Dezeen Magazine

Studio Tre models Bronx chocolate cafe on Puerto Rican general stores

This South Bronx cafe that serves a chocolate-focused menu is designed by New York City-based Studio Tre to reflect the brand's Caribbean roots.

Bright colours, palm fronds, references to Spanish architecture and wallpaper made of advertisements feature in the second cafe location of the chocolate manufacturer Chocobar Cortés.

Yellow-lined arched opening with chequerboard floors running through
Several design elements in the cafe nod to spaces in Viejo San Juan, including arched openings and chequerboard floors

Chocobar Cortés is a fourth-generation family company that has been growing cacao and manufacturing chocolate since 1929, first in the Dominican Republic and then in Puerto Rico.

In 2013, they opened their first cafe-restaurant in Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) – Puerto Rico's historic capital – where every dish or drink incorporates chocolate in some way.

Cafe tables sit below a raffia ceiling fixture
Studio Tre travelled to Puerto Rico at the project's onset to learn about the Chocobar Cortés brand

The second location in The Bronx brings the concept to New York City and is modelled on the "colmadito" general stores found in Viejo San Juan as a nod to its origins.

"The design embraces the warmth of the Caribbean and recognisable textures, colours and patterns of the Viejo San Juan neighbourhood of the first location," said Ernesto Gloria of Studio Tre.

The 1,600-square-foot (150-square-metre) space on Alexander Avenue features a variety of elements borrowed from the colmaditos, including chequerboard cement-tile flooring.

View through a doorway with historic photos on either side
Historic photos and a rotation of works by local artists are displayed on the walls

A trio of arches that form niches for the back bar and an opening to the bathrooms echo Spanish colonial architecture.

These arches were painted in the brand's signature yellow hue, matching the front of the cafe counter and together adding warmth and vibrancy to the space.

Pale green-grey plaster above wood wainscoting in the cafe
Pale green-grey plaster was applied above wood wainscoting in the cafe

"Retired chocolate bar moulds repurposed as design feature above the cafe counter," said Whitley Esteban of Studio Tre, who travelled with Gloria to San Juan at the project's onset to learn about the company and its values.

Ogee wood panelling and bronze hardware on the bar were chosen as an homage to the large doors found across the old city.

On the cafe walls, pale green-grey plaster was applied above wood wainscoting, and a mix of historic photos and a rotation of works by local and Caribbean artists are displayed.

The bathrooms are lined with a collage of brightly coloured cartoons and old advertisments, while radio jingles play over the speakers.

Yellow cafe counter with chocolate moulds installed above
Yellow counterfronts match the brand's signature colour, while chocolate moulds are installed above

The cafe also hosts a series of events and cultural programming for the neighborhood's queer community, creating a "spirit of acceptance and celebration".

"Imbuing this Caribbean spirit into the design, with also the vibrant and artistic spirit of the neighborhood in The Bronx, the interiors of the restaurant establish Chocobar Cortés as the joyful celebration of culture, chocolate, and community that it is," said Glora said.

Bathroom is cartoon collage lining the walls
The bathrooms are lined with a collage of old advertisments

Chocolate shops and cafes are popular across the globe, and their interiors vary dramatically based on their context.

Others around the world include one that occupies a century-old house in Kyoto and another in São Paulo where the production processes are put on show.

The photography is by Grant Legan.