Red Arrow Diner Legacy: The Founder’s Story

An intimate interview with Ray Lamontagne, son of Red Arrow founder, David and Mabel Lamontagne.

“The Red Arrow was started by my father and it’s got to be almost a hundred years ago. Growing up, the Red Arrow was the place in town. There were four restaurants. There were four Red Arrow Diners. There was this one which was the original one on Lowell Street. Then, there was a big one on Elm Street, which had a big kitchen. We cooked food for all of the other three restaurants. There was one on Merrimack Street and one on Lake Avenue. Those were the four Red Arrow Diners. And that happened all during World War II and then into the 1950s. There were two major fires at the Elm Street location. After the first one, we rebuilt it and turned it into a cafeteria. It was the first time there had ever been a cafeteria in New Hampshire. When the cafeteria had a fire a number of years later, my father closed that place down and opened up another place on the highway. Then, when he got older, he closed all three and kept the Lowell Street location open until he died. After he died, my sister and I sold this restaurant. And now Carol owns it, and it’s still going strong and we’re very proud of it. I love this menu because it is all the kinds of things that I love to eat and I grew up with, but what I love the most is the prices. 50 cents for fried clams and tartar sauce? How about that! My dad wasn’t a restaurateur to begin with. He came to Manchester from Canada when he was twelve years old. There were no child labor laws in those days, so he was able to get a job in the mills even though he was only twelve. Then, he got old enough to box. He was a pretty tough guy and became a professional fighter under the name of Kid Davies. Then, he made money boxing and he took that money and bought this restaurant here. Lobster Newburg. There were interesting things on the menu and yet there were just everyday things. Every day, there was a certain meal offered. On Thursdays, I remember it was a New England boiled dinner and so that would be made at the Elm Street restaurant and then we would deliver the boiled dinners to the other three restaurants. People would know if you came in on Thursday, you got the boiled dinner. If you came in on Friday, it was ham and beans or fish or whatever. Then, of course, if you didn’t want the specials of the day, you pick something else. But good, basic, quality food. Dad always believed if you give people good quality and good service, you’re going to get good business and so he did. Wherever I’ve traveled around the world, and I’ve done a lot of traveling, I always bump into people and if they’ve come to Manchester, they know the Red Arrow. There have been some very, very wonderful warming stories as well as very funny stories about their experiences here throughout. It is a very large part of my life.”