Bide + Beans: Skylar Morgan Joins Octane for a Talk on Shaping Culture and Atlanta’s Woodruff Art’s Center

“We wanted to start something from nothing,” Octane co-owner Tony Riffel says about the decision to begin a business with his wife, Diane. “The idea of building an actual space, the nuts and bolts and everything about the business appealed to us. And coffee just seemed like the mechanism that would let us do that.” Thirteen years later, coffee has led them to their sixth space on the campus of the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta. The 1,100-square-foot site opened in August, and has been drawing Peachtree Street passersby in to take a seat and enjoy the roaster’s own blend of coffees and espressos (and craft beer, wine, cocktails, and cuisine) all atop 22 Skylar Morgan Furniture + Design’s Bide Stools in custom grey palette made specially for the new locale.

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The couple has long been a part of shaping the arts community in Atlanta, which makes their newest shop’s location adjacent to the High Museum in the heart of the blossoming Woodruff Arts community all the more fitting. It all started with Octane’s original location on Atlanta’s Westside, a space that features local artists’ collections on its exposed brick walls and once, long ago, held a couple of our older lounge chairs (their first test in a high-traffic environment). “There’s so much talent here in Atlanta, and for us to help introduce that to people who are coming in on a regular basis, or coming for the first time, it’s exciting,” Diane says. And that’s a statement she applies to everyone from featured artists to Armchair Media, the local agency that designed their logo and helps them with promotion and package design, and to BLDGS, the Atlanta-based architect that conceived the interior look and feel of each Octane outpost. “These guys have all been supporters of ours… They’ve all been customers, and it’s fun to support people that we’re inspired by,” Tony adds.

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Once industrial and largely culturally forgotten, today the Westside is home to one of the city’s greatest contemporary arts scenes, but it wasn’t always so. The couple was drawn to the neighborhood when it was still developing. Tony (working in real estate at the time) stumbled upon it while showing properties and fell in love. “It wasn’t quite there yet, but there was a lot of creative people there, so we felt like that was where we needed to be,” he explains. “We needed an area that didn’t already have a coffee presence too, but felt like it needed one.”

Since, Octane has done so much to shape the culture of the area, serving as a gathering place for the steadily growing Westside creative industry, a place to experience local art and design, and a physical manifestation of the authenticity the area has managed to maintain as revitalization rages around it. “They didn’t tear down all the cool buildings; they rehabbed a lot of them and there’s a lot of great chef-driven restaurants there now; not a lot of chains,” Tony says. And it’s true. Now surrounded by swanky restaurants and high-end stores, the Westside’s industrial charm has recently become a destination for local art and culture in its own right.

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What’s great about Octane’s newest location is that it has the potential to evolve with and shape the Woodruff Arts locale in the same way it did on the Westside. But with a distinctive commitment to keeping it local, it’s sure to create a culture all its own here as well. “We’re an in-town brand. We really like the density of neighborhoods. But we don’t want to be too close to ourselves or infringe on other people who are doing great things out there with coffee,” Tony says. “Everybody has their own little neighborhood, their own following, so we try to be sensitive to all that. Creative, eclectic spaces are fun for us, and a challenge.” “Creating spaces that are never going to be the same as the first one is a lot of the fun,” Diane adds.

 

Photography by Andrew Thomas Lee