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Grand Opening: The Past and Future Find Common Ground

Old and new collide in Common Man Roadside Market & Deli's newest store
Photographs by Jill Kyle

MANCHESTER, N.H. — To enter the Common Man Roadside Market & Deli in Manchester, N.H., is to experience a confluence of old and new.

The store, which opened in July, greets customers with future-forward elements that mingle with iconic touchstones that pay homage to New Hampshire’s rich history.

Together, old and new team up to produce a dynamic, cutting-edge convenience-store prototype that’s a scaled-down version of the New Hampshire state welcome center operated by the same management company. In essence, the parent company, Common Man Family of Restaurants, borrowed from one success story to create another.

Influence and Inspiration

The Manchester location has another inspiration: Alex Ray, a New Hampshire legend who has had a passion for saving old buildings and an investor in The Common Man Family of Restaurants. Among Ray’s renovation and revitalization projects are The Common Man Inn & Spa in Plymouth, N.H., a former wood mill converted into an inn, restaurant, spa and event center.

The 3,500-square-foot Common Man Roadside Market & Deli builds on Ray’s influence. The location, in a more urban area of Manchester, boasts daily traffic counts of nearly 30,000 cars per day, more than sufficient to thrive financially amid local competition across a 3-mile radius, which consists of no supermarkets and a few convenience or fuel retailers.

Related: Click here for a slideshow look inside Common Man Roadside Market & Deli.

But it’s the melding of historic touchstones and modern amenities that help draw that traffic from the street and inside the store. Brad Pernaw, managing partner for Common Man Roadside, says the company “goes to great lengths to make the c-store look 100 years old while still incorporating future design elements.” Common Man owns and operates two c-stores and manages two welcome centers. The first c-store designed around this strategy opened in Plymouth, N.H., in 2019, but the new prototype in Manchester pushed the envelope dramatically further.

Designed in collaboration with Samyn-D’Elia Architects, Holderness, N.H., the steel-frame building consists of refurbished, reclaimed barn materials, a granite exterior facade, corrugated metal roofing and a working water wheel.

The team worked to implement precise elements around store layout and flow to project an “un-convenience-like” appearance, says Pernaw. “It’s a very authentic look. We’ve been known for having a very rustic New Hampshire style; it’s like walking into New Hampshire.”

Welcome Sight

Common Man Roadside Market & Deli was inspired by the state welcome centers also owned and operated by the restaurant group. The welcome center is designed to make visitors recognize the state’s history but still feel at home, and this new c-store seeks to emulate that mission.

“We took what we do well in Hooksett, N.H., (home of a 20,000-square-foot welcome center), pared down the space for the c-store and repeated it,” says Pernaw. “We received positive feedback from the moment we announced we were building it. Common Man has such an iconic place in state lore. People wanted to know when we’d open. They were clamoring for it,” says Pernaw.

During the design process with Samyn-D’Elia, the team knew it would integrate many new and contemporary elements. To counter that, “We asked ourselves: ‘How can we make the store look older than it is?’ ” says Pernaw.

Instead of painted drywall, the barn board-clad walls are reclaimed from real barns, some dating back 80 years. “Our facilities and maintenance division sources these components, and we apply them with modern finishes. Ultimately, we bring that New Hampshire rustic look to life while capturing a look and feel of a brand-new building,” he says. “As you look around the store, you find interesting details. It’s not a traditional c-store space. It’s just different in every area you enter.”

To blend durability with aesthetics, the inside flooring consists of vinyl tile with an epoxy base. “It’s durable and actually resembles wood, but wood gets beat up and adds to labor,” says Pernaw. Meantime, the curved barrel ceiling is embossed with a skyline painting of clouds and blue sky that offers an illusion of the outdoors.

Made-to-Order Food

A three-register checkout counter stands between two main entryways. The main floor of the store is a collection of kiosks rather than rows of shelves. And across the rear of the store is Common Man’s foodservice area with an open kitchen and a varied made-to-order menu. “We wanted the kitchen to be prominent and a focal point,” Pernaw says. The decision to go with made-to-order foodservice fare was made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, that decision has proven a godsend with self-service food programs being downscaled across the industry.

“We decided a while ago not to offer roller grills,” says Pernaw. More recently, the company launched online ordering through the Common Man app. Next on the development schedule: drive-thrus.

Foodservice at Common Man promises “real food, real fast.” The kitchen boasts six large digital TV menu boards. All food is proprietary and carried out in conjunction with the company’s restaurant affiliate that’s been a staple in New Hampshire for 50 years.

The welcome center has three foodservice models: sit-down restaurant, food court and bakery-cafe. When mulling the options for what would best work for the Manchester c-store, Pernaw says, “We took the food court at the welcome center and condensed it to fit the c-store footprint. The food court [at the welcome center] has an average ticket time of under five minutes. We wanted to replicate that turnaround time at the c-store, and have.”

Guests can opt for made-to-order deli sandwiches, wood-fired pizza made from scratch in under two minutes and bacon blue burgers with applewood-smoked bacon topped with onion rings, among other dishes. A variety of homemade baked goods—cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, Mississippi mud pie and more—tops off the offer.

Beyond food, the Common Man c-store includes 13 cooler doors, a beer cave complete with local craft beers, ciders and seltzers, and a Pepsi-branded eight-head soda fountain. Hot-dispensed coffee is available both from the full-serve café and a self-serve coffee bar that brews the company’s Common Man Joe drip blend.

Exterior Touches

Outside, Common Man Roadside Market & Deli includes a patio area where customers from the nearby Mall of New Hampshire and an auto dealership can spend some down time.

Solar panels line the top of the store’s Irving-branded fuel canopy. And electric vehicle-charging docks are installed on the forecourt, although the company awaits state financing to fund EV pumps.

As Common Man gets more c-sore experience under its belt each day, it looks forward to additional growth in the near future.

“We’re looking to grow our model and our brand, and we have a few potential deals on the table that need to be finalized. I think that by 2022, you can look for a second Common Man Roadside Market & Deli to be built,” Pernaw says.


Common Man Roadside Market & Deli

Size: 3,500 square feet

Address: 1805 South Willow St., Manchester, N.H.

Fueling Spots: 12

Opened: July 2020

Notable Details:

  • Reclaimed and natural finishes
  • Historic references
  • Common Man branding
  • Homemade baked goods

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