Oxford’s late-night food scene has flourished in recent years, giving students and Oxonians a few more options than their treasured chicken-on-a-stick.
By AMELIA CAMURATI
Photos by PAUL GANDY
The nightlife and restaurants in Oxford are often touted as some of the best in the South, but while the cocktails continue flowing until midnight and beyond, many local kitchens shut down their burners by 10 p.m.
Jake Sessums set out to change that.
“I saw a hole in late-night food because there was just not enough being provided,” said Sessums, who owns YoknapaTaco food truck. “At the end of the day, it’s something I really enjoy. I like working with people, and I like providing a service to those people.”
Originally from Brookhaven, Sessums moved to Oxford 15 years ago and worked his way up through the restaurant world from washing dishes to managing and everything in between. He opened YoknapaTaco, Oxford’s first food truck, just last year, serving the masses after hours with a clever play on William Faulkner’s famous fictional county.
“It seems like Oxford is the kind of place that needs food trucks,” Sessums said. “Nobody else had done it, so I went to City Hall and (said) ‘I’m thinking about opening a food truck, tell me why I can’t.’ They couldn’t really give me any reasons why I couldn’t.”
YoknapaTaco opened its window in September 2015, serving tacos, burritos, nachos and burrito bowls with a variety of protein options from 10 p.m. up to an hour after the bars close Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Serving anywhere from 200 to 400 tacos on a Saturday night during football season, the truck continues to gain popularity at Jones at Home on Jackson Avenue East and does “at the very least, four or five times more business at night than during lunch,” he said.
University of Mississippi student Jana Rosenberg frequents the Square on Friday and Saturday nights, often ending her night with a chorizo taco from YoknapaTaco.
“If they’re ever parked on the Square when I’m done at the bars, I’m there. It’s cheap and it’s so good,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg’s parents visit throughout the year and tend to forget about the lack of late-night places to snack, her mother often craving Old Venice long after the pizza oven shuts down for the night. Instead, they stroll down the street to Square Pizza and grab a few pies to take home.
“At the end of the day, it’s something I really enjoy. I like working with people, and I like providing a service to those people.”
– Jake Sessums
One of Rosenberg’s favorite local secrets for gourmet grilled cheeses after hours is the Downstairs Bar, a speakeasy hidden in the alley behind a basic black door only for those in the know. An intimate sit-down spot with a proper dress code, it’s a newfound favorite of many Oxonians and Rebel students alike and often comes with a wait.
“If you can get in there, that’s the best thing you can get around here at midnight,” Rosenberg said.
Ole Miss defensive end John Youngblood said he hits The Library after a big win on the field but has to go further down Jackson Avenue for his favorite late-night snack: Jimmy John’s Gargantuan un-wich.
“It’s the biggest sandwich they have, but it’s a lettuce wrap,” Youngblood said.
Now that Youngblood has moved to Lamar Avenue and outside of Jimmy John’s delivery area, Pita Pit is a frequent hit as it’s one of the few delivering to that part of town.
“I think there is a large market for late-night food, and students will pay a lot for food late at night, especially for delivery,” Youngblood said.
Sessums understands the concerns business owners have with the possible complications involving a young (and often imbibed) clientele, but with partnership and patience he has made the late-night scene work without major incident.
“I think a lot of what the restaurants shy away from is that you’re dealing with a majority-inebriated crowd, and it can be a messier crowd, it can be a more hostile crowd,” Sessums said of his late-night patrons. “We’ve worked well with the Oxford Police Department to make sure it’s not getting out of control and people aren’t acting too much of a fool. We’re trying to be there to soak up some of that alcohol. We can offer a food product while you’re waiting on your cab or Uber.”
Mimi Ybos moved to Oxford recently from Hattiesburg around the time of another late-night newcomer came to town: Cook Out. After a long night shift at Chili’s, it’s one of Ybos’ few options on the west side of town for a late-night snack.
“Cook Out has wonderful chicken options, which is great for those of us who aren’t too big on fast-food burgers,” Ybos said, favoring the spicy chicken sandwich Cook Out tray with a chicken wrap, Cajun fries and a huge sweet tea.
After working in the restaurant industry for a number of years, Ybos is familiar with closing restaurants past midnight yet still wanting something to nibble on before bed.
“Don’t do it for the drunks, do it for the others like you that have to be up late serving drunks who just wanna grab a quick bite then go home and sleep.”