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Monadnock Profiles: Food and friendships

  • Andy Freeman, owner of the Dublin General Store, checks the pork in the smoker during a typical morning at the Route 101 store last week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Andy Freeman, owner of the Dublin General Store, checks the pork in the smoker during a typical morning at the Route 101 store last week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Andy Freeman. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, January 11, 2019 10:16AM

Andy Freeman once heard there are three different kinds of people in this world: Those who run toward a challenging situation, those who run away from it and those who hide from it.

“I guess I’m one of those people that runs toward the problem, which may not always be the smartest,” he said.

It probably all comes back to his desire to help others – no matter how big or how small the circumstances.

As co-owner of the Dublin General Store with his wife Michelle, Freeman has made sure to open the doors for at least a couple hours on every major holiday – in fact they haven’t been closed a single day since 2002. His customers are loyal, and he wants to make sure he’s there for them when they forgot to pick up burgers for the Fourth of July or bacon on Christmas morning.

And in the summers, he travels to Canada and the western part of the U.S. to fight those devastating wildfires that dominate the news headlines during the drought months, which might be the greatest example of his willingness to run toward danger while making a difference in the lives of others.

Maybe that’s what led Freeman and his family to Dublin. His quest to make the best life for those around him, and those that depend on him, seems to be at the forefront of his thinking.

In the early 2000s, he was running a machine shop in Mission Hill in Boston, and had the opportunity to take it over. Freeman was commuting two-plus hours each way to work from Halifax, Mass., but the idea of moving to Boston and raising his then-young daughter, Lucy, in the city was not what he wanted. 

So it was time for a radical change – but hopefully one that would be the last.

Freeman moved around a lot as the son of a nuclear engineer, with stops in New Jersey, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Maine. He didn’t want that for his daughter.

He and his wife started looking for a family-centered business model and spent about a year and a half researching general stores all over New England. They liked what they saw of the Dublin General Store operation on Route 101 in Dublin.

“We made an offer and the rest is history,” Freeman said. “We just loved the idea of owning our own business.”

The plan was to stay for at least 15 years so Lucy could go through the same school system and keep her same group of friends before going out on her own, and then the Freemans would see where life took them after she graduated from high school. Well, Lucy is now a sophomore at the Florida Institute of Technology, where she is studying aerospace engineering. But after almost 18 years, the Freemans have no plans to go anywhere.

“This allowed us to set down some deep roots, and deep values,” Freeman said. “It was an absolute leap of faith, but it continues to be a great success. I was confident we had the tools to make a pretty good go of it.”

The routine isn’t easy, but now it’s just a way of life for Freeman.

He starts his day at 5:30 a.m. every morning (for Michelle it’s 4 a.m.), so it’s a good thing they have probably the shortest commute in history. It takes him about 17 seconds to walk down stairs from his home above the Dublin General Store to get all set up for breakfast, which starts at 6 a.m. every day.

There’s also prep work for the lunch and dinner menu, and cutting all the meats and cheeses for the deli. Along with the laundry list of things a general store owner does in the midst of a typical day. That’s why at some point, during each day, he takes a nap. “You have to,” he said.

During the winter and spring months, Freeman is always around. There’s plenty for him to do. He likes to hike and hunt, and Sundays are his day to “chill out” since the store closes at 4 p.m. instead of 8.

He enjoys hiking and hunting, as it “sort of squares away my head head a little bit.”

But when it comes to the warmer months, Freeman can be gone for weeks on end as a member of the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands Wildland Fire Control unit. And even when he does come home, there’s always a chance his unit could be summoned elsewhere.

He started as a volunteer with the Dublin Fire Department and then joined the state unit in 2010 after a course about wildfires. Now he spends his summers in places like Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and Canada – wherever he is needed to help contain those fast moving, life-altering fires.

“The fires are absolutely awesome and incredibly powerful,” Freeman said. “And I get a kick out of the logistics part of it.”

This past summer, he helped fight two different blazes in Quebec and several others in Montana. His first wildfire was a 500-acre burn in northern Minnesota and he spent Christmas of 2017 fighting a fire in Santa Barbara.

One fire he was working on in Montana almost created a very dangerous situation for Freeman as it jumped the containment line. It got so close a helicopter was dropping water on his unit as they ran down a hillside.

“Luckily, there was a secondary escape route and a secondary safety zone,” Freeman said. “You always need to know how to get out, and they are very diligent to try and make it safe for everybody working on the ground.”

When Freeman and Michelle took over the Dublin General Store, there were just three employees. Now they have 14. They’ve hired high school students and then did the same with their younger siblings.

“We’ve had great luck hiring from the same family,” Freeman said.

Prior to their arrival, Freeman said the food was good at the store, but the variety just wasn’t there. So they improved the complexity of the menu and have become well-known for their eats. Last year alone, they made 75,000 homemade cookies, as they also do catering. 

And Freeman says the reason the food is such a success is because of the people. He knows there’s a grocery store just down the road, and he’s got to have something that they don’t.

“To survive in this business, you have to have your own niche,” Freeman said. “And most of the major augmentations or changes we’ve made over the years have been because of brilliant suggestions from the customers.”

Over the years, he’s created many friendships with those loyal customers and has enjoyed what it means to be the owner of a small town general store.

“It’s the hub of the community and you can get involved in the inner workings of the town,” Freeman said. “I get a kick out of the day-to-day stories, the interactions with the customers.”