Red Arrow Diner Legacy: The Early Years

Learn about how Carol Lawrence came to purchase the local legend, how our mascot Moe was created by a beloved regular customer, and the amazing choices that led to the Red Arrow Diner becoming the tourist destination it is today.

I heard about the Red Arrow coming up for sale. I most certainly had experience in the restaurant business. When I grew up, my parents ran Belmont Hall. A good friend of the family, Roger Bouchard, had approached me and said “You need to run something on your own.” And I was like, “What?!” I was 23 years old! When I did a little bit of research on it and found out exactly what the Red Arrow was. It was a diner and it was the first time that it had been closed in its lifetime. Of course, we know it has been around since 1922. I thought, if this can happen, this is a great thing. This will be really cool.

George Lawrence shares his perspective: “I want my own restaurant, Dad.” Are you kidding? You can’t have your own restaurant! That little restaurant? 24 hours a day? You’re crazy!

It took us about 3-4 weeks to clean it up a little bit. It was actually in pretty good shape. I think we might have had to get a couple of pieces of equipment for the kitchen, but pretty much it was ready to go.

When we opened it, that was really when I was like, “Whoa. This could definitely have some potential.” At that time, I believe we weren’t even open seven days a week. I believe it was even just Monday through Friday, and it was just the first shift, the day shift.

You know it was just me learning how to run my own business. My dad said “You get the money at the end of the week, you pay your bills and whatever you have left is yours.”

Back in its time, the Red Arrow was always known for being open for 24 hours I think we extended to Saturdays, and then we extended to Sundays. Belmont Hall was always open on Friday night for “Fish Day.” So, we did the same thing at the diner on Lowell Street. And, it has just really organically evolved like that. Next thing you know, we’re open 24 hours.

Moe Couturier was a regular at the diner from the day we opened. One day, I saw him doodling. We had only plain mugs at the time. He had the Moe face – he did it with permanent marker on mugs with our names on them. I was like, “I love that face!” Then I said, “Oh my gosh, can we put this on the mug?” He said, “I don’t know can you?” And that was really how Moe was born.

I got connected with Randy Garbin. He did a magazine, and then he had Roadside Onlines, where he was blogging. He promoted the old authentic diners and stuff like that. He was like my idol at the time, and then I found out that he had visited my diner. I read about it in one of his blogs. He said he loved everything about the diner. Food was great, atmosphere was great, everything was great. But he told me that he was not going to return because of the smoke. The smoke was just so, so bad. When I heard that, it really hit my heart. I was like, “Woah! Oh my goodness!” Statistics are 1 out of 4 people smoke. So, you have that other 75 percent of people. If you’re catering to that one person, your stool could be turned over with someone eating your food instead of sitting there smoking and drinking your coffee. So, I went “Wow!” The more I kept looking up the research myself, and you know, “Okay. Well, I’m doing it.”

I called a good friend, John Clayton, who worked at the Union Leader at the time. I said “John, I’m doing something kind of big, I guess, at the Red Arrow.” He said, “Oh my gosh, what’s happening?” I said “I’m going smoke-free.” Of course, he right away (just like my dad) said, “Are you sure!?” So. I went over a few things and I said so, my deciding day that we are going to do this is based on when you can put this in print for me in your Monday column.

We were plastered on the front page – it was huge. I was like ‘Wow, this is pretty powerful.’ There were a lot of very upset people, but there were a lot more people that were very happy about it. Now, I heard all the time, “I can now take my kids in and I didn’t used to take my kids in.” When I heard that I wanted to make this kid-friendly.

We’ve incorporated the blue plate special, which are literally served on a blue plate. For the kids, I thought it would be cool to serve theirs on a flipped over blue frisbee. We incorporated our Dinah Doodle contest. We have a coloring contest every week, and they get to put them up on the walls of the diner. We have a diner judge in every location, and that person picks the winner and calls the kids to tell them they won the contest. It’s just really fun. I’ve had parents tell me, ‘Do you have any idea how many frisbees I have at my house?!” It is just fun when I hear stuff like that – I love it.

In September of 1998, I was voted one of the Top 10 Diners in the Country by USA Today. That was huge. We literally had and still have customers from all over the world come in.