- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (AP) - What started as a new hope to revitalize downtown Walnut Ridge has turned in to a Force-filled passion for a family full of “Star Wars” fans.

The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1nQGVji ) reports that Dan West owns The Dark Side Coffee House in Walnut Ridge, and it is easy to see that creativity, and not lightning, flows from his fingertips. Dan owns a machine shop and has a talent for metal work that he put to good use for the city, creating the Beatles Park sculpture - an attraction that sits a few steps from his coffee shop.

In 2012, West had a desire to do more than art for the city and began by making a self-serve yogurt business named Arts and Culture. He said it began with the goal in mind to help improve downtown.

“It started out with the yogurt idea,” West said. “We saw the self-serve yogurt business as a neat niche and thought right next to Beatles park would be a good mix. We started with that. (After) about six months, we opened the other side, which is The Dark Side, and brought in coffee.”

The idea did not begin with a “Star Wars” theme, though. Initially, West and his three daughters, Maddison, Victoria and Clancy, were painting the expansion a darker color and planned to have art on the walls. His daughters always referred to it as the “dark side” compared to the colorful side that houses Arts and Culture. West said a few of his personal likes eventually combined with the product and he lucked out with the name.

“I’m a big Pink Floyd fan, ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’” West said. “I’m a big ‘Star Wars’ fan. Coffee is dark, dark roast. It worked on a number of levels.”

Another element that worked for West was his talent for creatively crafting metal. With that talent, he has not only made the Imperial logo sign but the interior tables and benches in front along with other unique offerings. West also recently finished work on a custom TIE-fighter that shines a spotlight out of the spacecraft’s cockpit. He plans to hang it on the exterior of the coffee house.

The creativity would not be limited to West. His wife, Cara West, kept hearing requests for a menu of food items and eventually, she decided to join the alliance. She now works 50 hours a week making specialty dishes and drinks, all of which come with a creative twist.

Some of the items on the menu include drinks like the “Boba Fett,” a sweet, fruity drink with bobas in it. There’s the “Dagobah Fog,” a hot coffee-based drink, or if you’re hungry, “Dark Side Chili” is also on the menu, which is a steak meat chili that has a secret ingredient: espresso.

The menu is not confined to “Star Wars” references, though. It features many different Beatles themed dishes, like the “Yellow Submarine” sandwich or the “I Want to Hold Your Ham” sandwich.

Cara said the fun for her is in designing dishes with her creative flair.

“That’s the fun part, making fun food that no one has ever had before,” Cara said. “I’ll mix all kinds of stuff together.”

The reaction to the coffee house has been mostly positive, but some of the area’s more religious clients were skeptical about walking on the dark side.

“We still have people walk in and go, ‘Are you guys Pagans?’ They don’t get it at all,” Dan said. “We’re all church-going folks here. We don’t worship Satan. We’ve had some folks who will literally not come in; they think there is something bad here.”

However, with a creative menu and decor to match, even the noble Master Yoda would probably feel comfortable walking into this dark side.

Dan admitted that making a business successful in the town has been more challenging than he expected, but he is dedicated to making the dream happen. Dan even has taken a Padawan learner. His son, Reece, 10, has asked to work at the coffee house when he gets older.

The geek cultured-coffee house is open Wednesday through Saturday.

“We’re all nerds,” Dan said.


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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