A spunky new coffee shop called Reactor is a close neighbor to campus housing, located just down the street from The Village in downtown Lincoln. The shop is a tribute to innovators, manifested through its bubbling beaker logo, Nikola Tesla mural and constant trial and error system of concocting new menu choices.
For several years, Reactor was nothing more than a hazy idea for Turbine Flats owner Matt Wegener. Though his other plans for the building were in motion, in Dec. 2017 he realized he wanted to move forward with his caffeine-fueled experiment. Neither he nor his general manager, Diana Carolina Ramos, had any prior experience working in a coffee shop. He approached Ramos with the proposal shortly after, who said, “We've been experimenting ever since.”
Owner Matt Wegener has a reverence for the building’s muse, Nikola Tesla, who inspired him to take a jump and create something he’d never tried before.
“He’s kind of my hero in an eclectic, crazy scientist way,” Wegener said.
Those who walk by the west side of the building will see a large mural depicting the different stages of Nikola Tesla’s life in vibrant orange and brown. Artist Amos Sterns gets creative with a repeated spiralling pattern, mimicking the same strokes in the depictions of his early life and the peak of his career. These same spiral shapes find their way onto a gazebo roof just past the wall, designed to cast swirling shadows that are reminiscent of the ones found on the wall. Sterns has many other pieces hanging inside the shop.
Beginning with their opening day in April 2018, Reactor has become the lab of many ideas, from pasta to pizza. Some ideas have found their way onto the menu, but just as Tesla must have experienced, plenty more have stayed in the exploratory stage. One of Reactor’s experimental ideas includes a long trial-and-error process of savory waffles.
“[Wegener] just comes in and says, ‘I saw this cool thing!’” Ramos said. “At some point we tried a cheeseburger waffle.”
Reactor changes their bean roaster every month to keep things tasting different. The coffee shop is also the only one in town that provides a dual monitor system for its patrons. Customers can hook up to these monitors for free and enjoy working on multiple screens at once.
Reactor is located inside the Turbine Flats building — a collaborative space for creatives and start-ups that sprung out of an abandoned warehouse. Wegener’s company, ISoft, purchased the building that would one day house 38 companies at various stages and grow to 33,000 square feet. Turbine Flats is aimed at community engagement and has seen Reactor provide many of Lincoln’s occasions through First Friday events, art installations, a Little Free Library, crawfish boils and many other events. In short, Reactor is just one piece of the puzzle.
Wegener says Reactor reminds him a lot of tofu.
“It takes on the flavor of whatever you mix it in,” he said. “We’re not trying to push a vibe, but a place that supports creativity.”
For its customers, Reactor is the perfect place to make creative mistakes while sipping coffee, according to the duo. The shop is located inside the Turbine Flats building at 2124 Y St. Store hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.