A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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Third Place

Robie’s Grows Roots in Community

By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

This is a regular feature about the “third place” – the concept that society needs a place that isn’t just home (first place) or work (second place), but also a spot to gather – the local watering hole in ancient times and in more contemporary times, the café, a park, the gym, if you will. In this column, Fiddlehead will profile some of the best third places in the Merrimack Valley.

Joshua and Amber Enright have stepped in and stepped up to keep one of New Hampshire’s oldest and beloved third places going strong.

Last year the couple opened the door to Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett after it was closed for more than a year; a scary prospect given that the building had been a third place for locals and visitors for nearly 200 years. The Enrights had been looking for a venue to open Roots, a new café/catering business, and found Robie’s – a perfect match.

“We’d never seen it before. We had never been here. But as soon as we saw it we knew it was the right fit,” said Joshua, who along with his wife has owned and operated several restaurants in the state.

They moved into the historic building with new food and new ideas while maintaining tradition and history, but first they had to convince the Robie’s Country Store Preservation Corporation, which has owned the building since 1997. The building started out life as a general store since it was built in 1822 and from 1887 to 1997 stayed in the Robie family.

Robie’s is not only a must-stop venue for local and national politicians, but just as importantly, is the unofficial gathering spot for the community. At one time, town meetings were held there and people gathered as election results were posted at the store. For a short time in the ‘70s it even served as a post office.

Joshua said it took about three months before they finally agreed to the Enrights’ proposal for Roots, a farm-to-table café and catering business. The Manchester couple were early participants in the locavore movement in New Hampshire having operated farm-to-table, organic restaurants in Nashua, Milford and Manchester. Roots’ menu includes seasonally inspired items, like dill lemon tuna sandwiches, beet and orange salad and breakfast like the farmers’ benedict made with locally sourced eggs, veggies and cheese

“It wasn’t the deli/diner food that was here before,” said Joshua. “People were worried that the public might not be receptive to our kind of food. But it’s been amazing. A lot of the old regulars from the former owners are regulars here now and new people come in all the time. We are pretty much busy the whole time we’re open.”

But while the couple made some changes, they definitely retained some essentials of the country store, including the establishment’s place in the New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary history. The store is a must-stop destination for presidential hopefuls and has an iconic collection of political memorabilia displayed throughout.

And the business also still operates as a country store, selling locally sourced food and crafts, including Hooksett-made chocolates, flour and grains from the Littleton Grist Mill, New Hampshire maple syrup, local honey, hand-crafted soaps, Bedford Wool products and Robie’s store souvenirs, to name a few.

But just as important to the couple as commerce is community. Joshua said the store serves as a meeting place for garden clubs, historical organization and other local groups after hours.

“It’s a huge gathering place,” said Joshua. “We thought that would just be weekends, but it’s true of weekdays as well. We have had three weddings here and the last Thursday of the month we have farm-to-table dinners, which are almost always sold out.”

And those presidential wannabees? “We weren’t even really open yet during the primary season, but we were here and the candidates came – nearly every one of them.”

Roots Café at Robie’s Country Store is open for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit rootsatrobies.com.