By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
It’s no surprise that N & J Donuts on Main Street in Oxford has stayed in business for 43 years, despite an old-country resistance to advertising or anything related to what Americans consider “sales and marketing.” A visit to the shop affirmed, ironically enough, that the reasons its customers have remained loyal since 1976 is, perhaps, because they haven’t changed.
“I no wanna be in peetch,” owner John Baraklilis says, while his cheery young employee, Meghan Cunningham, wraps an arm around his shoulders and coaxes him to look at the camera. More concerned with the current plumbing situation than promoting his business, Baraklilis, a Greek immigrant, finally concedes and manages a smile, his stare a few inches shy of my iPhone 7 camera.
Meanwhile, a group of N & J regulars sit at the counter like the Patriot’s offensive line. A channel 3 reporter approaches them to gather comments on alleged reports that the Oxford Town Manager has been drinking on the job. Offended by the gossip, the coffee drinkers resist commentary and remain tight-lipped. “That’s how rumors start,” one grumbles. “I know nothing,” another tells her, forcing her to leave empty handed.
Manager Irene Baraklilis, daughter of John, dismisses the bitter banter. She’s used to it. “We’re a traditional shop. They come in, sit at the counter, gossip and fight. They have supported us for all of these years. Some come in as a family, others to just get away and be alone. Our regulars are like family. They come here because they prefer something homey.”
Regulars and pit stoppers who prefer something homey can certainly count on N & J Donuts, a cozy shop that, incidentally, has been approached several times by Yelp due to rave reviews. The spirit of the shop is warm and welcoming. The waitresses are not afraid to call you honey. Perhaps what sets them apart from other local coffee shops the most is that they genuinely seem to care about you and your order. An accidental muffin-drop is happily replaced. Special requests are honored. The pace of the shop is leisurely, the service, personal, and the food, remarkably hot and fresh. Aside from freshly baked traditional donuts, N & J serves fluffy egg and cheese sandwiches, bagel pizzas, and signature BLTs.
Amy Arseneault, who has worked at N & J for over one year now, commented easily about her home away from home. “I grew up in the neighborhood with the owners. When they found out I was going through a divorce and was having a hard time, they took me in to work immediately. This is how I feed my family. They are great people.”
The great people of N & J donuts seem unaffected by coffee shop competition, having won over more than a few customers due to the quality of their food and old- fashioned service. “It’s more than just a donut shop,” said Eric Lopes of Oxford, an N & J regular since 1984. “It’s a meeting place for all of the locals and the atmosphere is welcoming, I know everybody that walks in. I’ve seen bunches of kids that go through high school and come here, and keep coming back. We’ve lost that welcoming atmosphere. This town would be lost without this place. It’s of great social value. The owners care. They get to know everybody. It’s more than just a donut shop.”
Visit N & J Donuts at 315 Main Street, Oxford. You can find them on the web, but they prefer that you stop in and chat with them instead.
Write to Amy at [email protected]otmail.com