I decided to reach out to Alex after all
years. I asked him what was going on and he said, 'Well, we
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
Pernaw -- filled with grace and gratitude for the job --
loves that he isn't relegated to a distant corporate white castle
from the customer. Often, he can be seen coming downstairs and
interacting with customers from his home state, as well as visitors
all over the world (with a high concentration from the United States
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
New Hampshire journeys and destinations."
director of public relations and community engagement
State Hospitality/The Common Man
Roadside, said of Pernaw," I see Brad in the middle of the action.
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
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
A waterfall inspires visitors with a rendition of one of the most
scenic attractions in New Hampshire...
Waterfall at the New
Hampshire Welcome Center.
The famous Old Man of the Mountain along with a bobcat (disclaimer: not
real one!) graces the peaks of the New Hampshire Welcome Center.
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
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...
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.
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.
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.
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...
Tramway rail vehicle from Cannon
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
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 The Common
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 with fries
from The Common Man Roadside.
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
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.
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
Reuben sandwich. Photo
credit: The Common Man Roadside.
Common Man Roadside also offers its fresh Common Man Joe coffee that
truly strays from the bland chain store types. Cafe Monte Alto Coffee,
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.
Various products, all created locally for or by The Common Man, are
much better tasting than the usual...
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 clearly possesses the good diner genes of these well established Common Man
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, 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
New Hampshire General
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.
The General Store also features homemade snacks made daily and
available for immediate
Yummy snacks made fresh.
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).
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."
area at the New Hampshire General Store.
the Apple Cider Donut Shop
Cider Donuts building.
small building with a welcoming front porch and almost cabin-like
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.
Judi Hermanson makes the
apple cider doughnuts at The Common Man
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
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.
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
soon to Manchester)
New to Plymouth... The
Common Man Market & Deli. Photo credit: The Common Man
The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli on Route 25 (484 Tenney
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
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
croissant sandwich. Photo credit: The Common Man Roadside.
Additionally, The Common Man Roadside
Market & Deli offers a barista bar where customers can make
own coffee, as well as featuring a "beer cave" and fresh pastries.
atmosphere is inviting, too, with a fireplace, salvaged barn
boards, beams and a tin roof from an 1800s-era barn.
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."
Margherita pizza. Photo
credit: The Common Man Roadside.
Additional Observations and Concluding Thoughts on The Common Man Roadside
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
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...
Poster of a grand New
But wait -- that's not all. The
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 fuel pumps.Ant there's also the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet. Owned by the state's NH
Commission (a separate entity from The Common Man Roadside), the Commission owns 77
outlets across the Granite State. The Hooksett outlet comprises a
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.
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
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
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,
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/
Common Man Roadside Market & Deli is located on Route
Tenney Mountain Highway, Plymouth, NH. Tel. 603-210-5815. Web Site: https://thecmanroadside.com/common-man-roadside-plymouth/
Man Joe Bakery – Opens Daily at 6am
thru Thursday – 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
10:00 am – 10:00 pm.
& Sunday- 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
thru Thursday – 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
– 6:00 am – 10:00 pm.
& Sunday – 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
menu starts at 11:00 am.
Man Joe Bakery – Opens Daily at 6:00 am.
thru Thursday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
& Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
– 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.
Thru Hours (Southbound Only)
6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
thru Sunday 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
thru Saturday 6:00 am – 8:00 pm.
6:00 am – 9:00 pm.
menu starts at 11:00 am.
Common Man Roadside Market & Deli Hours
daily 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Food service until 9 p.m.
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