Thursday, September 29, 2022

How Does Oxford Prepare for 60,000 Eating, Drinking Fanatics?

Seven times a year, the population of Oxford, Miss. swells from barely 19,000 residents to more than 60,000 faithful Rebel fans. Preparation is key for the restaurants and retail stores to keep up with the fleeting influx of patrons.

Whether you are a locally owned restaurant or retail store, the seven weeks of Rebel football each fall are markedly more tedious and stressful than any other weekend of the year.

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Liquor gets downloaded at Star Package easier than a JPEG file in preparation for big game weekend.

Old Venice packs its freezers, refrigerators, and walk-ins to the gills early in the week and starts prepping food on Wednesday – that’s three days prior to kick off.

“We try to stay ahead of the rush until game time, then we can start prepping for Sunday lunch,” kitchen manager John Straehlow said.

Oby’s on University Avenue rents a spare food truck bursting with supplies. Due to insufficient freezer space inside the restaurant, the food truck is equipped with frozen and refrigerated sections for extra chicken and catfish, as well as spare cups, napkins and straws.

Not only are some of Oby’s busiest services during football weekends, but they also offer catering options as well. According to manager David Calhoun, preparation for catering orders starts as early as Tuesday and lasts all week as more orders pour in.

“Most restaurants will say ‘make hay while the sun’s shining’”, Calhoun said. “(Preparation) is a process. It’s a stressful process, but a fun process.”

As far as scheduling employees for football weekends, Calhoun said the schedule is set in stone weeks in advance. Since the city is overflowing from Friday straight through Sunday, the teams start mid-week and continue non-stop until Sunday evening.

Just as important as what you eat on a football weekend is what you drink. To make up for slower summer months, liquor stores around town rely on these seven weekends to boost sales and carry them through the holidays.

“The Friday before a game is always a bigger sales day than Saturday,” Jeanne Zinn, owner of Star Package on Jackson Ave., said. “People are stocking their boxes in the stadium, hosting dinner at their condos, and prepping for the Grove the day before.”

At Star Package, Zinn said she places orders with the State’s liquor distribution warehouse in Gluckstadt, Miss. just about everyday. The State of Mississippi controls all liquor distribution throughout the state and they only make delivers four times each week, so preparation is key.

“I usually place the big order to be delivered on Tuesday, but each order is based on what we sold the day before,” Zinn said. “If I’m out of something, it’s usually because the State is out of it. I try to always keep solid inventory.”

Star Package is unique in that it also holds a wholesale permit, meaning Zinn can sell to other stores, restaurants and bars, in addition to your average Grove attendee. She said she makes a point to note the sizes and quantities of items most often used by bartenders on the Square. In the unlikely event that a bar was to run out of a popular libation, Star Package is right down the road.

Zinn said her biggest obstacle comes when the Ole Miss Rebels kick-off before lunch. Per state law, Zinn, or any of the other liquor stores in town, is not allowed to make a single sale until 10am, even on Saturdays.

“I usually let them in the door 15 or 10 ‘til,” Zinn said. “But I can’t let them leave until 10 o’clock. I have three registers, so I’ll have three lines waiting for the clock, ready to get to the Grove.”

Eating and drinking are important weekend staples, but what one wears, especially to the Grove, is top of the priority list for all Rebel fans. University Sporting Goods on the Oxford Square has been a local landmark for all things Ole Miss (as well as, tennis rackets, running shoes, and custom t-shirts).

“We start thinking about football season when we go to market in March,” manager Mackenzie Lowery said. “We re-order as we get closer, but we go ahead and schedule larger shipments months in advance.”

Due to the wide range of inventory packed into the two-story store front across the street from City Hall, University Sporting Goods has to stay on top of what inventory is currently in the store, what is in the warehouse, and when everything needs to be shifted around. Restocking the shelves is a daily activity, especially during football season, but often overstocking is key to keeping up with the crowds on football Fridays and Saturdays.

“We stay open late on football weekends, I’m often here until 10 o’clock on a Friday night,” Lowery said. “And we schedule extra staff to work on Saturdays.  It can get pretty hectic, so we try to have enough people to help customers and continuously restock.”

Tripling the size of any small town, no matter how briefly, offers the possibly of disaster. Oxford as a whole has seemingly made an art of the major event and relies on those seven weekends, regardless if the Rebels win or lose. Preparation is key and Oxford businesses are always prepared.

— Kate Sinervo, Associate Editor, kate.sinervo@hottytoddy.com

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