“We started working on this project over a year and a half ago with a unique vision to create a space where people would put down their phones and connect with nature in a restorative way,” Airship Coffee Roasters Owner Mark Bray told Daily Coffee News. “At the time, we had no idea how appropriate an open-air cafe would be come Fall of 2020.”
Opened this week, the sheltered coffee bar nestled among the trees and trails of the 260-acre preserve offers abundant space for standing and seating with free-flowing air aplenty.
Said Bray, “With the new social restrictions and higher anxiety levels related to isolation, it became evident that Bentonville’s trails were the best medicine to address the fear and fatigue caused by the pandemic.”
Airship worked with local architects Modus Studio and real estate developer Runway for the design and buildout of the coffee destination that spreads out over roughly 5,000 square feet, including an open upper seating level and the coffee bar below. The bar is inside a three-walled concrete enclosure with cutouts on either side for entering and exiting to trails.
“Prior to COVID, having a beer garden adjacent to the cafe wasn’t part of the plan,” said Bray. “We realized that our community needed more functional outdoor spaces, so we worked with the landscape architect to expand our vision for the grounds to include the beer garden.”
Despite its natural surroundings, the new location is only minutes from the company’s downtown Bentonville roastery cafe. Coffees roasted there now pass through Mahlkönig grinders on their way to La Marzocco espresso and Wilbur Curtis batch brewing equipment for the hot coffee side of a menu. The new Airhip bar also offers house-made seasonal kombuchas, the company’s Jetpack nitro cold brew, and local beer and wine.
The food program emphasizes smoked meats mixed with fresh local produce and ingredients for what Airship calls Ozark Trail Tacos.
“The buildings at Coler are designed to provide specific views with focal points into the landscape; perspectives where guests can observe the natural beauty of the Ozarks,” said Bray. “The beer garden is tucked into the forest between two hillsides with a view out to the valley. The rooftop provides a scenic overview of the creek below, while the porch offers more views into the valley.”
Licensed Q Grader Bray and his wife, Amber Bray, started the company in 2010 as a local and regional wholesale coffee roaster. Airship then opened the retail bar its roastery in 2018 after years of neighbors and locals dropping by and asking for coffee.
The company’s 7,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility includes a cupping lab, office space, and a roastery centered on 35-kilo and 12-kilo US Roaster Corp drum roasters and a Jabez Burns two-barrel sample roaster.
Apart from boosting the health and morale of the community, the great outdoors has also been helpful to the company. After suffering a 72% economic loss due to COVID-19 in April, the company quickly adapted by focusing more intently on its whole bean and other products oriented toward consumption at home. It also tripled the size of the outdoor seating area at the downtown cafe with additional picnic tables and umbrellas.
Despite its relative exposure to the elements, the new bar at Coler will now remain open year-round, and the company looks forward to watching the leaves change as it plans its next retail cafe project undaunted by the pandemic, Bray said.
“The winter season in the Ozarks is pretty mild,” said Bray. “We anticipate serving mountain bikers from around the world who’ve come to experience our trails, as well as our regulars from the local area. Since we have a covered patio area, I suppose we’ll do what everyone does when it rains, and wait it out.”
Airship at Coler is open now at 1300 Applegate Trail in Bentonville.