CO-OP Ramen, a community-focused food hub in Bentonville, Arkansas
Marlon Blackwell Architects
CO-OP Ramen is a new fast-casual ramen restaurant in the 8th Street Market in Bentonville, Arkansas, a community-focused food hub that pairs culinary excellence and experiences with support for small and midsize local farmers. Set within a former food processing plant, CO-OP Ramen is an oasis, a moment of quiet inside the bustling market, constructed from simple materials to create a productive dissonance between new and old. Seemingly unrefined materials are handled with care and elevated to create a carefully composed and richly texture space that focuses inward.
In 2014, a Regional Food Assessment was prepared for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Food Council, whose mission is “to promote the development of a strong regional food system through activities that increase production, consumption, and access to local food in Northwest Arkansas.” The 8th Street Market was born in part out of the needs identified in the Assessment, including the fact that “the region has an opportunity to articulate a ‘food story’ that reflects the breadth of the local food system and resonates with longtime Arkansans, new arrivals, and tourists.”.
Considered comfort food at its finest, the menu of CO-OP Ramen has something for everyone to enjoy with the intention of bringing the community together over multi-cultural cuisine. As Chef Justin Walker and Sous Chef Nicole Craig say, “We want CO-OP fully immersed within the NWA community by utilizing as many locally sourced materials as possible, and by partnering with our local farms, ranchers and other community members.”
A beaded steel curtain screens views into the restaurant from the exterior, withholding the full experience until visitors are inside. The curtains reduce and soften the light inside, providing an opportunity to escape for a moment into another world and encouraging softer voices. Visitors are met by a wooden ceiling that expands throughout the restaurant, providing a soft, warm light. Made from simple, construction-quality plywood, the ceiling and booths are elevated through careful joinery and detailing of the edges, then illuminated by concealed light fixtures. Light travels through the depth of the plywood in the deeply coffered ceiling, causing light and shadow to become caught up in the recesses and in-between. The warmth of the wood is juxtaposed against walls of concrete block with a serrated face, emphasizing the relationship of the handmade to the industrial.
Surrounded by carefully laid concrete block walls softened by a 12 ft tall living green wall, guests can watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen, creating refined versions of simple food, another example of something simple being elevated and honored through thoughtful care and invention. With a variety of seating provided, visitors can choose between booths in “the cave,” communal dining tables in the open, or bar seating in front of the exposed kitchen. Although only 2,000 square feet, CO-OP Ramen creates a remarkable variety of spaces that yet remain unified by the design. This simple strategy provides a tactile experience within an industrial relic, giving humanity and scale.
view from the exterior looking through the beaded curtain to the bar
view of the queuing area backed by "the cave"
view from inside "the cave" booth seating area
view upon entry
view of the main dining space
view inside "the cave" looking through to the main dining space
detail view of the dropped coffer at the bar/point-of-sale counter
view inside "the cave" looking towards the start of the queuing line
view of the main dining space looking back towards "the cave"
detail view of "the cave" with the coffers above
initial sketches of the organizing ceiling concept
United States of America
Rope Swing Hospitality Group
Marlon Blackwell Architects
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Heart & Soule Builders, LLC.
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Lutron, Nora Lighting, Philippe Starck, Sherwin Williams, and Wall Flower Farms
Marlon Blackwell Architects is an agile, full-service design firm located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Our belief that architecture can happen anywhere, at any scale, at any budget - for anyone - drives us to challenge the conventions and models that often obscure other possibilities. We use an economy of means to deliver a maximum of meaning in places where architecture is often not expected to be found.
Established in 1992, Marlon Blackwell Architects is committed to the value of design. Led by Marlon Blackwell, selected recipient of the 2020 AIA Gold Medal, we have a successful history of generating and implementing visions for multi-scale projects throughout the country. In every instance, we strive to express the richness of the places we work and the ideals of the people and institutions we serve.