GORHAM — Pictures of Rosie the Riveter and Word War II memorabilia adorn the walls. And as 1940s-era jazz plays in the background, Judy Robbins hand-mixes a cherry Coke, complete with a red and white striped straw.
Robbins’ new venture, a cafe called Happy Turtle Earthbound, is a nod to the past and a hope for the future of this small Russell County town. The restaurant features fresh, homemade sandwiches, soups and salads, as well as an old-fashioned soda fountain and house-made ice cream treats.
“We want to give the kids around here a full soda fountain experience, because they probably haven’t ever done that,” she said. “We do simple syrups. … I mix them all here with regular sugar. They’re healthier sodas than you’d get in a can. They have a lot less sugar.”
The cafe, 133 Market St., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It serves a variety of homemade pockets, including bierock and eggplant parmesan, and freshly made pastries and pies. She also has a variety of coffee and tea available and hopes to soon start brewing locally roasted coffee beans.
A best-seller has been Robbins’ homemade flatbread with veggies, served with an in-house hummus and Greek tzatziki dip.
The 1940s-era theme is a nod to Gorham’s history and the close proximity to the abandoned Walker Army Airfield. A mural on one wall also depicts the former Gorham High School, with athletic and academic memorabilia also on loan from local residents.
The goal is to serve simple, homemade food made with quality ingredients, and to do so as efficiently as possible. Robbins is quick to admit she hates waste. A framed photo boasts a personal family motto also reminiscent of the 1940s: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Her portion sizes are intended to be filling, but not overkill.
“I hate that when you get a burger and fries someplace, and you get like four potatoes with it,” Robbins said. “I’m like, ‘I can’t eat all that.’ And then you waste it. There’s so much wasted.”
But beyond the food, the business also is intended to be a gathering place. There are shelves of games and puzzles, and the center of the cafe boasts a homey-looking couch and chair centered around a piano, guitar and drums.
“Kind of like Central Perk,” she said, referencing the popular 1990s sitcom “Friends.” “We want people to come in and sit down.”
Robbins hopes to eventually offer live music and open mic times, and is looking at extending hours for evenings and special events.
The town has been without a restaurant since the previous one closed nearly a year ago, and there has been a need for a new community hang-out, she said.
“We wanted to be a place for old-timers and the young kids to come in and intermingle and tell stories. We want the guys who play checkers and pinochle to be teaching that to the kids,” she said. “I want to make it very welcoming. I want people to get a good vibe when they come in. I don’t want to be exclusive at all.”
She also hopes to eventually launch a weekly schedule of special events to encourage the community to come together. There already is a sewing machine set up in one corner of the building, as future programs might include sewing lessons or story times for local children.
Residents also will be invited to share their skills, such as photography or playing instruments.
The restaurant opened in June, and Robbins said she is enjoying it. A cafe, however, was not her original plan.
She also makes artisan cheese from locally sourced milk and was hoping to use the industrial kitchen to begin selling her products and other locally sourced foods. That didn’t work due to state licensing requirements, so her family decided to give the restaurant business a try.
She decided to make the most of what she had, and the ideas just started rolling, she said.
And owning a business just might be in her bloodline, she said, looking at a framed photograph of her great-grandparents in pre-World War I Germany. Her ancestors owned a foods store and lived in an apartment above it.
“I was like, ‘Maybe this is our chance to do this … and help our community,’ ” Robbins said. “We want to employ people and create some jobs. We want to have a place to gather, a positive place to do something.”