a portion of the sign at the construction site of the Northbound Welcome Center
in Hooksett, NH. If you look closely, you can see a rendering of the diner which
actually looks nothing like what they are building! In fact, it looks more like the
Route 104 Diner in New Hampton, NH! (see below)
Not long after I had signed the contract to write the soon-to-be-published book – New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries (approximately a year ago) I had seen a press release from the Granite State announcing the total redesign and construction of the new Hooksett Welcome Centers (north & southbound) located across from each other on Interstate 93 (formerly known as the Hooksett Rest Areas). Located just north of the one and only Toll booths on this road, the rest areas originally housed rest rooms and possibly vending machines along with the State Liquor Stores. The press release below spells out what the new Welcome Centers will feature which is worlds away from what had been previously there. The thing that caught my eye was the fact that there would be on-site built diners incorporated into the new development. These diners (both referred to as the Hi-Way Diner) would be operated by Alex Ray’s company, The Common Man family of restaurants! Check out the Official Press Release below…
For Immediate Release
October 24, 2013
CONCORD – Calling it an innovative public-private partnership, Governor Maggie Hassan helped kick off construction work today on a major upgrade of the Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93 that will provide New Hampshire residents and visitors a wide range of new and improved services, including multiple dining options, an interactive visitors center, a NH Liquor and Wine Outlet store, a country store, a bank, and fueling stations.
The Governor led the groundbreaking for the project that brings together the State of New Hampshire and The Common Man family of restaurants to provide new, high-quality facilities replacing the existing northbound and southbound Welcome Centers.
“The Hooksett Welcome Centers project is an innovative public-private partnership that will help boost our economy and support our tourism industry by providing a high-quality welcome for all visitors to the Granite State,” Governor Hassan said. “With the project estimated to create over 130 long-term jobs, the new Welcome Centers will help spur economic growth and offer a uniquely New Hampshire experience that showcases what makes our state special.”
Under a 35-year ground lease with the State of New Hampshire, The Common Man family of restaurants is funding the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of both service areas, with the exception of the NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores, which will be funded and operated by the NH Liquor Commission.
“This is a unique and innovative project involving all New Hampshire-based companies from the owner/operator, bank, architects, construction, and other partners,” said Alex Ray, owner and founder of The Common Man family of restaurants in New Hampshire. “As a long-time resident and business owner in New Hampshire, I’m really looking forward to a fresh statement for visitors and residents at these welcome centers and service areas,” Ray said.
The redevelopment project will construct new buildings on both sides of the highway that will feature mill-building architectural style and house all Common Man food options in a food court setting, including a 1950s style diner, an Italian Farmhouse restaurant, a deli, and a breakfast shop. A 24-hour convenience store, two new NH State Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, a bank branch, and an interactive and informative visitors center are also part of the redevelopment plan. Irving Oil fueling stations for passenger vehicles will be added at each location, and a test run of plug-in stations for electric vehicles will launch at the new facilities. When completed, the project will bring an estimated 137 new full-time jobs to the area.
“The Welcome Centers are often the first impression that visitors have of the state and this new facility will put our best foot forward. Providing modern and convenient facilities will help enhance our visitors’ experience”, said New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose. “With tourism being the second-largest industry in the state, this will ensure that visitors have a positive impression of New Hampshire.”
The new 20,000-square-foot NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores will more than double the size of the existing stores.
“These will be model Welcome Centers for New Hampshire,” said New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement. “It’s a great project for the Turnpike System, the DOT, the NH Liquor Commission, and the State. The new Welcome Centers will be a “must stop” for commuters, tourists, and liquor store patrons.”
“These two new high-profile NH Liquor and Wine Outlet mega stores will benefit traveling guests and residents alike,” said NH Liquor Commission (NHLC) Chairman Joseph Mollica. “Customers will experience the retail future of the NHLC thanks to numerous design improvements resulting in a more enjoyable shopping experience. Spirit selections will increase by 50 percent and wine offerings will increase 75 percent, introducing customers to the hottest new brands and more exclusively allocated items. All these factors lead us to project up to $6 million in sales increases between the two locations.”
In Fiscal Year 2013, sales at the I-93 NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores at the Hooksett Welcome Centers were approximately $34.5 million.
“This development will set a new standard for the traveling public and shows our commitment to expand our retail network in New England with high quality destinations for travelers,” says Paul Browning, President & CEO of Irving Oil. “Irving Oil has a long tradition of providing excellent customer service and high-quality products to motorists; working with our partners, we’re delighted we will soon have the opportunity to enhance our service to both the local community and drivers on Interstate 93.”
Both Hooksett Welcome Centers, as well as the NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores, will remain open throughout the construction project. The new Hooksett Welcome/Service Centers are scheduled to be completed in April 2015.
For construction updates, site plans and downloadable renderings and photos, please visit http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/operations/turnpikes/ort/hooksett15970.htm.
I had spoken with Alex Ray of The Common Man family of restaurants when doing some research for the NH Diner book. I mentioned about the diners he had already been operating… the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, the Route 104 Diner in New Hampton and the Airport Diner in Manchester. He was involved with the Tilt’n from the beginning when he bought and moved it in the late 1980s from its last operating location in Salisbury, Massachusetts. He had it in storage for a couple of years before finding a new operating location in Tilton. He basically set it up to be the front of the new, current restaurant. The Route 104 Diner had already been operating for a number of years as Bobby’s Girl Diner prior to his buying it, so the only change to that was a new parapet above the windows. Of the 3 diners, the Airport was the only one he had built from the ground up. It is attached to the Holiday Inn Express and certainly looks like a diner, inside and out. Ray told me he much preferred building from scratch instead of using an old classic diner as he did not have to deal with retrofitting an old building to conform to codes.
The last time I was up this way sometime in the Spring, both the Northbound and Southbound Welcome Centers were under construction but not far enough along to note where the diners would be located. But in recent weeks I had reports from Patty Desmond, a co-worker of mine as well as my sister Linda Artz who had noticed the facade of the diners taking shape. In fact Patty took a shot of the northbound location just over a week ago. I knew I would also be stopping by the locations to and from a family get-together in Laconia on Labor Day Weekend so I would also be taking some initial shots as well. Because of Patty’s photo I knew the site was surrounded by construction fences which would more than likely prohibit me from getting decent shots, and this was certainly the case as evidenced by the following photos.
The Southbound side is not quite as far along as the the Northbound side, although as you can see, the buildings are mirror images across the highway from each other. As mentioned above, the 2 diners do not resemble the artist’s rendering on the sign at both construction sites but are more reminiscent of the Airport Diner in Manchester, which seem more in line to what I would have thought! The next photo shows the Airport Diner in Manchester, where you can see the similarities.
The Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH is the other diner operated by The Common Man family of restaurants…
Ironically, my old friend Ron Dylewski stopped to photograph the Hi-Way Diner on the northbound side on his way to Meredith, NH the very same day I was there (this past Sunday) and sent a message as well as his own photo. Looks like he avoided getting the construction fence in the shot by putting his camera thru the small gap between sections. If I had used my smaller Nikon digital camera instead of the larger Pentax DSLR, I possibly could have got a shot like that as well!
By the amount of work left to be done on the project, I would not expect to see these open before the end of the year, but who knows… I could be surprised! And by the way, they are mentioned breifly in the new book in Chapter 4 – the On-Site/Homemade Diners section under the Airport Diner. Thanks to Ron Dylewski for sending along the the photo as well as the link about the announcement from last October, it saved me a little time!