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, 9-14-2013

A Brand-new book on New Hampshire Diners in the works

Littleton-Diner-5a
Littleton Diner – Littleton, NH, July 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have been fairly inactive for over a month, as far as posting anything new here. No excuses, just a little end of the summer laziness on my part. But not to worry….. I have been getting out on the road recently, mostly starting at the end of July right thru to Labor day Weekend, with a few trips to the Granite State (New Hampshire for those non-local readers).  The reason for this is that I was contacted by Katie Orlando, a Commissioning Editor for my publisher, The History Press. She inquired if I was interested in writing another book for them, this time on Diners of New Hampshire. I told her that I would need to think about it as well as talk it over with my wife Denise.

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Plain Jane’s Diner – Rumney, NH, July 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

After some consideration, I got back to Katie and told her I thought that this book was a possibility and she sent the “Authors Proposal” for me to fill out. I took my time filling it out as I needed to think about how this book would work, as opposed to my first one, Classic Diners of Massachusetts. I realized fairly quickly that the new book could not be set-up like the first. You see, Massachusetts has clearly defined regions with many diners. This approach would not be workable with New Hampshire’s geography and diner count.

Route-104-Diner-2
Route 104 Diner – New Hampton, NH, August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

After coming to this conclusion, I started putting the proposal together which included a rough outline for the book. It was easier this time around because I did not have to include any writing samples. I just told them to refer to the first book!  I finally sent this proposal to Katie, within the last couple of weeks.  As of this Wednesday The History Press gave the project a green light.

Tilt'n-Diner-3a
Tilt’n Diner – Tilton, NH, August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the meantime, in anticipation of the project I started taking some updated photos of New Hampshire diners. Some of my photos of them go back 30 years. I figured that I would get a jump while the good weather was here and try to hit some of the far-flung diners and meet the current owners, gathering new photos and info. My deadline is fairly long this time around (on purpose), that is part of the reason I took my time in getting the proposal in. So any photos I do not get in the next couple of months, I can surely make up for in the spring and early summer of 2014. So, here we go again!

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Mt. Pisgah Diner – Winchester, NH, August 31, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

By the way, on a side note, the new book will not be titled “Classic Diners of New Hampshire” as I had hoped. I did want to continue the theme but Katie informed me that a guy named Bruce D. Heald, an historian and author of many books about New Hampshire is slated to bring a book with that title out in the spring (for Fonthill Media). I respect Mr. Heald’s credentials and would be interested to see what he comes up with but, he is not a known diner aficionado and to my knowledge, has not contacted anybody who could be described as an expert in this field of interest as of yet.

Hillsborough-2a_8-31-2013
Hillsborough Diner – Hillsborough, NH, August 31, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have not decided on a title yet but will be working on this in the near future.

The History Press to release 2 new “Diner” books this Fall

Speaking of “Diner” books, I am happy to report that my publisher is about to release 2 new titles this fall…. the second and third after my Massachusetts book. Toward the end of September, Michael Gabriele’s The History of Diners in New Jersey will be available. I believe I will be mentioned in this book as well as some photos of mine might actually show up in the book. I am anxious to see what he has put together.

History-of-Diners-in-NJ-cover

Following the NJ book, sometime in October, Garrison Leykam’s “Classic Diners of Connecticut” book will be out. I was surprised to see my name (along with Christopher Dobbs) on the cover. We both contributed Forewords to this book.

Classic-Diners-of-CT-cover

Iron Town Diner opens within walking distance of my house

I have been waiting all summer for the opening of a new diner located right around the corner from where I live. Toward the end of May, a sign went up on a vacant storefront in the Village Park Shopping Center that is situated on Main Street at the corner of the Lynn Fells Parkway in Saugus, Mass. This storefront had been occupied for years by J.Pace’s, an Italian Deli/specialty store. Pace’s moved down the street about a quarter mile to a new building that they built, leaving the storefront vacant for almost 2 years. The landlord has subdivided the location and Iron Town diner is in not quite half of Pace’s spot.

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Iron Town Diner sign – Saugus, Mass., May 19, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

The owner of the Iron Town Diner is George Varelas and I actually stopped by back in August and spoke with Athena, George’s mother. She was gracious and gave me a little tour of the as yet unfinished diner. I was impressed with what they had done to essentially a blank canvas. The interior was well laid out with a small “L” shaped counter on the left side along with tables and chairs as well as booths. She mentioned the diner would hold upwards of 90 patrons, a pretty decent size! Athena said they were looking at an early September opening.

I met George last Sunday morning and he told me they were opening the next day (Sept. 9th). I told him we would stop by on bright and early on Saturday ! True to my word, Denise and I stopped in this morning and before we actually step a foot within the diner, I saw a familiar face….. Saadia Zraizaa was a waitress there! We became friendly with Saadia last year when she and her husband had been running the Medford Square Diner in my hometown of Medford. We had found out that Saadia had worked for 10 years at the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown. I had heard thru the grapevine that she had sold the business in Medford a few months ago and was not surprised to see her here, as she lives in nearby Revere. She is very pleasant and during our conversation this morning, I realized that I had actually met her years ago when she worked for Judy’s Diner in Malden for 7 years in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.

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Iron Town Diner –  Saugus, Mass., September 14, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Anyway we had a very good breakfast at Iron Town Diner (named for the Historic Saugus Iron Works, a National Historic Site). The portions are pretty good sized and prices reasonable and the service is pleasant. I understand they have been doing a pretty decent business since they opened their doors! I know one thing, I could easily become a regular customer here for sure!