Experimental shop: coffee + tea + yogurt
Tobias Wacker and Joanna Hong describe lab as a "coffee plus tea plus yogurt experience." And because they both have master's degrees in urban planning from the U-M, they hope their cafe in McKinley Towne Centre will be a "third place."
Wacker, thirty, says a third place is "neither work nor home," but with elements of each. While Ann Arbor's rife with coffeehouses, he points out, most are very traditional looking."We really wanted something that you kind of go in, and it changes your outlook on what things could be and your vibe and your mood. The design should be inspiring." That's why they named it lab. "It's an experiment, a little bit of play and fun. It's a place to try new things. We wanted something that feels clean, light, airy, healthy, and very urban and young."
Wacker and Hong, who's twenty-six, came up with the concept with their third partner, William Chang, a fellow urban planning graduate who lives in New York. Then they worked with Ply Architecture to refine and execute the design. Ply also built the furniture, which helps convey the clean, urban look they wanted. It's a small space, but Ply's design makes it feel larger than it is, with soaring white walls, a lime green ceiling, and lines and angles shooting off in unexpected directions. The furniture, made from blond plywood, is square and functional, and the benches along one wall are reminiscent of a kindergarten classroom, complete with cubbyholes under the seats to store your gear. The curved backs of the low-slung chairs add to the grade school feel and lend the space a sense of innocence and play.
Wacker and Hong offer a full selection of individually prepared coffees, espressos, and lattes (you can even tell the barista just how fine you want them to grind your coffee beans), plus a wide selection of specialty teas. The frozen yogurt also comes with a variety of toppings that you apply yourself from gleaming, wall-mounted metal dispensers. Lab also has a morning breakfast bar featuring both commercial cereals like Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a variety of granolas.
lab, 505 E. Liberty, suite 300. 827-2233. Daily 8 a.m.-11 p.m. labcafe.tumblr.com
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[Originally published in May, 2010.]