Old School Cafe; the flavors of the personality or the personality of the flavors

Bob Ahlemeier had a decision to make in his late 20’s; continue down the same path and graduate from young hippie drifter to an old bum or come home and settle down.

“Really once you get to a certain age it isn’t cool to be a drifter. So I called home and said I was ready to come back.” He explained. “So my family sent me a ticket.”

This is how he ended up in Huntingburg from a life on the road as a stage magician.  Twenty years later he is running the Old School Cafe. “I can’t tell you how I got here, just a bunch things happened.” Bob explained.

Never one to work well with others, his life of independence led to him bouncing from job to job here in the community. He worked in the factories, did odd jobs, and spent about 12 years working at Steinkamps Home Center until he ended up at The Gaslight as a cook.

“Me and a guy there started talking about this place and decided to partner up.” He said. “I bought the building and he leased it from me and opened the restaurant.”

Unfortunately the business went downhill and about a year into it Bob found he had become the owner of a restaurant.

“I came home and told my wife ‘well we have a restaurant’,” he said. “We immediately started working on the restaurant and planned a grand opening. We applied for the food license from the health department, but the grand re-opening date was rapidly approaching and no permit. The day of the opening and we still hadn’t got the permit. We were scrambling around trying to figure out what to do and we were opening atthree. Finally, moments before we were set to open, here comes the inspector with the permit.”

Other than that close call, the cafe has continued to grow in popularity with many regulars coming several times a week.

“I cook a burger like anyone else, what people come back here for is the personality, the friendliness.” He said. “They aren’t customers; they are friends.”

Bob’s personality and fun loving permeates the restaurant and it’s only accented by his lack of interior decorating skill. The restaurant’s walls are covered with memorabilia from the schools of Dubois County. Ireland Spuds sweatshirts are next to Happy Hunters shirts. Flyers from state championships and homemade posters also fight for space.

It’s haphazardly and unplanned but it works, the restaurant is small and inviting. You could just walk around with your Southridge Steak Burger or a Dutchman Bison Burger dripping on your fingers and gaze at the mosaic of Dubois County sports for hours.

But people don’t just come for the food and memorabilia, Bob is a performer, a people person, and that shows through. Spontaneous hole-in-one contests with free desert as the prize and hosted dinners for smaller sports groups that have “Minute to Win It” type contests keep people entertained as well as full of good food.

“I feel like I’m on stage everyday here.” He said.

Bob is still a free spirit, he hates committees.

“You’ll never find me on a committee. I’m called ‘the free spirit of Huntingburg’.” He said. “If you don’t want something done then form a committee, I would rather just go do it.”

This is apparent as he has organized the monthly block parties on Huntingburg’s 4th Street. “I love this community, it’s amazing. I want to get more community involvement.” He explained the reasoning behind the parties.

Aubree Stilwell works at just about every job in the restaurant. “She is a big part of our success.” Bob said. “We had a group of about 20 people come in for a luncheon the other day, then two tour buses showed up and it was just me and her. I asked if she wanted me to call anyone and she fired back, ‘No, they’ll just get in the way!'”

What about the food? Bob explains that he knows the secret to why restaurant food is so good. “Well you’re cooking and your busy and maybe you make a reuben (one of the favorite items on the menu) and then someone orders a steakburger. You don’t take time to clean off the flavor from the reuben you just made, you just throw that steak down in it and cook it. So it’s the mixing of the flavors that makes it great.”