PLYMOUTH — The team behind the Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93 have shrunk the concept of “a restaurant beside the road” to a “restaurant within a convenience store.”
The first recently opened here on Tenney Mountain Highway, with a groundbreaking imminent for a second location in Manchester.
The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli is the brainchild of Alex Ray, Rusty McLear and Brad Pernaw, the trio behind the design, construction and operation of the welcome centers that opened in 2015.
Using only private capital, the men transformed the welcome centers, which had been costing the state Department of Transportation $1 million annually to maintain, into a money-maker that currently pays the state $1.2 million a year in rent.
During a recent interview, Pernaw said the welcome centers offered many important learning experiences for him and his partners, among them that “there’s a need for a quality, home-made food product served fast,” which is how the idea for the Roadside Market & Deli was born.
Ray explained that because Plymouth is a business hub for many communities in the central and even northern parts of the state, it’s also a great location to demonstrate the Roadside Market & Deli product to the public and, based on the response, to tweak it accordingly.
“We’re here to get it right,” said Ray, and then take what works in Plymouth and then bring it to the Queen City. The Manchester location will be in front of the Barnes & Noble book store on South Willow Street, a site formerly home to a used-car sales center.
In turn, Ray said, the employees who have made the Hooksett welcome centers work so well recently trained their counterparts in Plymouth in advance of its soft opening on Oct. 24. A grand opening celebration is in the works, but plans have not yet been finalized.
Pernaw, 39, who grew up in Moultonborough, worked as a fry cook at the Common Man’s Town Docks restaurant in Meredith when he was 16. He said the Common Man Roadside Market & Deli epitomizes the New Hampshire vibe — warm and inviting, with a hint of the quirky and colorful — for which the Common Man restaurants are known.
While brand new and built in six months for $4 million, the 5,300 square-foot Common Man Roadside Market & Deli in Plymouth is framed within what had been a 19th century barn in Brentwood.
The barn’s roof was reclaimed, as were many of the timbers, and then incorporated into the market and deli, which also boasts a “living room,” complete with sofa, easy chairs, a gas fireplace and a large-screen TV over the mantel. Last Sunday, Pernaw said, the living room was filled for long stretches by fans of the New England Patriots, who decided it was a good place to watch the Pats take on the Cleveland Browns.
Pernaw said that same kind of hanging-out behavior has been observed before at the Hooksett welcome centers, which welcomed 4.2 million guests last year, some of whom lingered for half an hour or longer.
Ray stressed that the welcome centers and market and deli are as New Hampshire as possible and that all benefits from them stays here.
In addition to employees, the people who built the facilities are from New Hampshire, as are “even our lawyers and bank,” Ray said.
He credited a good relationship with Irving Oil — whose fuel is dispensed at the welcome centers — to being another reason why he, Pernaw and McLear decided to open up the store in Plymouth.
The Common Man Roadside Market & Deli, which is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, has six fuel bays, a store featuring a variety of national and Common Man-branded products, and a full-service kitchen that offers made-to-order food quickly.
The high-temperature convection oven in the kitchen, for example, will cook a fresh-dough pizza in about 2½ minutes.
“In Hooksett, we have the goal of being a restaurant beside the roadside,” Pernaw said, “and here in Plymouth we want to have a restaurant within a convenience store.”