What used to be the children’s department of Neilson’s has been transformed into a cozy space filled with couches, tables, chairs and the thick, warm smell of coffee.
Shelter, located on Van Buren Avenue, opened Jan. 3 on the Square and is not just another coffee shop. In addition to coffee, Shelter also offers fresh food, craft beer and live music.
Owner Lee Bowie, who also owns Cups in Oxford, said that he and his wife Teri have entertained the idea of opening a place that would be something new for people in Oxford, but Shelter really came together when the space became available.
“We liked the concept of what we do (at Cups), with the coffee, and kind of combing that with Mississippi products,” Bowie said. “We’ve got Mississippi coffee, Mississippi beer, Mississippi food and offer a different kind of place.”
One of the things that sets Shelter apart is the food and the man behind the menu: Ron Shapiro.
For those who aren’t familiar with Shapiro, he came to Oxford in the 1970s and opened a place called The Hoka Theater— an old warehouse standing where Newk’s is now on University Ave.— named after Princess Hoka, one of the first listed on the land deed of Lafayette County.
While students or individuals who are new to Oxford may have never heard of The Hoka, it is a place cherished and remembered fondly by Oxford natives and Ole Miss alumni. There is even a short documentary about the theater available on Vimeo called “Sorry, We’re Open” that highlights the history of The Hoka.
In addition to being a theater, The Hoka was also a restaurant famous for its fudge pie and cheesecake, which will be making a return to Oxford at Shelter.
Among the other food items offered at Shelter are breakfast burritos, granola yogurt bowls, Hoka Nachos and a selection of soups. There are several things on the menu already, but Shapiro is continuing to add more options.
“One of my favorite things is Mexican breakfasts, which I think are just tremendous,” Shapiro said. “It’s got all the protein. It’s healthier than eating meat. So we do all these Mexican breakfasts, and I’m really excited about introducing those.”
Juices and smoothies from The Main Squeeze, another one of Shapiro’s businesses formerly located behind Pizza Hut on University Ave., will also be featured at Shelter. Shapiro’s personal favorite is “The Velvet Elvis,” a mixture of soy milk, peanut butter, bananas and honey.
“We (also) do juices with wheatgrass,” Shapiro said, “which is the new cure for hangovers.”
The most important thing to Shapiro when it comes to food is freshness. They make everything fresh daily.
“We don’t use anything out of cans, we make everything up fresh the way it was done, the way it should be done,” Shapiro said.
Shelter is currently serving several different beers from Mississippi breweries, including Biloxi Brewing, Southern Prohibition and Yalobusha Brewing Company. While there are no plans for Shelter to become a full bar, they will be offering a small wine selection soon and possibly a few different types of whiskey and tequila.
Music is another huge part of Shelter’s atmosphere. Shapiro said the first thing they built was the stage, which is a wide platform on the far end of the room surrounded by panels of fabric serving as curtains.
There are several venues in Oxford that host different bands and performers, but most of those shows are late at night.
Shelter will have performances earlier in the evening, appealing to a crowd that might not necessarily want to wait until 9 p.m. to see a band, or allow bands to have a second show at a different venue later that night.
“We offer live music but a little earlier,” Bowie said. “It (isn’t) a late-night place.”
So far, Shelter has hosted the Winter Solstice Celebration II, which featured several musical performances and readings by special guests, as well as Galaxy Hotel, who performed Monday.
Shelter is also expected to be one of the venues for the Oxford Film Festival, which will be held Feb. 17-21.
“We’re just looking to be a cool cultural hangout for the community,” Shapiro said.