The Portland chocolatier’s downtown café is a small space with a big architectural impact.
By Rachel Gallaher
Images by Josh Partee
Roste Chocolate House, designed by Steelhead Architecture, features a geometric counter that allows for the display of chocolate-roasting equipment.
At Portland’s Roste Chocolate House, everything starts with the bean.
Known for its tasty treats (from pastries to drinking chocolate), the specialty chocolatier imports cacao beans from around the world and roasts them in its cozy café located just north of downtown. The space, designed by Steelhead Architecture, is bright and minimal, and the process, starting with the beans, is on full display.
“The primary entrance directs you straight to the roaster and the mixers,” says Steelhead founder Gabe Headrick. “We treated these like pieces of art—particularly the roaster which came from Turkey and has amazing metalwork on the rotating drum. We created a raised plinth for the 'artwork' to sit on. These are, of course, functional pieces, so you can watch, and more importantly smell, the chocolate production process.”
Brass midcentury-inspired pendant lights above the seating area call back to the brass elements on the roasting drum, tying the space together.
Working in a new building gave Headrick a blank slate—both literally and creatively—but the existing architecture provided a guide for how to organize the café. “The space was split down the middle in terms of ceiling heights,” he says, “so, it was obvious how it should be organized. We placed the back of house production spaces in the lower volumes and dedicated the taller volumes to the public cafe spaces.”
Roste owner Michael Arnovitz envisioned a business model that offered both counter service and a place where customers could meet with friends or sit back and enjoy a class of wine after work. The service counter is a central anchor to the space, and its angular form leads the eye to areas that the design team wanted to highlight, including the roasting machines and chocolate treats on display. According to Headrick, they stuck with a minimal yet bold palette to help focus the design—a move that pays off and makes the café feel roomy and open.
“Too many materials can dilute the ideas you initially envision,” he says. “Rather than just applying materials, we're much more form-focused—the materials have to support those forms. For Roste we used the dark wood slats as the warm and comforting focal point. It relates back to the chocolate and accentuates both the folding counter form and the back-bar cube.”