In a small-town New Jersey pizzeria, sounds of an old rusty Pac-Man machine blast in the distance, while two kids fight over who gets the next turn on the pinball machine in the corner and poke at one another until one sighs, gives up and cheers on his friend.
“You’d go in, have a slice of pizza and meet your buddies,” Dennis Van Oostendorp said. “You didn’t call each other, because there were no cell phones. You just went there. You’d say, after you’d get of the school bus, ‘I’ll see you at 5 o’clock play pinball and hang out.’”
New Jersey native Oostendorp now owns 6 ‘n Tubbs Bakery and is trying to recreate in Oxford that sense of community he remembers from his childhood by bringing back the hangout feel he got from Northern pizzerias growing up.
“We joke around about the riding bicycles and getting a stick and a rock and playing in the mud kind of mentality,” Oostendorp said. “But I think it’s lost in kids today.”
Oostendorp credits his mother not only for the shop’s welcoming atmosphere but also as the main reason he moved down to Oxford. When his parents retired to Oxford, Oostendorp followed and eventually began a business with his mom.
“She was the glue,” Oostendorp said. “I was the one who knew what people liked to eat, and mom knew people’s names, where they were from and what they wanted to order.”
Oostendorp said that every time he felt he was getting behind, his mom would hit the reset button.
“When something was going wrong, she was just like, ‘OK. Let’s do this instead. We’ll get through it,’” he said.
Located behind Oostendorp’s restaurant, 6 ‘n Tubbs Pizza on West Oxford Loop, his current bakery stands on its own, offering lunch throughout the week, and he drops down his food truck’s door Sunday mornings to serve up fresh New York boiled bagels.
He said his customers line up every Sunday to get their bagel fix for the week. Originally from New Jersey herself, junior Johanna Keosseian said she feels right at home at 6 ‘n Tubbs.
“Back home, I get breakfast sandwiches every Sunday morning with my friends,” Keosseian said. “I think that’s why I like going here so often — because I get to carry on that tradition, even being so far away from home.”
Keosseian said it was a hard adjustment getting used to the types of food offered in Oxford compared to in her hometown, but 6 ‘n Tubbs’ bagels taste exactly like the ones she has at home, or like “heaven,” as Keosseian described them.
“It’s nice coming in, seeing people I know and feeling so welcomed,” Keosseian said. “The past few times I’ve gone, I’ve even ran into other people from New Jersey. My friends and I love to just sit, hang out and catch up about the past week.”
She said her favorite part about going to 6 ‘n Tubbs is how she feels like a regular because Oostendorp spends time chatting with her about things they miss in New Jersey and he always seems to remember her order.
Oostendorp’s original shop was on the corner of Highway 6 and Tubbs Road in Batesville — thus the name “6 ‘n Tubbs” was born. Though this location is no longer open, it still serves as Oostendorp’s kitchen, where, depending on the batch, he can spend anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours preparing his dough.
“I tend to try to shut everything else off and zone in rather than zone out,” Oostendorp said. “Your lack of focus turns into mistakes — you get into a machine feel.”
Oostendorp attributes some of this focus and skills to Culinary Institute of America in New York.
“What I can say that I really learned, which is a big point today, is why things happen. When you can answer that question, you can apply it to any field,” Oostendorp said.
Oostendorp said that when he first arrived in Oxford, he wondered how he could integrate the atmosphere of Northern pizza places and bars to the Oxford scene.
“It was a place of respite,” Oostendorp said. “Bars weren’t just about going there to get intoxicated. They were about camaraderie.”
Oostendorp said the atmosphere of pizzerias gave him the same feeling, and they were the places he felt most at peace.
“You could just go and somebody would either be playing pinball or they’d sit down and share a slice with you,” he said. “Somebody would be there that would be able to say whatever it was to help you over that rough spot in the road.”
In order to help promote that hangout atmosphere, Oostendorp is in the process of changing his weekly hours to focus on dinner instead of lunch. He also recently acquired a fully refurbished World Cup Pinball machine themed after the ‘94 FIFA World Cup.
“Lunch doesn’t offer itself the hangout feel that later in the day does, because when people get done with their day, they feel more comfortable about just relaxing,” Oostendorp said. “That’s why I finally got the pinball machine. I’m hoping it will lend itself to coming in and hanging out like what I did as a kid.”
Oostendorp said people hear about his restaurant through word of mouth, and they tend to only tell people that they trust with that secret. He said people won’t have to worry about coming in and seeing someone they don’t want to see.
Georgia native and Ole Miss student William Turner said he just recently wised up to 6 ‘n Tubbs but already feels like a regular.
“Around four weeks ago, my close friend told me about it, and even though I’m new to the scene, I’ve been coming every weekend since,” Turner said.
Turner said he’s enjoyed the new pinball machine, which you can’t find anywhere else in town.
With time, Oostendorp said he hopes 6 ‘n Tubbs will land itself to be the place in Oxford that people want to go to not just because they’re hungry but because it feels like home to them, too.
This article and video are part of a series profiling people in the Oxford and university community created by a capstone journalism class.