New Diners taking shape at Hookset, NH Welcome Centers – I-93, North & South

Service-area_Hi-Way-Diner-sign1a
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)

Route-104-Diner-2
The Route 104 Diner in New Hampton is also operated by The Common Man
family of restaurants. The rendering above of the Hooksett Welcome Center looks
like this diner.

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

Construction Begins on Redeveloping Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93
Groundbreaking Kicks Off Innovative Public-Private Project With The Common Man Restaurants

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.

Hi-Way-Diner-Northbound-1
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Northbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Northbound-2a
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Northbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Southbound-1
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Southbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Southbound-2
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Southbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

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.

Airport-Diner-2
The Airport Diner at the Holiday Inn Express at 2280 Brown Avenue in Manchester.
April 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH is the other diner operated by The Common Man family of restaurants…

Tilt'n-Diner-5
The Tilt’n Diner is a 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony Diner that previously operated
in Waltham, Mass. (1950-1970) and Salisbury, Mass. (1970-1986).

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!

hooksstt_faux_diner
Ron Dylewski’s photo from this past Sunday of the Hi-Way Diner in Hooksett, NH

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!

Notes from the Hotline, 2-9-2010

Worcester Lunch Car #850 now known as Route 104 Diner

Last year the diner located on Route 104 in New Hampton, NH was auctioned after being closed for a short time. The last diner completed by the legendary Worcester Lunch Car Company (WLC #850), had been operating as Bobby’s Girl Diner since it was placed at this site in 1994, was bought at the auction by Alex Ray and is now trading as the Route 104 Diner. 

Reopened October 8, 2009  after some cleaning and updating, the Route 104 Diner is actually being run as a venture between Plain Jane’s Diner of Rumney, NH and Alex Ray’s Common Man family of restaurants based in the Granite State. Besides Plain Jane’s Diner, The Route 104 Diner joins 2 others within this group, The Tilt’n Diner of Tilton, NH and The Airport Diner of Manchester, NH.

I have photos of this diner dating back to the early 1980’s covering almost its entire history. When this diner left the Worcester Lunch car factory in May of 1957, it was delivered to 2760 Hartford Avenue (U.S. Rte. 6) in Johnston, RI and the owner was Lloyd Hopkins (of No. Scituate, RI). It operated as Lloyd’s Diner until it closed in 1988.


Lloyd’s Diner of Johnston, RI circa 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera


Lloyd’s Diner ready to leave Johnston, RI, circa 1988 photo
by Larry Cultrera

It then was moved to South Weymouth, Mass. to become part of Sh-Boom’s Dance Club. After a brief time, Sh-Booms closed and it morphed into a different night club and the diner was sort of disguised.


WLC #850 as the front of Sh-Booms Dance Club, Aug. 1989 photo
by Larry Cultrera

This did not last long either and the diner was again moved, this time into storage at O.B Hill’s yard in Natick, Mass. where it awaited possible sale to the Fat Boy’s Diner chain in England. 


WLC #850 in storage at O.B. Hill’s yard, June, 1991 photo
by Larry Cultrera

The deal with Fat Boy’s Diners did not pan out and the diner was actually sold to Alexis Stewart, daughter of Martha Stewart. Ms. Stewart had the diner transported to Bridgehampton, NY on Long Island where she hoped to get approval to set it up as The Delish Diner. Her plans ran into a roadblock when the town fathers basically dragged their feet and eventually nixed the concept. It did not fit into their town apparently. The diner ended up sitting in a field for 2 years.


WLC #850 sitting in Bridgehampton, NY, June 1992 photo
by Larry Cultrera

In 1994 Bob and Gloria Merrill decided to get back into the diner business. Circa 1990, the Merrill’s had successfully moved, set-up and operated the former Bell’s Pond Diner, (long closed in upstate New York) as Glory Jean’s Diner in Rumney, NH (now Plain Jane’s Diner). They sold that diner after a couple of years to operate a different business but within a year or so decided they missed running the diner and started looking for another one.

They finally settled on WLC #850 and purchased it from Alexis Stewart. The diner was moved ironically within walking distance of my wife Denise’s sister and brother-in-law’s home in New Hampton, NH where I photographed it right after it got on site……..


WLC #850, soon to be Bobby’s Girl Diner, circa 1994 photo
by Larry Cultrera

Not long after the diner got on it’s new foundation I stopped in to talk with the Merrills whom I had met a few years before. The attached buildings were being built and they were there with a contractor. They pointed out that the diner was missing 2 stools over on the left end of the counter. I told them when I saw it on Long Island 2 years before, it still had them. Someone had broken into the diner and ripped them right out of the floor!

They asked me if I knew where they could get 2 stools like that. They said that someone had told them that the stools in the diner were not original factory installed stools, and I would almost agree. They were not the typical stools that Worcester used. Ironically I told them that the person who told them that these were not factory installed was basically wrong. They wanted me to explain how I knew and I told them I had 2 just like them that had been removed from WLC #849, the former Georgetown Diner (now operating as Fat Boy’s Diner in London, England). They were being stored at my mother’s home in Medford, Mass. and I immediately told them I was willing to sell them for short money as I had no plans for them. Needless to say they were ecstatic! They were able to complete the diner and open it.


Bobby’s Girl Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

The Merrills again operated this diner for quite a few years before selling it to new owners who ran it until recently. The diner was closed for a short time before the auction last year.

After learning of the new ownership, I had been planning on checking it out to see what changed. Denise and I went up to her sister’s home in Laconia for a couple of days (this past weekend) and we finally got over to The Route 104 Diner for breakfast on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was that the awnings were removed and they did something else that surprised me, they extended the parapet above the windows! Normally this is something I hate to see but this modification was done very sympathetically.


The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera


The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera


The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera

We had a decent breakfast with wonderful service from our waitress, Althea! I went back to the diner mid-morning to shoot these photos and met the General Manager, Mark D. Grotheer. The diner was packed at that point (as the amount of cars in the parking lot can attest). You can check the Route 104 Diner out on the web as well as the other diners and restaurants in The Common Man chain at the website http://www.thecman.com/restaurants/,
I highly recommend this place!

The Airport Diner, another part of the Common Man family

To continue on this theme, I also got a chance to stop by The Airport Diner in Manchester, NH. This as I stated above, is also part of The Common Man chain. Opened since 2005, it is not a factory-built diner like The Route 104 Diner or The Tilt’n Diner. This is built on-site as part of the Holiday Inn on Brown Avenue just off exit 2 of I-293 near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Unfortunately they were completely packed at noontime on Sunday when we stopped there on the way home. There was a line of customers waiting to get in. So I will have to check it out some other time but at least I got some decent photos!


The Airport Diner, Manchester, NH, Feb. 7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera


The Airport Diner, Manchester, NH, Feb. 7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera

Paugus Diner of Laconia, NH now operating as
The Union Diner

We also got to check out the Union Diner on Union Avenue in Laconia. It had changed hands last year after being operated as the Paugus Diner since arriving from it’s first location in Concord, NH many years ago. This is Worcester Lunch Car # 831 and was originally named the Manus Diner. I had heard from Bob Higgins recently about his recent visit to this diner and as I recall, he was not impressed. I have to say that I did not have any problems with the food or the service but of course, we usually get to these places first thing in the morning and as was the case here, we were the first customers of the day.

The diner still seems to be in great shape and is 95% original. I stopped by a couple of hours later to shoot some photos and the place was mobbed!


Union Diner, Union Ave., Laconia, NH, Feb.7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera