Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
In late 2013, Charlotte Hubbard found herself with an empty building in downtown Oxford, one section built 1898 and a larger addition next door built in 1902. For more than 30 years, the slightly newer side had been her brother’s music store. Before that, both had housed various businesses, including a dry goods store and a hardware store.
But when her brother closed his doors and the music stopped, Hubbard felt she needed to break the silence. The retired educator and city councilwoman wanted to bring energy back into the space but didn’t know how. “I had no idea what to do with the building, but I couldn’t leave it sitting quiet and empty,” she says.
When a few friends suggested a restaurant, despite zero history in food or food service, she thought, “Sure, a restaurant could work.” Her initial plan was to open something easy and casual but good. Today, Hubbard’s Off Main embodies these descriptors, but also much more. And all of it resonates with diners; three years after opening in the building’s smaller side, growing demand necessitated a move of the main dining room to the larger side.
Open the heavy front door to see the hallmarks of the building’s past lives — dark wood floors and exposed brick walls. Hubbard added mural-sized black-and-white photos showing the building’s former occupants and old city maps to enhance the historic space’s yesteryear theme. She kept the stage up front sporting a piano as a nod to the space’s most recent prior use, and she transformed floor joists taken up during renovations into light fixtures that illuminate a long bar.
With its large square footage and soaring ceilings, the interior is cavernous, yet the atmosphere is welcoming and even cozy; Hubbard credits her employees for the warm vibe. “We have a great staff,” she says. “They are really wonderful, friendly servers, and that means a lot to people.”
A large menu of consistently good food means even more, as the restaurant’s many regulars prove. “We do have many repeat customers, but we also get a lot of Oxford visitors,” Hubbard says. She notes how those coming to watch tournaments at the local sports park or to see a show at the nearby performing arts venue often find their way to Hubbard’s, bypassing the chain offerings right off the interstate to get to it. “We attract a lot of people off I-20 who want something delicious but also want a taste of something local,” she says.
Tasty, tried-and-true favorites are just what Hubbard’s smiling servers place on the table. While Hubbard’s initial idea was a simple soup and sandwich shop, it quickly evolved. “I ended up with a great chef, and while he is no longer with us, he pushed us into more and more creative selections, and what we do now seems to be what people want,” she says.
You can get a sandwich — the over-stuffed shrimp and catfish po boys are particularly popular. But you can also get chicken piccata with pasta (Hubbard’s go-to), shrimp and creamy Cajun-spiced grits and low country chicken, a boneless breast bathed in a sauce of sweet corn, bacon, tomatoes and cream, which snagged a spot on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die list. “That’s our signature,” she says, “but so is having the same menu for lunch and dinner so you can get steak or other dinner-type foods during the day if you want.” She did it for her senior customers, who often want their bigger meal mid-day, but has noticed all ages taking advantage of it.
The menu echoes the space, with its own history, too. “A lot of our recipes come from family, like my aunt, who was a great cook,” Hubbard says. “But it’s not just my family’s food represented here. Some of our dishes come from our staff and their relatives.”
The eatery’s steady increase in diners over the last decade has resulted in several additions. “Our loyal customers helped us survive COVID, supporting curbside, and the pandemic also led us to spruce up our rear outdoor patio space and turn it Hubbard’s Out Back, another spot for gathering,” Hubbard says. “We’ve also made the original dining room into an event space.”
Both spots stay full. “We do about six to eight events, like birthday parties, wedding receptions and showers, each week,” she says. The stage in the current dining room features bands belting out live music on Friday and Saturday nights, an ode to her brother’s long-held wish for a music hall. And last year, Hubbard’s started serving breakfast. “That has really taken off and on Saturdays, is a huge hit,” Hubbard says.
The promise of boneless fried chicken with tender waffles and maple syrup, biscuits smothered in gravy and an array of omelets (the pepper-and-ham studded Denver version is Hubbard’s top pick) in the morning and a BLT salad bursting with crisp bacon, hand-cut ribeyes and veggie plates piled with sides the rest of each day are the siren songs bringing hungry masses to Hubbard’s.
But the chance to come together in a lovely and comfortable environment also holds appeal. And providing that in a way that shares a piece of Oxford history thrills Hubbard. “I am so happy to give the community places to connect and celebrate; Oxford needed that,” she says, “but I love that we are doing it in this space, that I was able to preserve it and let others experience it.”
Hubbard’s Off Main
16 Choccolocco Street
Oxford, AL 36203
Tuesday, breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wednesday-Thursday, breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., brunch 10 a.m.-2p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.