Published on January 11th, 2016 | by Alex Thiel1
Shelter on Van Buren Offers New Spot to Drink Coffee and Socialize
For years now, the southeast corner of the Square has been home to some of Oxford’s premier retail establishments, with such locations as Off-Square Books and Neilson’s department store drawing visitors and locals alike. There has been, however, a surprising lack of bars, restaurants, or coffee options in the immediate vicinity.
This is all set to change this week with the opening of Shelter on Van Buren, a hybrid-service establishment that will seek to fill a void that downtown Oxford’s been missing.
Lee and Teri Bowie, co-owners and operators of Cups on Jackson Avenue, got the idea to open up their new business on the Square when they found that the basement of Neilson’s—once home to the children’s department—was sitting vacant below the main store.
“We started thinking [that] we like Cups coffee, but we wanted to have a larger venue,” explains Lee. “Some people think of our coffee as craft coffee, and we kind of like the idea of putting that together with craft beer.”
“We approached Mr. Lewis here at Neilson’s when I saw that this place was vacant a year ago, and [weren’t] really sure if they wanted to have something like that. And it turns out they did. So it was a great fit for us and for them.”
For years, the basement of Neilson’s was used as a literal shelter when severe weather threatened downtown Oxford. Though the space may still be suited for such a purpose (as it was during the storm that caused severe damage in Holly Springs just weeks ago, according to Teri), Shelter on Van Buren aims to provide a different sort of refuge from the hustle and bustle of the Oxford Square above.
Shelter will feature craft beers—all draught—from four Mississippi breweries (Crooked Letter, Lucky Town, Southern Prohibition, and Yalobusha) as well as Wiseacre from Memphis. However, before they can sell beer in Oxford, Shelter still needs to acquire a full ABC license, which means featuring a fully-functioning kitchen.
“I really liked the idea of doing desserts. I kind of thought that fit in with doing coffee,” says Lee. “It turns out that Ron Shapiro, who had The Main Squeeze and The Hoka, used to have cheesecake and fudge pie at those places. We invited Ron to come in and contribute his ideas and his experience to what we were doing.”
In addition, Shelter will feature a limited selection of wines, as well as some spirits for coffee drinks.
The food menu will feature wraps, paninis, and salads, but will also feature some southwestern fare. The breakfast menu (served daily from 7–10 am) will include Ron Shapiro’s huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos/burritos, and migas.
The involvement of established Oxford faces and places should draw a crowd for food and drinks at any hour of the day. The Bowies are quick, however, to clarify that Shelter will be about more than their menu.
“One thing we’ve kind of talked through is that we want this to be a gathering place for conversation, for music, for film, for art,” says Teri. “So we’re not here to be an internet cafe or a coffee shop, but we are here for community.”
Shelter will play host to two blocks of the Oxford Film Festival in February, and plans are in place for Theatre Oxford to host some readings in the space. There will also be live music featured regularly. The Bowies say that they are working further with Yoknapatawpha Arts Council to expand the use of the space and to further integrate the arts community.
That’s not to say, however, that the Bowies aren’t taking advantage of some new food and beverage opportunities.
“One of the things we’re excited to bring to Oxford is coldbrew coffee served on draught,” says Lee. “Our nitro coldbrew, we’re real excited about that. It’s really smooth.”
Shelter on Van Buren will be open daily starting January 4th, serving a limited food menu as well as Cups’s coffee menu. Shelter will be open from 7 am–10 pm, though hours will vary in the coming intersession weeks.