EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2014

Common Man reopens after fire last month

Locals loyal to New Hampshire restaurant family

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — A month after an electrical fire caused thousands of dollars in damage at The Common Man, the popular restaurant has reopened.

The fire Dec. 28 was the third at the eatery since June, prompting a lot of calls to Town Hall from people worried it would be closed forever, according to town community development director Laura Scott.

The other two fires, in June and July, were minor and The Common Man reopened shortly after.

“There was such a loud outpouring of concern from the residents,” Scott said. “It is a staple in town.”

When the Range Road restaurant reopened for dinner Jan. 22, there were plenty of pleased customers in the house, owner and CEO Alex Ray said.

The restaurant, located in a restored 17th-century barn on Range Road since 1996, is one of 18 in the Common Man chain located throughout the state. The Common Man restaurant chain is one of “603 Reasons” readers say New Hampshire is special.

Perhaps one of its biggest fans in Windham is Scott, who said the restaurant has been an economic boon for the community. The Common Man has developed a reputation locally for its food, atmosphere and charitable contributions, she said.

“It’s a nice, warm atmosphere, where you can get a good, warm meal and chat with people,” she said.

The restaurant draws crowds of customers from town, surrounding communities and across the state border, Scott said. It’s known for its casual dining and pub fare, offering everything from macaroni-and-cheese to prime rib.

“The Common Man is the ‘Cheers’ of Windham,” Scott said, referring to the 1980s television show. “You go there and everybody knows your name. My favorite is the homemade potato chips.”

The restaurant announced its reopening on its website and Facebook page Jan. 23

“We’re back and we can’t wait to see you,” the website said. “Get in here!”

There were some enthusiastic responses from customers, including Nancy Kanellas.

“So happy you are open again!” she said on Facebook. “I missed you!”

Like many of his customers, Ray said he was worried when he learned of the fire, which broke out about 1 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon — hours before the dinner crowd would arrive. He was relieved no one was hurt.

“I was pretty concerned when I heard it was a fire,” he said. “You just can’t make an old barn.”

Ray said preserving the old barn and converting into a successful restaurant was a source of pride for him. The building received a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2008.

“I felt really good about saving an old barn,” he said.

But Ray and his customers weren’t the only ones concerned about the fire, so were fire officials.

After three fires and at least three alarm activations in the last year, officials from the state fire marshal’s office came to investigate, according to Windham Deputy fire Chief William Martineau.

The latest fire was linked to a problem with a ceiling fan in a second-story restroom, Martineau said. The fire June 18 was attributed to a malfunctioning electrical strip and the one July 26 was caused by a ballast in a fluorescent light.

But after repairs were made, state fire officials determined the building and its electrical system did not pose a serious hazard, Martineau said.

Ray attributes the success of his restaurant chain, founded in 1971, to a dedicated staff of more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees, including approximately 50 in Windham.

“I’m very proud of our team,” he said.

“The Common Man family,” as it’s called, also includes two inns, a spa and salon, a store, and The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center. There are also Common Man restaurants in Lincoln, Ashland, Concord, Claremont, Merrimack and Portsmouth.

Soon, there will be a Common Man eatery in Hooksett, where Ray has embarked on a $30 million project in partnership with the state.

Work has begun to redevelop the welcome centers on both sides of Interstate 93, providing fuel, restrooms, convenience stores, bank branches, liquor stores and a food court with numerous dining options. It’s expected to create about 150 full-time jobs.

The Common Man chain is funding the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the two service areas, scheduled to open in spring 2015.

“I’m very excited about it,” Ray said.