The Most Eccentric Cafe in Ohio: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe

To be honest, I can’t remember the design of the lunchbox I carried to school when I was a kid. I remember Little Debbie Cakes, I remember PB&J, but I can’t tell you if there were Barbies or Trolls on the front of my lunchbox. And really, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that my mom only let us take water in a Thermos to school, which seemed worthy of a child services call to me then, and I told everyone it was a different fruit-flavored drink in that Thermos everyday instead of admitting the truth. But maybe I should have been living out my lunchtime fantasies through my lunchbox rather than the contents of my water bottle.

LaDora Ousley did.

LaDora Ousley, a native of Hocking Hills, Ohio, has been collecting lunchboxes with an obsessive passion since her college days. It started with a few lunchboxes in the backseat of her car where her cassette tapes found a home. That evolved into lunchboxes lining the shelves of her kitchen. That evolved into lunchboxes climbing the stairs of her home and eventually, when LaDora realized she wasn’t going to give up her lunchbox collection, she opened Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe in New Plymouth, Ohio–right between Old Man’s Cave and Lake Hope on State Route 56.

The Lunchbox Cafe is retro in the best kind of way. Rather than being retro in that Williamsburg Hipster Expensive Shit Justifies All The Junk kind of way, Etta’s is genuinely retro, without a single flare of pretension. LaDora’s lunchboxes are the foundation for the first and only Lunchbox Museum in the USA, which sits adjacent to the kitchen where you can look onto employees baking you a $9 small pizza. The cafe acts as a dusty convenient store on the left side, carrying TAB, Cow Tales, kitschy greeting cards, cigarettes, crayons, and just about every random object you wouldn’t otherwise imagine being for sale at a cafe.

On the right side of the cafe, an out of tune piano fits into the corner and is accompanied by a banjo, harmonica, and an assortment of other misc. instruments–all of which I had fun playing with. Think this cafe is unique? I’m not done. There are llamas out back, cats out front, spam sandwiches–and all of this in the heart of some of the most beautiful land in the USA. I may be from Marietta, Ohio, but I’m not biased–an eccentric lunchbox-focused cafe like this in the middle of the Hocking Hills trees is worth whatever drive you have to make to get there.

By: Elizabeth Seward

8 thoughts on “The Most Eccentric Cafe in Ohio: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe

  1. Elizabeth, you nailed Etta’s. As a person who eat’s there on a regular basis , I hope that lot’s of people will read this and plan their vacation around a “TRIP” to the Hill’s, Hocking that is just to taste the food, see and experience the kitch, listen to Tim strum banjo,watch LaDora in her majical kitchen and be welcomed by all the critters…Great piece of work…

  2. I’ve been there three times. First with my family, then with my brother and then with friends from Germany. I’ll be there this coming weekend, 8/7/10, with more friends from Germany. It’s always a highlight of my trip to the Hocking Hills area.

  3. This was such a big disappointment to me. After reading all the rave reviews, and looking at the pictures available online of this cafe, I was anxious to go and check things out for myself.

    I wish I hadn’t.

    I wouldn’t recommend eating anything from that kitchen. Judging by the looks of the seating area in the cafe, I would guess cleaning is not on the staff/owners’ worklist.

    While looking at the lunchboxes on display should have been entertaining, trying to see them in the very, very dim lighting was nearly impossible. Add that to the fact they were covered with dust, and you get a big fat zero in the fun department.

    Perhaps once Etta’s deserved the great reviews it got, but it certainly does not now. What a shame. A novel idea that went south. Don’t waste your time stopping there.

  4. In a sad note , Tim Seweer , the Voice of the Lunchboxes was killed in a van accident Tuesday the 3rd of August…The food at Etta’s is prepared by a Hocking County Board of Health inspection , which they have always passed…I ASKED . It is Retro in every sense of the word. The Cafe is in the COUNTRY where dust abounds, no matter how you clean it creeps back, I know I live in the COUNTRY …Yes maybe the lighting could be brighter but Tim’s amazing knowledge and 100 watt smile could light up any dark corner. 1 visit does not a visit make , I for one always give a funky quirky Cafe a 2nd chance . Every person and restaurant has up’s and down’s….in’s and out’s. I look for attitude in the servers , the way I am greeted , how my food was presented etc . I will be a loyal Etta’s customer for a long time to come…..

  5. Oh no. I am so sad to hear of Tim’s death. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. We’re grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to experience this place.

  6. thanks for this review! im plaining a couple of months full of across the country adventures to find and enjoy places like this. will be planning to make a stop 🙂

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