A new cafe in Portland, Oregon’s St. Johns neighborhood called Wonderwood Springs has opened like a storybook, bringing to life quality coffee alongside immersive art under the leadership of local artist Mike Bennett.
“As an immersive space artist, I create a lot of art that can be looked at or walked through,” Mike Bennett told DCN. “I’ve never had the opportunity, however, to make art that can be lived in.”
Featuring hundreds of hand-painted pieces throughout an 1,800-square-foot space, Wonderwood Springs opened last month with brewed coffee and espresso drinks, breakfast and lunch fare, and a selection of craft beers on tap.
In the building next to the cafe is a biannually rotating series of floor-to-ceiling, cartoon-style walk-through exhibits by Bennett. Through original characters, backdrops, props, lighting and music, Bennett and the staff plan to spin new epic, family-friendly tales of adventure set in the magical world of Wonderwood. The opening chapter is called “The Scourge of Castle Maplehold.”
In a space formerly occupied by motorcycle-themed coffee company See See Motor Coffee, the Wonderwood Springs cafe is owned by See See parent company Coffee Business LLC, which also owns and roasts the coffee for Water Avenue Coffee.
Coffees for See See, Water Avenue and now the Wonderwood Springs brand are all roasted on 10-kilo and 30-kilo Proaster roasting machines in a Portland facility led by Coffee Business Roasting Operations Manager Tyler Zaiss. Behind the bar is a Synesso S Series 3-group espresso machine paired with a Mahlkönig E80 grinder and a PuqPress automatic tamper.
To determine the flavors and spirit of the coffee program, Bennett convened with Coffee Business Director of Strategic Partnerships Matt Milletto for cuppings and some general coffee education.
“Going into Wonderwood Springs, all I really knew was, I love coffee and I love coffee shops,” Bennett said. “Thankfully, teaming up with Matt Milletto, I was educated to a level that allowed me to experience coffee in a whole new, elevated way. After trying several different blends and talking through some of the flavors we hoped to bring to Wonderwood Springs, we finally settled on the perfect roast: Up All Knight. Warm, cozy and easily adaptable to any ‘potion’ we bring to life in the shop.”
The coffee menu includes seasonal specials such as a sweet potato and fall-spice beverage called the Wonderwood Spice Latte, and story-specific specials such as the Maplehold Hot Chocolate.
Coffee Business Director of Projects Marian Janes helped lead the transformation from See See to Wonderwood.
“Flipping it to quite the opposite of a concept was so interesting, and it’s really cool to serve the community that wants to be at Wonderwood,” said Janes. “The whole community aspect of Wonderwood is so similar to See See, which is cool to see, but with an entirely different community.”
Bennett’s artwork has been increasingly found throughout the greater Portland community since he moved to town from Pennsylvania in 2016. A series of Bennett-designed yard signs with adorable animal characters imploring drivers to slow down has spread like dandelions throughout the city. Larger sanctioned works have made their way into parks, businesses and even vacant commercial spaces.
For Bennett, the Wonderwood concept breaks new ground both artistically and entrepreneurially.
“I think Wonderwood Springs as a concept has really allowed me to view my own creations in a new way,” Bennett said. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching folks play board games, write stories, make art and stare off into the hundreds of cutouts we have around the space all in the short time we’ve been open. It’s a pretty special place and I can’t wait to see how it evolves.”