By George Harvey
When he was a young man, Alex Ray had an unusual set of interests. They included his chosen profession, the hospitality business. They also included a love of old buildings of many kinds. In addition, he was interested in the environment, efficiency, and sustainability. Finally, we might also mention that he really loved New Hampshire.
That was about 1971. Now, all these years later, he has not given up any of those interests. In fact he has blended them. He has spent those years opening restaurants in many New Hampshire communities, each in a very special old building.
His interests are nothing if not democratic. The buildings he is works with are not the typical sort of quaint farmhouse that can be made into a high-priced bed and breakfast. Instead, he has focused on salvaging such things as abandoned mills. In some cases, when the building was right but the location was not, he went to the trouble of having old buildings moved.
Alex Ray now has sixteen restaurants and three inns. They are all in New Hampshire, and he has no interest in opening one anywhere else. Somewhat unsurprisingly given his interests, seven of his restaurants and two of his inns are called “The Common Man.”
We might focus on one enterprise in particular. It is The Common Man Inn in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Originally, the building was an abandoned wood mill. It had, in its heyday, manufactured tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, and paint stirrers. Photos of it show stacks of logs that would be reduced to small slivers of wood to be sold, used, and disposed of. The building itself had fallen into disrepair, but Ray and his team saw its potential.
The 60,000 square-foot mill was transformed into an inn with 37 overnight rooms, two event halls, a spa, and a salon. The mill’s old boiler room became a three-storey-tall restaurant and lounge named in honor of its original function, “Foster’s Boiler Room.”
The renewable energy features of the inn are impressive. As much as practically possible, natural resources are used for energy. On the roof, there is a 750-square-foot solar thermal system, which supplies much of the hot water for the spa, the restaurant, and the guest rooms.
Heat for the facility comes from a pellet boiler, with the pellets coming from New England resources to keep energy used in transportation down. The inn’s swimming pool in particular uses a lot of heat. Additional heat is required to heat some parts of the facility, particularly the maintenance ship. It comes from an oil burner, but the oil is bio-diesel, rather than fossil fuel. The biodiesel itself is recycled frying oil from the kitchen, and it is also used to power the inn’s delivery truck.
Both water and lighting systems are designed for efficiency. Water fixtures are low-flow to conserve. Lighting fixtures are fluorescent, but are being replaced with LEDs in many places.
Apart from energy use, sustainability is still an important feature of the inn’s operation. Paper products used at the inn for napkins, menus, and pizza boxes are from recycled fiber. Both staff and guests are encouraged to recycle whatever they can, including aluminum, plastic, and glass. Guests are given the option of reusing linens and towels so the laundering can be kept to a minimum.
The food served at the inn is sourced to local farmers wherever possible. This keeps transportation energy to a minimum, but it also helps to ensure freshness, which guests can appreciate.
Perhaps the newest sustainable feature of the inn is a plug-in station for electric vehicles where guests can recharge their EVs. This was installed last winter. It has a J1772 connector type and is available on a 24-hour basis.
The phone number of the Plymouth Common Man Inn is 603-536-2200. The website of The Common Man Inn, covering facilities in both Plymouth and Claremont, is at www.thecmaninn.com. A general website for the family of all Common Man inns, restaurants, and diners is at www.thecman.com.