The first thing you notice when you walk into Theory at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR, is the eye-popping, 10- by-50-foot mural that wraps around the entire soffit of the café. Simple dishes — a burger with the works, a smoothie, bisque, and a pizza—are broken down into vividly photographed ingredients arranged into formulas on a black background. With fewer than 50 words, the display eloquently (and mouthwateringly) conveys the theme of the re-imagined café, which is the playful science of food.
But though the mural looks like an expensive commercial piece of art, it was actually house-made. Theory Executive Chef Ryan Morgan, OMSI’s graphic designer Melissa Hicks, and photographer Gia Goodrich set up a food photography studio at Portland neighbor Marylhurst University (also a Bon Appétit Management Company account). Ryan cooked the individual items, Gia shot them, and Melissa used her design magic to transform them into the stunning images, which were inexpensively printed by a commercial sign maker on adhesive vinyl.
The Portland science museum relaunched Theory earlier this year. A key goal of OMSI’s has been to encourage learning in new and entertaining ways, and the new Theory features exhibits (including a recent one on the different materials used in cookware), demonstrations, classes, and events. The open and airy 9,100-square-foot café has a riverfront view and has its own public entrance from the bordering Eastbank Esplanade. New seating, a gas fireplace, and a vastly bigger walk-in cooler have expanded the reach of the cafe’s offerings.
Since the reboot, Ryan and General Manager Sydney Deluna have been expanding not just their guests’ horizons, but their audience. Moving beyond its traditional focus on the family, Theory has hosted pub-quiz nights as well as very successful happy hours preceding OMSI’s After Dark series. The hypothesis that Theory will appeal to adults as well is proving to be true.