Ohio eating: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe & Museum

by Chris on May 5, 2010

What lunch box did you carry as a kid? Chances are, it’s on display at Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, in Ohio’s Hocking Hills.

Ed note: Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe & Museum owner Timothy Seewar passed away in late 2010. It’s unclear whether or not Etta’s will remain open.

Charlie's Angels lunchbox, Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Do you remember what lunchbox you used to carry to school?

IĀ  sported a metal Charlie’s Angels box featuring Kate Jackson, Jacklyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd (apparently Farrah didn’t stick around long enough to be thus immortalized). I used it to carry my typical lunch: a peanut butter or jelly sandwich (back then I was persnickety and wouldn’t eat the two flavors together), a cookie, carrot stick and an apple. I’m ashamed to admit that the healthy stuff usually ended up in the garbage.

Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

These memories came flooding back at Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe & Museum. Located on route 56 just outside the Hocking Hills, (which hosted me for the trip), Etta’s is one of those marvelous roadside attractions that you’d kick yourself for missing, if you are ever in the area. It’s pure kitsch, in the best – and sweetest – meaning of the word.

LaDora Oursey with a rare Dawn lunchbox, Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

With over 800 lunchboxes with themes ranging from Davy Crockett to Star Wars to the Powderpuff Girls, the Lunchbox Museum is the brainchild of LaDora Ousley, a native of the rural Hocking Hills area. An avid thrifter, she originally bought the lunchboxes to house her cassette tape collection (remember those?)

Those lunchboxes became kitchen decorations, then kept spreading. Now the cook and general store owner often receives lunchboxes in the mail from customers who want to contribute their own memories to the collection.

Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Viewing the collection is like witnessing the last 50 years of pop culture, in overdrive. LaDora has a whole wall of Barbie lunchboxes, and large groupings of Disney and Peanuts-themed boxes. You really can tell people’s ages by the box they carried: a writer younger than me carried He-Man, while a woman older than me stuck with a simple – and at the time, bestselling- tartan plaid.

Bugaloo lunchbox, Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

And while I don’t know anyone who carried a Bugaloo box, the theme song leaped into my head as soon as I saw it.

Metal lunchboxes disappeared in 1985 after it was ruled they could be used as a weapon, so the industry switched to plastic. The plastic boxes are also more compartmentalized than the open metal boxes that I grew up with, which surprised me. Did more rigid lunchboxes portend the rise of helicopter parents?

Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

And what ever happened to those cool Fisher-Price toys? (I must have owned a dozen of those, including the airport, a circus train and a castle).

Turkey melt, Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

It’s worth sticking around Etta’s to try LaDora’s food. Our meal started with a shared pizza that was as delicious as it was filling. I split a turkey melt, while others in our group braved the menu’s Spam sandwich. The meal finished up with a piece of coconut cream pie.

Tim Seewer, Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

As we ate, general manager Tim Seewer introduced us that area’s Appalachian ties by picking out tunes on his banjo.

Etta's Lunchbox Cafe & Museum, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Tim and LaDora have quite the menagerie on the property outside with llamas in the back, kittens in the front and chickens walking freely outside.

The lunchbox museum is free; sandwiches and pizzas are almost all under $10 (larger pizzas can get up to $20). While Etta’s doesn’t have a website, they do have a fan page on Facebook. The phone # is 740-380-0736 and the address is 35960 St., Route 56 in New Plymouth, OH. If you love pop culture or just want a few minutes to wallow in your childhood, go.

Now that I’ve revealed my secret lunchbox shame, it’s your turn – what did you used to carry?

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

The Jetpacker May 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

This place looks awesome! If only it were next to a Pez museum.

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Chris May 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Seriously! Because who doesn’t love Pez?

But you didn’t answer the question….what kind of lunchbox did you have? Or were you a brown bag kind of guy? šŸ™‚

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Blair May 5, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I had and still have a Peanuts lunchbox. I love that thing. One of my professors still carries his Snoopy lunchbox because he likes it. Do you know if there is a Mr. Potato Head Museum?

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Chris May 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Blair – Where is the Mr. Potato Head Museum? I sense a roadtrip! šŸ™‚

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Eli May 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I had a Ninja Turtles lunchbox, if I remember correctly. At some point I switched to brown bags though… Ah, the memories.

BTW, is that cat missing an eye?

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Chris May 6, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Yes, at a certain point I think we all had to switch to brown bags. Lunchboxes weren’t cool past 4th grade or so.

Ha on the cat! He has two eyes. Just one looked a little sore.

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Mary July 25, 2010 at 8:39 am

I carried a Sabrina the Teenage Witch lunchbox. But I was jealous of this kid in my class that had a Bionic Woman box. This was just as central in starting the school year as clothes…picking the lunch box. Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, snack pack chocolate pudding,(in the cans, with the pop-top) some bag of shitty veggies, like celery and carrot sticks, and if I was lucky, cheetos…(a bonus was a hostess snack cake like snow balls or Twinkies,) and white milk. Never got chocolate. Ever. And always a note from Mom…written in pen on the napkin…”Love you dear” or “Good luck at track practice” I used to eat my food all through the morning and have nothing left by lunch. After finding this out, Mom demanded that the teacher hold on to my lunch until time to eat. No more of that joy.

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:13 am

Ha, this brings back memories! I also had snack pack pudding in the cans in my lunch. No Hostess for me though – jealous!

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Mary July 29, 2010 at 11:26 am

Well, I only got the Hostess stuff on a field trip day. When my class went to the zoo, I got the pink snowball deals. And I tore the package open and ate them on the way. Impulsive and a “dessert first” gal even then.
Did your teacher roam around the lunch table pulling all the snack-pack tabs for the students?

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Tony Cole October 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

R.I.P. Tim

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cynthia February 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Sorry to hear of Tim’s passing. Condolences to his family & friends.

i had been trying to locate the name & location so we could visit on our trip down this weekend.
my husband and I visited Etta’s in fall of 2009. a friend overheard us talking of visiting Hocking Hills for the day and recommended it.
we loved the place. spent about 2/3 hours there just roaming thru the museum and feeling our age. too many toys we played w/as kids in there šŸ˜‰ LOL!!! great food and wonderful atmosphere. had a gentleman come in playing piano & Tim played guitar if I remember right.

sadly, i can’t remember what was on my lunchbox as a kid. also, sad b/c I am only 47 so I should still remember. LOL

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