The Luv Shak, no matter how small or hidden, has built more of a community than arguably any other restaurant in Oxford. Though, owner Dennis Van Oostendorp denies any credit.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the students.”
While Oostendorp said there have been articles written about him, articles written about The Luv Shak, he said there have been none written about the students who frequent it.
In 2018, Bevin Winter, a sophomore IMC major, was headed to The Luv Shak for the first time. It was there that she first met Oostendorp. After finding out he was from her home state of New Jersey, the connection grew from there.
“Being from New Jersey, we’re very loud and obnoxious people. The stereotype is true,” Winter said. “So we got along right away.”
She said when she found The Luv Shak, it was “a cabin behind a restaurant that nobody knew about.” Winter suggested that she make and operate an Instagram account for The Luv Shak, and within a week, the account had around 1,000 followers and business was picking up.
“I didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did,” Winter said. “I thought the bagels would definitely take well because they’re really good, but I think I was excited when it did because I proved to him that the Instagram was worth it.”
Oostendorp has been in the kitchen for roughly 40 years. The precursor to The Luv Shak was his operation of the 6’n Tubbs food truck, which moved between different student residential complexes to serve bagels in the morning.
Now, the only time he leaves his hidden location is to take his food trailer, Threeway Bagels, to the Hernando Farmers Market on Saturdays.
The Luv Shak was established in 2015, its popularity travelling through word of mouth, building a tight community of patrons. Particularly among Ole Miss students.
“I personally believe that the community was created on Dennis’s end,” Winter said. “I think that his personality and his caring is genuine. It’s a very carefree environment. The decorations on the inside, the pinball machine, the food is really good. I think he’s created it, then I think it kind of brought that out if everyone else.
Winter emphasized that Oostendorp would disagree. She said he would argue that “the bagels make themselves” and give all the credit to the students. It is just in his selfless nature, according to her.
“I don’t think the people did it,” she said. “I think it was him.”
There have been times where students he knows catch a ride from bars on the Square to The Luv Shak just to eat before heading back out on the town.
There was pride in his voice when he described Sundays before the pandemic when lines stretched far past the door and students gathered around the Shak and mingled. Strangers met while waiting for bagels and ended up hanging around, forming new connections.
Reagan Hunter, a junior marketing major, is one of those students. She has been a Luv Shak regular since freshman year.
In fact, if Oostendorp had not unplugged his pinball machine to shut down the restaurant at the start of COVID-19, you could find Hunter’s name next to the third highest score on the leaderboard.
“There’s not a lot like it in Oxford,” Hunter said. “A lot of stuff in Oxford shuts down or rotates pretty quickly, so you see a lot of places like this that are obscure and off to the side shut down really fast, but this place is such a community.”
Whenever her family or friends come into town, she takes them by The Luv Shak. They usually accuse her of being crazy after at least half an hour in line, but when they reach the end they understand the food was worth the wait.
“I think it really started out with professors and grad students,” Hunter said. “It kinda just expanded into undergrad. Now you have enough people who swear that it shouldn’t die.”
Picasio Thompson, a university alumnus and regular, has been frequenting The Luv Shak almost twice a week for a year now.
For Thompson, Sundays are for the everything bagel loaded with eggs, topped with crispy bacon, Taylor ham and cream cheese. When he’s looking for a pasta dinner, Thompson praised the Thursday night chicken parmesan.
De’terris Fox, who Thompson introduced to The Luv Shak weeks ago, sat next to him and nodded his head, throwing in the Tuesday tortellini and Friday shrimp diablo as favorites. Each explained how someone might go somewhere else for Sunday breakfast, but for them, eating here is a tradition.
“It’s a little rare treat, kind of like a little banana split in that way,” Fox said.
Everyone on the porch out front of The Luv Shak listens and laughs while they wait in line, a common occurrence for those who brave the hour long wait to experience Oostendorp’s creations.
“Most places don’t provide this environment,” Thompson said. “Most places, you go and sit down, but at this place everyone is in line together. You don’t have anything to do but talk, so you might as well talk to each other. It’s like waiting to get into the bars, except we’re waiting on food.”