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Owner of Red Arrow diner hopes to capture restaurant history on video

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

April 15. 2018 9:56PM

Carol Lawrence-Erickson, owner of Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, visits with Ray Lamontagne, the son of the original owners. (Shawne K. Wickham/Union Leader)



The Red Arrow Diner sign, itself a city landmark, directs customers to the longtime Manchester favorite. (UNION LEADER FILE)

When Carol Lawrence-Erickson bought the Red Arrow diner on Lowell Street 31 years ago, she knew she was buying a piece of Manchester history.

Now she’s doing her best to capture the stories of those who were there at the start of the famous eatery.

Lawrence-Erickson has commissioned a “legacy” video, recording the memories of folks such as Ray Lamontagne, the son of the diner’s original owners, Dave and Mabel Lamontagne. “I’m just trying to grab as many stories as I can,” she said.

Lamontagne, 83, who lives in Connecticut, visited the diner last Wednesday, taking the opportunity to look over the old photographs that adorn the walls.

Lamontagne started working at his parents’ original Elm Street restaurant as a young lad. “I peeled potatoes in the basement,” he said. “When I got tall enough to be on the counter, I was a counter man.”

Back then, the Elm Street location housed the kitchen, delivering hot food to three other locations, he said. Once he got his driver’s license, that became young Ray’s job.

Carol Lawrence-Erickson, owner of Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, looks over some of the old photos on display at the popular eatery with Ray Lamontagne, the son of the original owners. (Shawne K. Wickham/Union Leader)

Lamontagne grew up to become a successful business entrepreneur and philanthropist. He’s proud of his longtime partnership with actor Paul Newman. “He was a close personal friend for 30 years,” he said. 

When Newman shared his idea to create the “Hole in the Wall Gang” summer camp for seriously ill children, Lamontagne agreed to chair the board — he still does. The two traveled the country and later the world to establish a network of free summer camps and raise money for them.

“I think he was one of the greatest Americans that ever lived,” Lamontagne said of Newman. “The amount of good his charities did was just extraordinary.”

Around the time Newman was creating his first camp, 23-year-old Carol Lawrence was becoming a restaurant owner. Her parents had owned the Belmont Hall so she “grew up in the restaurant business,” she said.

After a family friend urged her to buy the closed Red Arrow diner, her dad, George Lawrence, helped finance the business. Now they are partners in four Red Arrow diners: in Milford, Londonderry, Concord and Manchester.

Over the years, the Red Arrow became a requisite stop for political candidates. So who was Lamontagne’s favorite politician he met at the diner?

“I met them all,” he laughed.

Carol Lawrence-Erickson, owner of Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, looks over some of the old photos on display at the popular eatery with Ray Lamontagne, the son of the original owners. (Shawne K. Wickham/Union Leader)

But he said, “The most fascinating person I ever met was Eleanor Roosevelt.”

She served as “the conscience” of the President, Lamontagne said. “I don’t think there ever was or will be a First Lady as effective as her.”

In addition to recording Lamontagne’s memories of his family’s diner last week, the video crew also visited Moe Couturier, a longtime diner patron and art teacher who designed the grinning figure on the Red Arrow’s mugs.

“He started doodling on a napkin,” Lawrence-Erickson recalled. “It became the icon of the diner over the years.”

These are the kind of stories she wants to capture and preserve on video. Her only regret, she said, is that she didn’t think of it years ago.

Lamontagne said he thinks the idea of the video is “wonderful,” and he had high praise for the Red Arrow’s current owner. “She’s continued all the wonderful traditions,” he said. “It’s great that this place is still alive. I’m cheering her on.”

The video eventually will be available online, Lawrence-Erickson said. Who is the target audience?

“Everybody and anybody,” she said.

swickham@unionleader.com


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