A Vietnamese-style iced coffee and breakfast tacos are a unique way to start the morning in Oxford.
Only a few blocks north of the Oxford Square, Chef Corbin Evans prepares meals using locally grown ingredients.
Housed in a rather unconventional spot (a former gas station-turned-carwash), Oxford Canteen at 766 N. Lamar Blvd. isn’t where one would expect to “chow down” on chorizo tacos. Evans said that’s what makes it unique.
“The way we built it, we wanted it to have an urban feel,” he said. “That’s why we have the garage door we can open up, and the seating inside and out. I think it appeals to the people of this town.”
Oxford is a melting pot of students, teachers, parents, international students, senior citizens, and Oxford Canteen offers an all-day menu, served from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Evans said he wanted to find a way to introduce fresh produce, Louisiana seafood, and international cuisine to the community of 23,000 people.
“I think cooking food and eating really opens a lot of cultural doors,” he said. “We have a big table in the middle of the room that really brings people together.”
Evans said Oxford Canteen uses produce from local farmers. “We use local produce because it’s better for the economy and usually cheaper,” he said. “Plus it’s always fresher. We love to support the people of the community as they support us. I love to cook with the seasons.”
Evans graduated from St. Joseph High School in Missouri and traveled to Villanova University to major in business and play collegiate sports. Although he was living his dream, life had other plans. He suffered a broken jaw from a car accident.
“I broke my jaw and couldn’t eat solid food for 10 weeks,” he said. “It got me thinking about how much people take food for granted. It also taught me to never give up.”
Evans went on a mission to “take back food,” serving an apprenticeship in New Orleans. “I think cooking was the closest thing to sports, which I miss,” he said. “I think the adrenaline, urgency, and teamwork really drew me in.”
Evans and his wife, Cynthia Joyce, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, opened the “new” Oxford Canteen in September of 2017.
Evans said community support keeps Oxford Canteen growing. “I think we have grown [as a business] because of the customers,” he said. “They really support what we are doing.”
For one Oxford resident, Oxford Canteen has become a weekly tradition. “The beef brisket grilled cheese is the only thing that gets me through my week,” Clinton Simon Jr. said. “I like to grab a group of friends and head over to the Canteen to catch up.
“There are a million reasons I choose the Canteen over other places in Oxford. It’s affordable, like really affordable, and I love to see all the different people that come in here for the iced coffee.”
Born and raised in southern Mississippi, Simon is accustomed to southern hospitality. “The staff is helpful, like the real kind of helpful, not the ‘fake for a paycheck’ kind,” he said. “You can tell they want to be there, and it’s been like that since they were next to the Lyric.
“Personally, I think the vibe [the Canteen] has is what sets it apart from others. As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted with the ‘hi’ and ‘how are you’ that is typical everywhere else, but it feels different. It has a family sense to it, and I haven’t really found that anywhere else in Oxford in the 10 years I’ve lived here.”
With a helpful staff and a unique menu, Oxford Canteen has been featured in publications, such as USA Today and Southern Living. With competition like Big Bad Breakfast, Volta, and Track 61 right next door, Oxford Canteen works to distinguish itself from other restaurants.
“I have always felt if you cooked good food, people will find you,” he said. “We do things that I believe, as a business, sets us apart from others, like using biodegradable serveware,” Evans said.
Oxford Canteen is closed on Mondays. They are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to noon on Sundays.