Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man family of restaurants, was presented The Granite State Award at the 2010 Plymouth State University Graduate Commencement May 15.
|Alex Ray received the Granite State Award at Plymouth State University’s 2010 Graduate Commencement ceremony|
The Granite State Award recognizes leaders whose achievements in their own particular spheres have been outstanding contributions to New Hampshire.
Ray moved to North Conway at the age of 14, where he attended Kennett High School and worked as a cook at The Eatery at Cranmore Mountain Ski Area.
He went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America, after which he opened his first restaurant, the Pineshore, a little summer restaurant on Squam Lake in Holderness. The first Common Man Restaurant opened in Ashland in November of 1971, and since then he has built a thriving hospitality business throughout New Hampshire, including 17 restaurants, two inns, a spa, a company store, and recently, a movie house in Plymouth.
The original Common Man could serve only 35 people in its cozy front dining room. There wasn’t a waiting area or a lounge, so patrons would line up outside, even in winter, and wait for an open table. Alex says that he used to run out of the kitchen and peek around the building to see how long the line was. Alex and Jack McCormack (now a successful local lawyer) were the cooks, among other jobs. They would be up on ladders painting the building before climbing down to cook lunch.
The latest enterprise is a bit different from the restaurants. The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performing Arts Center is on South Main Street in Plymouth.
The Flying Monkey is named in honor of Ray’s portrayal of a flying monkey in “The Wizard of Oz,” performed at Plymouth State University in January of 2009 by the Educational Theatre Collaborative (ETC). ETC performs multigenerational theatre productions annually and Ray is a familiar face among the casts, playing roles from a railroad conductor in “Pollyanna” to a Who in “Seussical the Musical” to an ensemble member in multiple shows.
Throughout ETC’s 16 years he has provided support in a variety of ways, by helping with advertising, hosting receptions, feeding the cast a special meal or supporting special events.
He has also been a generous supporter of PSU’s TIGER (Theatre Integrating Guidance, Education and Responsibility) educational theater troupe. A recent leadership gift to TIGER will establish a fund to support operations, including travel and other expenses for current programming, and to develop new educational and outreach initiatives in public schools.
TIGER productions use children’s own words to create topical productions and workshops that help students solve social problems. The ensemble now has six shows in its repertoire, which have been performed for more than 200,000 students throughout New England.
Professor Trish Lindberg, the originator of both ETC and TIGER, says Ray has been an inspiration to her for years. She says, “Alex’s vision and creativity is astounding. He can see what others cannot and goes about making dreams reality on a daily basis. He has been an amazing advocate for the arts and his support has made all the difference in many of our productions. Alex is an idea person, whether it is in transforming an old vaudeville house into a theatre or coming up with a way to have steam come out of Mrs. Potts’ spout in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ He is a genius.”
“Alex’s dedication to ETC and TIGER is just one example of his philanthropic philosophy of supporting projects near and far” says PSU President Sara Jayne Steen. We are happy to recognize and celebrate his generosity through this very special award.”
Alex is known for his tireless philanthropy in communities across the state and nationally. Whether in Washington D.C. to showcase New Hampshire businesses or in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, Ray can set up a kitchen just about anywhere. During his two-week stay in areas affected by Katrina he directed kitchen operations that fed more than 2,500 victims and made soup, coffee and other food for volunteers. Meanwhile back in New Hampshire, Common Man restaurants hosted fundraisers at all their sites, raising more than $108,000 for hurricane relief.
This month the Common Man Family of Restaurants was named Business of the Decade for the hospitality and tourism sector by “Business New Hampshire” magazine.
In 2009, Ray received Plymouth State University’s Award for Excellence in Business Leadership and Citizenship and was inducted as an honorary member of Delta Mu Delta honor society.
Also in 2009 the business received a national humanitarian award by joining local business partners in donating more than $45,000 to five Granite State charities: The New Hampshire Food Bank of Manchester, Webster Place Center of Franklin, American Cancer Society in New Hampshire and its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign, Easter Seals of New Hampshire Veterans Count Fund and the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. At an event celebrating that award Governor John Lynch commented, “Alex understands he has a responsibility to the community, and I don’t know anyone in New Hampshire who takes that more seriously than Alex.”
For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or firstname.lastname@example.org