Step down the red brick stairs next to Neilson’s department store on the Square and you’ll find Oxford’s newest hidden gem, Shelter on Van Buren.
The coffee shop, café and music venue is co-owned by Lee and Teri Bowie, who also run Cups an Espresso Café on Jackson Avenue. “I knew that if I wanted to serve beer at a coffee shop, I’d need to be on the Square,” said Lee. “So when this space became available, I spoke with Mr. Lewis at Neilson’s and he loved the idea.”
Once the location was secured, Lee recruited Shapiro as his self-titled administer of culture and emperor of the kitchen. “I wanted a place with real cheesecake, juices, healthy items and more,” said Lee. “I knew Ron would bring all that with him from his days at The Hoka Theater and Main Squeeze.”
The menu features veggie wraps and smoothies you may remember from Main Squeeze, along with nachos, sandwiches and desserts from back in the days of the Hoka, according to Shapiro. “We’ve got locally sourced vegetables from Yokna Bottoms Farm and we’re bringing in chicken and brisket soon,” said Shapiro. “We also sell a lot of Mexican favorites such as burritos, migas and huevos rancheros.”
“Lee and I were on the same page about what Shelter on Van Buren should be,” said Shapiro. “We want people to be able to go hear music, but not so late at night; our bands will start around 6 or 7 at night, and we’ll hold theater events and poetry readings.”
Lee agreed, adding that the arts are very important to both him and Shapiro. Shelter will participate in the Oxford Film Festival, Oxford Arts Crawl, and Thacker Mountain Radio alongside monthly film screenings and scheduled music and poetry nights. “We really want this to be a cultural arts center with a twist,” said Shapiro. “I see it more as a European-type coffee house; some people will enjoy cheesecake and tea while others have beer and wine.”
“We’re not trying to be anyone else, just something new,” said Lee. The tactic appears to be working, as word of mouth is spreading around Oxford and the cozy nooks of Shelter on Van Buren are regularly filled with people eating, drinking and chatting. “We’re doing what we want to be doing and what we would naturally seek out in another town,” said Shapiro.
For more information about Shelter on Van Buren, find them on Facebook, visit 1221 Van Buren Avenue, or call 662-234-0012. Hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (opens at 8 a.m. Saturday/Sunday).
Liz Barrett Foster is the EatingOxford editor for HottyToddy.com, an award-winning business journalist, and author of the recently published Pizza: A Slice of American History. Liz has run the popular restaurant information site Eating Oxford since 2009. Liz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.