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La Carreta taking over former Whippersnappers space in Londonderry

Union Leader Correspondent

December 27. 2015 10:08PM
In the Londonderry Commons plaza on Route 102, all that remains visible of the former Whippersnappers restaurant is a sign inside the doors. (Eli Okun)

LONDONDERRY — La Carreta Mexican Restaurant signed a lease this week to take over the former Whippersnappers location, bringing their popular brand of sit-down, south-of-the-border cuisine to town.

The restaurant is slated to open in mid-to-late May, roughly around the same time as a forthcoming location in Portsmouth. The two new restaurants will constitute La Carreta’s fifth and sixth outposts in New Hampshire, joining two in Manchester, one in Nashua and one in Derry.

Whippersnappers, a pub-style restaurant, bar and live music venue, was a watering hole beloved by many locals. But it closed up shop in the Londonderry Commons plaza on Route 102 in late September, citing failed negotiations with its landlord.

The day after the announcement, La Carreta manager Eddie Leon was making inquiries at the site. “We’ve been wanting to open something up in Londonderry,” he explained. “We hadn’t seen any restaurants become available in Londonderry since we’d been looking for the last few years.”

Leon and his sister also manage the Derry La Carreta, and their parents own both the Londonderry and Derry locations.

The entire enterprise is a family affair, in fact: Members of the Leons’ extended family own and operate all of La Carreta’s more than 40 locations across the United States. Eddie Leon says he has 87 first cousins — all in the restaurant business.

La Carreta first began in Lynchburg, Va., in the 1980s. Leon’s parents ran the location in Greensboro, N.C., where he grew up. Then, in the late ‘90s, a magazine named Nashua the country’s No. 1 city to live in. A cousin drove up to check the city out, and saw that there weren’t many Mexican restaurants, though the New England economy was strong.

That led in 1997 to New Hampshire’s first La Carreta, in Nashua.

With the Londonderry location, Leon plans to provide town residents easier access to the restaurant than having to drive in Derry. And he hopes to draw in customers from Litchfield, Windham and Hudson, too.

The Leons are planning to invest about half a million dollars into a major remodeling and renovation project over the next half year. That includes changing the tiles, floor, sheetrock, bathrooms, plumbing and electrical systems, and bringing the space up to code.

Leon said they will expand the kitchen and create a separate side room, accommodating 40 to 50 people, for special functions. The main dining room and bar will seat about 150 to 160.

Though the décor will differ in some respects from other La Carreta locations, the menu will be roughly the same, Leon said.

The new owners signed a long-term lease. Leon said they want to take advantage of the forthcoming Woodmont Commons development and Londonderry’s general growth as a commercial and population center. And he hopes the restaurant will help attract other businesses, he said.

“There’s a need in Londonderry,” said Jerry Hersch, the listing agent with Tinkham Realty Inc. “There’s not really a lot of full-service restaurants in Londonderry at this point.”

The restaurant will likely employ about 15 to 20 people.

Andrew White of the Masiello Group, who worked with Hersch to secure the deal, said he had been looking at different locations with Leon for years — as far away as the Seacoast — without success, until the Whippersnappers location opened up.

“They do so much for communities,” White said, lauding the family-run culture. He noted that they close at 10 p.m. each night, even though they have a bar. “I think it’s a great fit.”

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