In January 2017, Alan Donovan opened Oat Shop in Davis Square, turning heads with his restaurant’s concept: a café specializing in oatmeal. The Boston area’s first oatmeal café turns five this winter. And they don’t just do breakfast.
Oat Shop cooks up both classic sweet and unconventional savory oatmeal bowls. While sweet options include time-honored flavors like apple, cinnamon, and maple syrup, the savory bowls can feature fried eggs, bacon, and cheesy oats.
Owner Alan Donovan went to work in finance in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Holy Cross in 2013. “Working in an office job surrounded by a lot of busy people, I felt like there was this lack of options in the breakfast market,” he says. “Something that was healthy and unique, something you can eat and be full and feel good about.”
A longtime oatmeal lover himself, he started experimenting with the “underappreciated” breakfast food by adding flavors like pesto or sriracha. “So many people are familiar with this food but haven’t really had it to its full potential,” says Donovan. Realizing he had the beginnings of a great idea, Donovan began to learn about the restaurant industry, moved back to the Boston area where he’d be surrounded by supportive family and friends, and launched Oat Shop.
What started as a pop-up in Brookline soon put down roots on College Ave. in Somerville’s Davis Square. Donovan knew that the Camberville area, full of young professionals and students, would appreciate something new and funky on the food scene—so since 2017, Oat Shop has been serving up offbeat, nourishing bowls to Davis Square residents.
Savory flavors and creative combinations
Donovan says his favorite bowl is the sriracha fried egg bowl—the steel cut oats are cooked in vegetable stock, then mixed with soy sauce, cashew butter, and a little sriracha, before they’re topped with a fried egg, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a drizzle of sriracha. The result is filling and savory, packing a lot of flavor into a simple dish—for only seven dollars. Pro tip: If you don’t love spicy, get the sriracha drizzle on the side.
Donovan finds much of his inspiration from well-known flavor combinations, subbing in oats where you might typically see a different grain like rice. When he was developing his first menu five years ago, he did a lot of testing flavors and dishes with friends. Now, staff members and even customers might pitch ideas for new bowls, says Donovan, and they rotate the menu seasonally while keeping a few staples all year round. You can bet that the sriracha bowl is a permanent fixture, as is one of the popular sweet bowls, nuts over berries, featuring almond butter oats topped with fresh berries, house-made granola, and maple syrup.
Since they like to keep the menu seasonal, in the fall you might find a bowl with pumpkin, while in the past they’ve topped autumn bowls with cinnamon pears or butternut squash. They also make all their coffee syrups in house, and this fall Donovan says they’re whipping up a house-made pumpkin spice syrup with real pumpkin, and they’re roasting their own pecans for a maple pecan flavoring. “We try to do everything in the more natural, often labor-intensive way, where you can taste the difference,” says Donovan.
Along with oatmeal, Oat Shop also bakes breakfast pastries and brews up local coffee and tea, proudly partnering with other Somerville and Cambridge small businesses like Davis Square’s MEM Tea, Somerville’s Taza Chocolate, and Cambridge’s Broadsheet Coffee Roasters. And all their takeout packaging is either recyclable or compostable.
With a pandemic under their belt, Oat Shop has proven resilient against the challenges of the last year and a half. Their catering business, which made up a third of their revenue, says Donovan, was lost overnight in March 2020. Instead, they launched a home delivery service where customers working from home could order breakfast staples delivered right to their door, like a baked oatmeal loaf to reheat throughout the week. But Donovan couldn’t be more thrilled that customers are back at the shop in person, popping in to grab their usual order and say hi.
Learn more at oatshopboston.com.