by Rachel Perry
Gatesville Country Store
photo by George Bredewater
When customers pull into the front parking lot of the Gatesville Country Store, exterior signs plainly convey what it’s all about. “Pizza, groceries, bait, snacks, breakfast and lunch daily,” describe the commodities.
But when they step inside, newcomers find a whole lot more than a neighborhood grocery store.
Proprietor Robin Stevens, who spends seven days each week running the place, makes it her business to feed her clientele well. In addition to selling groceries, hats, work gloves, ice cream, staples and barrels of old fashioned hard candy, Mrs. Stevens has transformed part of the store into a deli and restaurant. She makes all the salads, deviled eggs, homemade sandwiches (including a “California Reuben” consisting of turkey, Swiss cheese and coleslaw), and provides hot specials. “I do home-cooked meals,” Robin said. “That’s what these working guys want. I have a different special every day. It’s like cooking for a big family!” Her customers come from the nearby sawmill, construction road crews, Cordry/Sweetwater Lakes residents and summer people. “It’s fun,” she continued. “Even the people you don’t know want to get to know you.”
Mrs. Stevens’ breakfast buffet on the weekends is attracting people from other parts of the county. “They come to get my biscuits and sausage gravy,” she laughed. “They really like that.” An added attraction is the homemade pie supplied by Robin Smith from the Brown County Inn.
But the unique Gatesville Country Store claim to fame is the corner filled with gold panning supplies. Various heights of rubber boots, screens, vials and “how to” books provide aspiring gold panners with all the necessities. “When I first came here, they told me that people would want to come and pan in Salt Creek,” Robin said. “The Gold Prospector Association of America has gotten wind of the place and groups from Pennsylvania and New York are going to be coming here this summer. The Gold Prospectors from the Indiana Chapter has two big meetings here each year. Some (gold-panners) do it on a regular basis. They’re retired. They find gold, too! We have a little vial on the counter with stuff I’ve found myself.”
Beginning last year, the store also serves as a wild game check station for the Department of Natural Resources’ Fish and Wildlife Division. They weigh turkeys when they’re brought in the spring and tag deer during the fall hunting season. “I just wanted to add that service,” Robin said. “People would stop and ask if we could check in their game, and I hated to turn them away.”
The Gatesville general store burned down about ten years prior to Robin’s arrival. The present building was constructed and Robin took over the business in November of 2002. “At first I just wanted to get my feet wet,” she admitted. At the time she had a regular job as the food and beverage manager for the Brown County Inn.
Robin Stevens was born in Helmsburg and lived there until the third grade, when her family moved into Nashville. She later attended Brown County High School. “I was a fortunate kid who had straight “A’s” and a counselor recommended that I become an engineer. I went to Purdue University in chemical engineering for a year. It’s not that I didn’t care for the subject, but I didn’t like that flat land and was homesick.”
Robin transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington and switched majors to geology. “My geology background is what makes this place interesting,” she confessed. “They find geodes, Indian artifacts, fossils and all sorts of things. Then they bring them to me to identify.”
Despite her science education, Mrs. Stevens has worked in food service for many years. She started at the Brown County Inn in 1976 and also worked at Nashville’s Ordinary and the Seasons Lodge at different times. “I opened up the Hotel Nashville,” she remembered. “The bar, ‘Robin’s Nest,’ is still named after me.” In addition to managing food and beverage and bartending in large establishments, Robin teamed up with her parents to open Gnawbone’s Red Oak Specialties Bakery in 1994. Her mother continues to run the bakery.
On a typical day, Robin greets the morning at 5:30 a.m. and gets her husband, Doug, off to his job in Columbus and her son, Jared, ready to ride the school bus to his 4th grade class in Nashville. Then she goes to the store. “There are a couple of guys who like their early coffee so we take care of them.” The full breakfast menu, deli salads and preparation of the day’s special are followed by the lunch crowd. Mrs. Stevens does all of her own ordering and bookkeeping, usually when there’s a lull in mid-afternoon. “Most of the restaurant business is in the mornings and at noon, but there’s a lot of pizza carry out in the evenings.”
With a full schedule of hard work, one wonders why anyone would want to have a restaurant/country store? “Ever since I was a little kid, there’s always been a neighborhood grocery store,” Robin said by way of explanation. “There used to be Mary Long’s Grocery when I was growing up in Helmsburg.”
The Gatesville Country Store is near the intersection of Gatesville Road and Salt Creek Road. It is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The store/restaurant can be reached by telephone at 812-988-0788. Robin Stevens nearly always answers.