Orlando Science Center is revamping its restaurant area so it can double as an exhibit that examines food and health issues. The project is a collaboration with 4Roots, a nonprofit alliance founded by restaurateur John Rivers.
The 4Roots Café is expected to open on the ground floor of the science center in late October.
“There’s such mission alignment, not between our restaurants, but between our farm and our foundation and what we’re doing,” Rivers said during a preview of the space. “It’s all about education, and it’s all about inspiring young minds and young hearts.”
The goal is to make the dining experience fun, interactive and engaging, said Joann Newman, president and CEO of Orlando Science Center.
“I think the possibilities are so exciting, but what we really want to do is help educate, bring awareness to some of the issues around the food system,” she said. “I think we can make a difference in our community by helping to educate and have some calls to action.”
The space, where a Subway franchise had operated, will feature exhibits and large screen to help show cooking and science demonstrations. One planned exhibit will explain hydroponics, and there will be a section devoted to Florida’s “food heroes,” Newman said.
“That could be anybody who’s doing innovation around food. Some of it is the technology. There’s amazing drone technology and GPS technology and all those things that are helping us grow more efficiently and more effectively,” she said. “There’s just so many stories.”
Rivers said the goal was not to overpower the diners with learning while eating.
“If you make it fun and you build it into the actual meal and the eating process, I think kids really get engaged,” he said.
“I haven’t seen anything like this. And I’ve gone through a lot of science centers and a lot of museums,” Newman said. “We’ve looked at this space as a dining space for so many years, it was almost a little bit of an ‘a-ha’ for us as well.”
The 4R Foundation is a charitable arm of the 4R Restaurant Group, which includes 4Rivers Smokehouse, The Coop and the 4R Cantina Food Truck. The nonprofit is developing the 4Roots Farm Campus in Orlando, using a holistic approach to food-systems change.
“I love creating concepts, new menus and new items,” Rivers said. For the 4Roots Café, “we wanted it to be very health-oriented, and sustainability-oriented as well, from all the cutlery to the bowls and everything.”
He said the science center location had interesting challenges.
“My average age coming in from my guests is 8 and a half, and they have moms with them that are in a hurry,” he said. There will be a grab-and-go counter alongside build-a-bowl options.
The public will be able to visit 4Roots Café without paying science center admission. Before the pandemic, folks could enter the space from its own entrance, although currently, as a health precaution, everyone must use the museum’s main entrance.
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