Reviving Robie's: A Primary Landmark Set To Reopen
For more than a year one of the most-visited stops on the New Hampshire primary trail has been closed. But this old-time shop may have some new life in it after all.
The doors of Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett have largely stayed shut since its last operator left in 2013.
One of the few exceptions has been campaign visits - and Robie’s can still get loud when a candidate for president drops by.
On this day, voters are cramming into rows of metal chairs, surrounded by TV cameras and microphones, for a chance to see Texas Senator and Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz.
But in the back of the store, behind this filled-to-capacity crowd, you can hear something that hasn’t been heard in this country store for a long time. A cash register, coffee brewing, and patrons buying food.
One of the people behind the counter is Amber Enright, who's putting slices of a "Stonyfield yogurt coffee cake on plates. "Win-win" she says, noting both the flavor and the fact that she only learned the recipe yesterday.
Enright and her husband Joshua just signed a three year lease to operate Robie’s.
The two had each owned restaurants, and have been running a catering company, Roots, in Manchester since 2014.
But she says what they really wanted was a community space. And then last September, they came upon a story about Robie’s.
"We were in the car listening to NHPR," she says. and [the story noted how] it was looking for a new owner, and we were like that would be so great."
The Enrights hadn't been to Robie's before, and weren't sure what they'd find when they decided to visit. "I thought it was this funky little place with not great food and paper plates and no one really likes to go," Amber Enright says. "But it was so cool when we walked in. It was cluttered but it was perfect."
Working with the Robie’s historic preservation board, the couple came up with a concept: Robie’s would be one part old-style country store, complete with fresh foods; one part café; one part catering and take-out.
Board member Gary Ziemba says the plan was welcome news to Robie's diehards, who remembered how recent efforts to revive the store hadn't panned out.
"We had people in here for about 8 years," he says. "A husband and wife team - and they just got tired of it, running the business. We had another person coming in, it just didn’t work out.
"Now these new people, I’ve known her background for years and years, and we feel really good about it… Things are happening."
There is a lot happening now, with kitchen and storefront renovations going on in between presidential primary events.
The Enrights are working on some new items for Robie’s breakfast and lunch menus: wraps and salads, among others, though they say longtime customers won’t be disappointed.
"I think we’ll have some of the old standards – I make a really good pork pie," Amber Enright says.
Joshua Enright adds, "We're going to have the Robie’s classics like the beans and things that were on the menus back in the day, as well as some of our new ideas."
The goal is to open Robie’s full-time again by March. An online campaign to raise money for the launch has been slow going, but Amber Enright says she’s not worried.
Roots Catering, she says, is in good shape, and Robie’s place in the community – and the presidential primary - make for a strong foundation as well.
"So if we can maintain that and grow from there, I think it’s going to be a win-win," she says. "In bringing back the produce, and bringing back local artisans and local crafters and possibly bringing back a farmers market outside, business is going to be great, I think."
And if they get more visits from presidential candidates days after they win the Iowa caucuses?
Both Enrights nod. "That would be great," they say.