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