Red Arrow Diner Applauds Cafe La Reine on Expansion

Red Arrow Diner is extremely proud of the team at Cafe La Reine for expanding to a second location in Manchester, NH. The owner of Cafe La Reine, Alex Horton, credits Carol Lawrence, Owner & President of Red Arrow Diner, with helping grow her business.

In a recent New Hampshire Union Leader article by Jonathan Phelps, it says “She also leaned on some other women business owners, such as Carol Lawrence, owner and president of the Red Arrow Diner.” Read the full article about Cafe La Reine’s upcoming expansion to the former location of Blake’s Restaurant & Ice Cream below.

Cafe la Reine to expand with second Manchester cafe at former Blake’s spot

While painters pulled down decades-old floral wallpaper in the former Blake’s Restaurant & Ice Cream in Manchester’s North End last week, Alexandra Horton dreamed of what the space will look like as her second cafe.

The owner of Cafe la Reine on Elm Street plans to keep the retro, bluish-green bar stools and booths while adding plant-based decor and stylish lighting in reinventing the space, which families came to for comfort food and ice cream for nearly 40 years.

“When they closed, it was really sad,” Horton said. “I brought my friends here for ice cream. I walked my dogs here to get ice cream, and we’ve been here for breakfast countless times.”

Blake’s, which closed the Hooksett Road restaurant in January 2021, remains open at its flagship location on the West Side.

Horton opened Cafe la Reine downtown in 2013, and has been planning the second location for months — to be named Cafe la Reine-North End — alongside general manager Dominique Gibson. The 1,000-square-foot downtown shop will continue to operate.

The new 3,500-square-foot space with 140 seats will allow the cafe to expand its offerings to include brunch, lunch and a full bar. The same coffee menu — featuring cappuccinos, espresso and lattes — will be offered at both locations. The cafe partners with Hometown Coffee Roasters in Manchester for many of the blends and cold brews.

The expanded menu will likely include breakfast staples like waffles, French toast, eggs and bacon, while lunch will include burgers and sandwiches, appetizers, wings and fries. The takeout window on the side of the building will offer a more limited menu.

Horton and Gibson brought on two new managers to oversee the Elm Street shop. The new location is expected to open in August.

Filling a need

Living in the North End, Horton knows the need for a cafe off Hooksett Road. The 3,500-square-foot space at Livingston Park Plaza seemed perfect.

“We are looking to expand Cafe la Reine and also looking to bring something back to this neighborhood, which has been lacking for so long,” she said.

Horton signed a lease two weeks ago after working with Primary Bank to obtain a Small Business Administration-backed loan. She worked with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center’s SCORE program in opening the 915 Elm St. location after graduating from Saint Anselm College with a business degree.

She also leaned on some other women business owners, such as Carol Lawrence, owner and president of the Red Arrow Diner.

Gibson said Cafe la Reine has become known for its allergy-friendly environment, including vegan, gluten-free and nut-fee options.

Gibson and Horton have worked together for five years, with Gibson having approached Horton for a job with no cafe experience.

“It was my first food service job, so I was nervous because a lot of places you need to walk in with experience,” Gibson said. “But Alex said, “I like that you don’t have experience because I can mold you.’ And that’s exactly what she did. We’ve been side-by-side since. She took a huge chance on me.”

She started as a barista before being promoted to a manager about a year in.

“It was my first food service job, so I was nervous because a lot of places you

Gibson is happy to have an office to get the behind-the-scenes work done. At the other shop, the work, which typically gets done at a table or the end of the service counter, gets interrupted by the hustle and bustle of the shop.

Overcoming COVID

During the height of the pandemic, Horton completely changed the way the business operated by opening a takeout window on Elm Street after being closed for several months. A Paycheck Protection Program loan allowed her to bring back three of her 10 employees at the time.

The narrow, long space made it tough to space out tables, but eventually indoor dining returned. Horton also had a second location in the back of her mind, but was waiting for the right spot. During the pandemic, the idea shifted to a food truck.

“We were thinking how we could expand on this business because downtown is so limited with that small space that we have,” Horton said. “We can do a lot with it, and we do a lot with it. It is just limiting in terms of how big our kitchen is and how many people we can sit at a time.”

The new space was needed for the business to grow and provide new opportunities for employees. Gibson and Horton are now looking to hire 15 additional employees to staff the new spot.

“We’ve been able to promote people into management roles,” Horton said. “That is kind of always my goal to help people level-up instead of just staying a barista or working in the kitchen.”

The space is being repainted and will undergo a deep cleaning. Horton is waiting for a new neon sign to be shipped from overseas.

Last week, Gibson and Horton met with Alexis Clarke and Nicole Rocha of Terracotta Room — a shop that sells botanicals and other products — on Elm Street, to plan decorations.

“We’ll spend some time decorating and we’ll be good to go,” Horton said.