Aside from wearing custom-made leather shoes; nurturing a secret love of 50s Neapolitan songs; and insisting on pasta for every meal, Italian boyfriends introduce you to novelties like bidets, inquisitive family members and the lost art of romance. And a lot of cousins. Especially if he is from the south. A mixture of generosity and antiquated chivalry means Italian men have a knee jerk reaction to paying for women. Your winter couple staples are matching dark blue coats with fluffy fur around the hood, some deer sunglasses, and beige Timberland boots, which are probably the first requirement for Italian citizenship. Because he believes that salmonella does not exist.
T he patriarch of the Common Man Family of Restaurants arrives tired, disheveled and covered with soot, a half-hour late for a scheduled interview at his Italian Farmhouse man in Plymouth, one of his nearly two-dozen restaurants that dot the New Hampshire landscape from Plymouth to Windham to Claremont. It is the kind of day that makes it hard for a weary man to accept a lot of things — like his decision to buy a boat. But not for long. It had sprung a leak and was taking on water. He had to get it back to shore before it — and he — sank. But at least he had found his cell phone — in the middle of the road, where it had been run over by a passing car.
It must have fallen out of the boat, he explains, as it was being towed back to its dock. It is useless now, but he has it with him anyway, clutching it, perhaps, as a dating of the Day Everything Went Wrong. It has not been, one suspects, a typical day in the life of Alex Ray.
Seated on a granite bench in front of the large barn he had built behind the restaurant, Ray, at 74, begins ruminating over the nearly half a century he has spent building and italian his impressive network of restaurants. In that, to be sure, he has been enormously successful. Is it money? Is it happiness? Is it pride? As a young boy he had not one paper route, but several, delivering morning and evening papers both before and after school.
His devotion to profitable labor is something he grew up with. He started Hampshire own vending machine business.
That was his lifelong work. I would go to bed at night, listening to the sound of him counting coins.
Meet the common man’s alex ray
He worked after school at a local restaurant, and held down two jobs in the summer, one at a local bakery and the other at the restaurant at the Mount Cranmore ski resort. He thrived on the work, but was, at best, an indifferent student.
Ray also had some brushes with the law when he began driving. I lost all my money. I went home broke.
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His first full-time, year-round job was with a food service company called Canteen Corporation. He knew early on that this was not where he would build a career. With a loan from a local bank, he was able to buy a brick house on Main Street in Ashland. Living with his family on the second floor, he turned the ground floor into a restaurant, christening it the Common Man. The small restaurant opened in with a dining room that could only seat Customers, even in winter, would stand in line outside, waiting for a table.
That was two.
Having purchased the Pollard Family home in October ofRay had an old barn moved onto the site, renovated it and attached it to the house to create a new restaurant that opened 47 days after purchase of the property. From that point on, it was full speed ahead in the expansion of the Common Man brand.
Common Man Vice President Diane Dowling, members of the management team and Ray look over plans for the renovation of the building that would become the Common Man Merrimack. A renovated barn became the Common Man in Windham in It does not include the restaurants he has opened within and around the numerous Meredith properties of developer Rusty McLear, founder of the popular Lakes Region resort, The Inn at Mill Falls.
Nor does it include the t venture by McLear and Ray to turn abandoned mill buildings into a hotel and restaurant complex in Claremont, or their multimillion-dollar development of the Common Man restaurants and the general stores, filling stations and larger state liquor stores at the new welcome centers on I in Hooksett.
In all, Ray reigns over an enterprise that s about 1, employees. And while Ray leans on his staff to keep things running smoothly, he keeps his own eyes closely on the operations of all his properties. The phenomenal growth of the enterprise has not been without its occasional setbacks, including the fire that destroyed the Common Man in Lincoln in What must have seemed like a major calamity at the time now looks like a mere hiccup in Common Man history.
I have a reservation! Along with his many business ventures, Ray has found time to plunge into a wide range of community activities, including theatrical productions at Plymouth State University. Ray took a van and, with the help of graphic artist Sally Grand, had it decorated it with a large image of a tiger.
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He even managed to give the vehicle a lynx-like voice. Speaking onstage when The Flying Monkey opened, Ray prepares to shoot a toy flying monkey into the crowd. Potts, costumed to resemble a teakettle. Ray seems less impressed with his onstage persona.
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I kind of regret it. InRay purchased a falling-apart old theater on Main Street in Plymouth, where vaudeville shows had been performed in the s. The renovated building was reopened the following year as the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performing Center, a venue that hosts appearances by national recording artists, along with comedy acts, movies and live theatrical performances. Another of his projects, less entertaining but more life-sustaining, can be found at what is now known as the Ray House at the site of the Daniel Webster homestead in Franklin.
Ray purchased the former orphanage and renovated it for use as an alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation center. Ray freely acknowledges his interest in the recovery efforts is inspired by his own journey as a recovering alcoholic. I needed to unwind.
I feel very good about it. I miss that.
The common man restaurant in merrimack, n.h. is located in the former hannah jack tavern, an historical building dating back to that was once the home of matthew thornton, a er of the declaration of independence.
One might wonder how, between attending to expansive business operations and throwing himself into a variety of community projects, Ray could find the time for more of a social life. Contributing to the community is no one-man effort for Ray, who encourages all of his employees to take paid time off from their duties at the restaurants each year to do volunteer work for the nonprofits of their choice. Despite the time, effort and money he spends on civic and charitable causes, the Common Man founder recoils at being called a philanthropist.
I respect New Hampshire ways. He has also gone on relief missions to Haiti and Honduras after earthquakes hit those island nations, and to Puerto Rico following the hurricane disaster. Climbing in through windows, he retrieved and fed a of dogs that had been left behind. In Haiti, he cooked for earthquake survivors and helped develop nutrition programs. In Puerto Rico, Ray and his crew cooked meals a day for survivors of one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit that island.
Ray, it seems, has put the same pedal-to-the-metal effort into his charitable and relief efforts as he has in building his impressive network of restaurants and diners. But what has motivated him to work so hard for so long to keep it all going, acquiring and retrofitting buildings, adding one restaurant and diner after another to the Common Man enterprise?
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He loves the restaurants, he loves the people, he loves giving back to the community. Commuters and vacationers now take our lovely Hooksett welcome centers for granted, but most locals recall what eyesores they once were. Running a business is not like playing poker at Poland Spring. Despite all his achievements in business and charitable giving, Ray keeps thinking of other things he might have done. Yet he regrets the enormous toll his many ventures have taken on his personal life.
He recalls never having had any hobbies, never indulging in any recreational activities, like fishing or golf. He saved a barn in Canterbury and rebuilt it in Plymouth to serve as a wedding and events venue for up to guests. Repurposed materials include flooring and metal roof panels from the Rockingham Park racetrack in Salem. Photo by Ends of the Earth Innovations.
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Neither of his two daughters ever wanted to work in a restaurant, he says, and both have long since moved on to careers of their own. Ray has been looking into the possibility of passing the entire business on to his employees without having it broken up into several parts. A party at a nearby table breaks out into loud gales of laughter, bringing a smile to the face of the uncommon man who opened the door to food and drink and laughter at the first Common Man nearly half a century ago.
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