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The Common Man turns 40

Family of restaurants kicks off anniversary celebration with Food Bank donation

The Common Man family of restaurants kicked off its 40th anniversary celebration last week with a birthday bash at the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester that included a $40,000 donation to the facility. Pictured here are, from left to right, are Gov. John Lynch, Common Man CEO Jason Lyon, Common Man Vice President Diane Downing, founder and owner Alex Ray, and Colleen Cowette, Director of Development at the NH Food Bank. (Brendan Berube (click for larger version)
November 09, 2011
MANCHESTER — The edict at the Common Man family of restaurants has always been service above self, so it was only fitting that the company chose to kick off its 40th anniversary celebration last week with a gift to one of the state's most vital service agencies — the New Hampshire Food Bank.

During a birthday party at the Food Bank in Manchester last Thursday morning, before an audience that included Gov. John Lynch, Common Man CEO Jason Lyon presented the Food Bank's Director of Operations, Bruce Wilson, with a $40,000 "birthday gift" in support of the facility's efforts to assist the less fortunate throughout New Hampshire.

Speaking on behalf of the Food Bank's staff, the visibly moved Wilson said he was "truly, humbly" thankful for the donation.

"This is going to go a long way to helping us fill our shelves," he added.

Calling the 40th anniversary of the Common Man's founding an "amazing feat for a hospitality company," particularly in the current economic climate, Lyon said the birthday celebration had prompted him to look back on his own career at the Common Man, which began when his grandmother lobbied owner Alex Ray to give the then-14-year-old Lyon a job as a dishwasher at the company's flagship restaurant in Ashland.

After a brief hiatus, Lyon returned to the company at the age of 19, when he was promoted to a managerial position at the Ashland restaurant. Under the guidance of the company's Vice President, Diane Downing, he eventually rose through the ranks to become CEO, and as he welcomed Ray to the podium, he stressed how grateful he was for the confidence and experience he had gained during his time with the Common Man.

"What a huge collection of the strength of New Hampshire," Ray said as he looked out over the audience of employees, friends, and dignitaries who attended to last week's celebration.

Commenting on his love for New Hampshire, Ray revealed that he often receives phone calls alerting him of locations just over the border that would be perfect for a new restaurant, but invariably turns them down, fearing that to expand outside the state would "change the tonality" at the Common Man.

"I love it here I love New Hampshire. Period," he said. "It's not just the beauty of our geography — it's the people, it's the work ethic, it's the positivity, and it's just great. I want us to be New Hampshire's restaurant."

A prime example of "how great this state is," he said, occurred in the wake of Hurricane Irene, when state officials, the Department of Transportation, and the people of the North Country came together and "pulled through in a big way" to repair the damage caused by the storm in time to welcome the thousands of visitors who descended upon New Hampshire during the fall foliage season.

Thanking the more than 800 employees who work at Common Man locations throughout the state, Ray attributed the company's ability to out-survive so many of its competitors to their loyalty, dedication and work ethic.

"I'm very, very proud of our Common Man family," he said. "We have a very good tenure, and that's what makes it magic."

Presenting Ray and Downing with a commendation congratulating them on 40 years of success, Lynch said that to him, the Common Man represents "all that is good about businesses in New Hampshire," and praised the company's commitment to its customers and employees, and to the community.

Steve Boucher from the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development called the Common Man a "world-class company" that has become not only a part of the communities it serves, but also a family member and a friend.

"It's companies like the Common Man that consistently create new opportunities to add to the workforce, to initiate redevelopment, and to add to the social fabric that makes this state great," Boucher said. "The Common Man is New Hampshire."

Downing wrapped up the morning's events with an announcement of the special events and promotions taking place at Common Man restaurants in the coming weeks as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Throughout the month of November, each of the Common Man's locations will be partnering with a local organization designated as one of the company's "Top 20" charities for a special DO GOOD raffle. Tickets will be sold at $1 each, with all proceeds benefiting the local charity, and the winner will receive a Common Man gift card valued at $197.10 — a play on the year 1971, when the company was founded.

Each charity selected to participate in the DO GOOD raffle will also be eligible for a $400 Common Man gift card to use as it sees fit through a voting contest on the company's Facebook page (facebook.com/thecommonmannh). The non-profit receiving the highest number of votes by the end of November will be declared the winner.

In honor of its 40th anniversary, the company also invites customers to take part in a "Birthday Idol" video contest by recording their own rendition of "Happy Birthday" and uploading the video on the Common Man's Facebook page. The public will have a chance to vote for their favorite, and the finalists will be shown during a special birthday event at the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center in Plymouth on Dec. 2.

Several Common Man restaurants will be featuring special deals in the weeks ahead as the company looks back on the year of its founding, 1971. The Ashland location will feature a special "Throwback" menu, with signature dishes at 1971 prices. From Nov. 13-19, all Common Man-named restaurants will offer select three-course dinners for $19.71, and the Lago, Camp, Foster's, and Italian Farmhouse restaurants will offer the same promotion from Nov. 20-23. The company's three diners (including the Route 104 Diner in New Hampton) will be hosting a Family B-Day Bash on Nov. 18 from 5 to 8 p.m., featuring games, activities, and free meals for children. And from Nov. 27-30, the Lakehouse in Meredith will offer select dinners for two priced at $40.

For more information on the Common Man's anniversary events and promotions, visit the company Web site, www.theCman.com, or its Facebook page.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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