A long the walls of Planters Coffeehouse are hanging tributes to Henderson’s rich history. A black metal plaque posted near the front door dates the Main Street building to 1883, and proclaims the structure, originally opened as Planters State Bank, as being placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. To emphasize security, the bank was built to resemble a fortress, and its atrium is said to be the oldest west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Inside, framed memorabilia nods to the antiquity of the town, as well as the restaurant, which was founded in 1994 by Dave and Connie Walaskay. Used as office space at the time, the couple found a hidden, upstairs gold mine while refurbishing the property into what became a downtown lunchtime hotspot. A drop ceiling had separated a nearly 1,800-square-foot second floor that was storing old treasures from the building’s bank era. Some items were saved and used in the restaurant, including the almost 10-foot mirror that now hangs on the back wall behind the counter.
Today, the upstairs further tells Henderson history. A picture of Hugh Sandefur, a legendary Henderson reporter for the The Gleaner who died in 1973, hangs next to a photograph of Frank T. Street, who was a Henderson County cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service from 1936-1980. On down is a photo of three-time Pulitzer Prize winner William Snyder, a Henderson native who also wrote for the The Gleaner.
Since the Walaskays, the restaurant has passed through two sets of owners, including threesome Virginia Mortis and Kent and Jennifer Preston, who took over in 2002. Nearly 10 years later, in July 2011, current owners Lisa and David Maish became the sole proprietors of Planters. Lisa, an office manager at Hebron Pediatrics in Evansville, says it’s always been her and David’s dream to open a restaurant together. When Mortis and the Prestons announced they were selling, Lisa and David, who is a freelance designer and computer programmer, took the bait.
The couple has been busy incorporating their tone with the traditions of a longtime Henderson staple. “We moved some things around,” says David, “but the place has a charm to it, so we didn’t want to change it too much.” With 18 years of an accumulated downtown following, the Maishes kept the restaurant’s beloved menu, which boasts favorites such as the pulled-pork tailgate sandwich on marble rye bread ($7.50 with sides) and the house chicken salad sandwich ($3 for half with sides) that includes a delightful blend of mayonnaise, walnuts, celery, and a secret ingredient from Georgia. Even the classic sweets have stood their ground; from homemade banana pudding to coconut cream pies to cupcakes with marshmallow frosting. And let’s not forget the coffee. In addition to more than 10 regular and seasonal flavors on tap — including hazelnut, Norwegian decaf, and a special Planters blend — Lisa and David can custom order any brand or flavor requested by a customer.
Although the status quo was working, the Maishes have added some of their own family recipes, as well as acquired outside help. Susie Watkins, wife of late Henderson County judge-executive Sandy Lee Watkins, has brought her own culinary skills and recipes to the team as the primary baker. “We have people who come in and won’t buy anything unless Susie made it,” says Lisa. Her most popular treat is her mother’s custard recipe for banana pudding, as well as a homemade version of pumpkin praline cake. Watkins has help from employee Lana Cates and restaurant manager Laurie Gibson, who both step in to bake and prepare meals. “We have a very solid crew of employees,” says David. “Everyone does a little bit of everything.”
Recently, the owners have implemented several donut treats from Chewy’s Bakery on Second Street, and are in the works of adding some healthy food items with the guidance of Joe Klemczewski and Kori Propst of The Diet Doc in Evansville. “We love our sweets, but we also know we need to be health-conscious,” says Lisa. “With so much pressure to be healthy, we wanted to do our part.”
Eventually, the couple hopes to offer regular weekend entertainment, but is reluctant to rush into it just yet. “We do have a wine and beer license, but we really don’t want to be a bar,” says David. “It’s a friendly place; it’s a community here. We’ve got some good mojo going.”
Location: 130 N. Main St., Henderson, Ky. • Phone: 270-830-0927 • Dining Hours: Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; closed Saturdays and Sundays • Website: www.planterscoffeehouse.com • Adult Beverages: Yes • Prices: $3-$9 • Reservations: Yes • Payment: Accepts all major credit cards