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Onyx Coffee Lab’s New Fourth Location Is Like A Work Of Contemporary Art

Mar 26, 2020
coffee machine

The new Onyx Coffee Lab location in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

A former cheese factory’s loading dock has never looked so good.

Northwest Arkansas coffee juggernaut Onyx Coffee Lab has opened its newest cafe at the recently christened contemporary art and performance venue The Momentary in downtown Bentonville, in a decommissioned factory once owned by Kraft. 

A companion community facility to the spectacular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — funded and founded by the Wal-Mart-associated Walton Foundation — The Momentary was designed by Wheeler Kearns Architects.

Onyx Bentonville cafe interior

Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

Within this space, the Onyx team has pushed the limits of transparency-driven coffee shop design, while also offering experimental approaches to drink service and delivery through drink time displays, a conveyor belt and more.

The walls and floors of the new cafe are covered corner-to-corner with pink 3/4-inch-thick Venetian tiles weighing 12 pounds each. Handmade in Italy over the course of about a year, the tiles took nine weeks just to install, Onyx Coffee Lab Co-Owner Jon Allen recently told Daily Coffee News. 

inside seating at Onyx Bentonville

Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

Pink bench seating and headrests were built-in around the tiles, while even more pink pops throughout the shop on the surfaces of powder-coated tables and stools against the back wall. 

All these pinkish, papaya and peachy hues shine right through the coffee bar, which is made entirely of glass and contains two Modbar group heads and steam wands. Modbar created custom heat-resistant plexiglass tops for the modules that live under the bar.

“Each cafe we open, we have the coffee bars get more transparent,” said Allen. “We want to minimize the barrier between customer and barista… We find it creates a different attitude and conversation in the cafe.”

coffee machine

Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

 High-powered fans, also powder coated in pink, operate under the counter-top to prevent fogging and dust. A Marco boiler lives under the bar to heat water passing through a V60-paired Poursteady automated pourover machine with another glass-fronted pane for views into the mechanics. 

Behind the bar, two Victoria Arduino Mythos 2 grinders pair with two Puqpress machines that fit snuggly under each grinder. Said Allen, “We had to install the Puqpresses because we can’t tamp on the bar.”

coffee machine

Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

Beyond the radical visual transparency, Onyx is pushing some service-related envelopes, too. The location is currently experimenting with a to-go drink menu by which all drinks are offered in one size only, and estimated wait times for each drink are shown to guests on a digital display.

“We publish the data on the menu screens in pie charts of what our customers have been ordering and how long it takes,” said Allen, who noted that drinks for enjoyment in-house are served in NotNeutral cups. “It’s an experiment in the making.”

coffee machine

Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

In another experiment, Pacific Foods oat milk is the default milk option, while traditional cow’s milk carries an additional $1 charge. 

“We call it a ‘carbon tax’ for regular dairy,” Allen said. “It’s sort of ironic that [the cafe] is in the former milk loading dock.”

In a Jetsons-like futuristic nod to the building’s industrial production past, Onyx has also installed a conveyor belt for food and drink delivery, re-coating a belt designed for the manufacture of small electronics with food-safe latex. The belt runs from the kitchen, through the cafe and into the museum lobby, where guests can pick up their food or drinks and place orders through a touchscreen.

coffee machine

The conveyor belt at the new shop. Photo by Keetun Pierce, courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.

“The cafe has been two years in the making and required a lot of labor and intensive planning,” explained Jon Allen. “Every manufacturer we worked with really got behind our concept once we pitched it to them. I think it really speaks about us and all the great people that helped with this project.”