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Review: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe

Anne Evans Anne Evans
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On our recent trip to the Hocking Hills Region, we stopped in Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe on a Saturday afternoon for lunch. It is located on State Route 56 between New Plymouth and Starr, inside an old General Store (still in operation). The property was bought by LaDora Ousley, owner and manager, in January 2000. In May 2000, she opened the general store, then the cafe in May 2002 and then the Lunchbox Museum in 2009. You can see over 900 lunchboxes in the museum, celebrating over 100 years of American Pop Culture. Try to find the one that you carried! Our host was general manager, lunchbox enthusiast and artist Tim Seewer. As you approach Etta’s you get the feeling that you should be riding a motorcycle up to it. It is located on the side of the road with a gravel parking lot. Although we of course had our car. No problem! Everyone is welcome at Etta’s. The name Etta’s comes from LaDora’s grandmother, who taught her how to cook. LaDora’s family is rooted in the Hocking Hills Region, so she feels dedicated to seeing the region prosper.

Tim was very welcoming as we came in and we could sit anywhere we liked. Here he is pictured with his favorite lunchbox – a trusty brown paper bag! The cafe seating shares half of the space with the general store; the kitchen is in back. Johnny Cash songs floated throughout the space as we waited on our meals. Etta’s serves “fresh, wholesome and nutritional meals.” We settled on the Philly Steak (6″ for $5.45) and a Pizza Sub (6″ for $4.95) and Kiddie Grilled Cheese ($3.95). Their signature sandwich is the “Etta Club” for $5.45 – honey ham, smoked turkey, bacon, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo on toasted multigrain. The also have pizzas with homemade, hand tossed crust with homemade sauce. They range in price from a 10″ small for $9-14 to a 16″ xlarge for $14-21. The sandwiches came with chips and a pickle. We enjoyed our lunch. They were pretty large and filling sandwiches. They also had a selection of pies and a huge selection of bottled drinks.

Tim used to work as a chef in Columbus, perfecting his skills at Lindey’s in German Village and also working in the Rhodes Tower. He and LaDora started collecting lunchboxes in the 1980s. They conveniently held a variety of objects. They found them at thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, antique malls and some online. The lunchboxes built up and went from shelf space to bookshelves, to walls of bookshelves, to spare rooms to finally their 10,000 square foot home at Etta’s.

Some of the lunchboxes you will see are the Covered Wagon, the first 4 color lithograph panel lunchbox: Roy Rogers & Dale Evans from 1953, a plaid design that was the best selling lunchbox of all time, tobacco and lard tins, Barbie’s evolution through the years, Movies, Walt Disney, Looney Toons, Comic Strips and Star Wars.

The earliest lunchboxes were all metal and the switch to ‘safer’ plastic was made in the early 80s because metal ones could be used as weapons. I found the lunchbox that I carried in first grade, a metal Care Bears lunchbox. Walker found the plastic Alf lunchbox he carried. In that way, Tim was able to guess our ages!

If you are in the area, Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe is definitely worth a stop. They are open daily from 11am to 8pm, Sunday from 11am to 6pm and are closed on Wednesdays.

If you go: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe and Museum, 35960 State Route 56, New Plymouth, OH 45654. Phone: 740-380-0736.

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