NEWPORT, Ky. — Adults and kids alike will soon be able to play with LEGO at a cafe in northern Kentucky themed all around the iconic building blocks.
The man behind the unique business idea is trying to give people an outlet to harness their creativity, and bring back their inner child.
A cynical person might see the expansive LEGO collection in Daniel Johnson’s basement and think he’s a guy who can’t let go of the past. His response would be: why should he?
“It’s been a part of life, my entire life,” Johnson said. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. And so obviously, this was the easiest way to live out my childhood fantasy. I never stopped being a big kid, really.”
Johnson is now a certified facilitator of the LEGO Serious Play method. LEGO sets and boxes of loose bricks line the shelves in Johnson’s Cincinnati home. Decorative art made from LEGO hangs from his walls. He’s even passed his obsession onto his kids.
“I have this pile of bricks, but it can be made into something that actually makes sense, you know,” Johnson said. “The way that these pieces interlock with each other. I think there’s few things in life that make as much sense as the way that LEGO fits together. There’s just something satisfying about this piece being able to fit here, but also, it can fit six, seven other different ways. It’s this connective tissue to the childlike wonderment that we had when we were kids.”
While he never became an architect, it’s hard to argue Johnson isn’t a builder. Some of his favorite sets recreate scenes from his favorite movies like Jurassic Park and Home Alone.
Now he’s building a business, and plans to take much of his collection with him when he opens the Brickery Café & Play in the Gallery at Newport on the Levee.
It’s a big change, even for someone who’s worked many jobs.
“But nothing has really been the thing for me. And so it just seemed, once I had this idea, it just seemed like it was finally worth the risk. Life is too short,” Johnson said. “And so I was like, ‘I think I have to try to do this.’”
At the Brickery, guests will walk in, order some snacks and drinks, and sit down at a table.
“There will be a bunch of LEGO pieces on the table. And you can start building,” Johnson said.
If guests like what they build, they can buy their creations. Johnson said they will also be able to buy or rent complete sets, sell their old LEGO or buy used sets and loose bricks.
Of course, there will also be a children’s play area, geared toward kids ages five to 12. The cafe itself will be free to enter, but the children’s area will require guests to pay a small fee.
While board game cafes have come into popularity, Johnson said he’s not aware of any other LEGO cafes that exist.
“I want it to be a place where people unlock something in themselves that they forgot, or didn’t even know it was there,” he said. “There’s no model to base it off of, so let’s just try and see what sticks.”
LEGO has managed to not just stick around through decades, it’s become a multimedia giant. There are several LEGO movies, television shows and video games. Johnson said 600,000 LEGO sets are sold every day.
Johnson said that speaks to the quality of the product, but also to the fact that many people, like him, refuse to grow up.
The Brickery is currently in its pre-construction phase. Johnson said his goal is to open in July.