Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita restaurant owner has cool decor idea - but is it legal?

John Arnold stands in front of a giant wall in his about-to-open Oak & Pie that’s covered in 16,030 nickels.
John Arnold stands in front of a giant wall in his about-to-open Oak & Pie that’s covered in 16,030 nickels. The Wichita Eagle

When John Arnold was contemplating finishes for his soon-to-open Oak & Pie pizzeria at 21st and Greenwich, a staff member had an idea.

Inspired by the penny floors often featured on Pinterest, Arnold’s marketing director, Lauren Irwin, suggested a tile substitute for the floor-to-ceiling wall that will surround the restaurant’s wood pizza oven:

Nickels. To be exact, 16,030 of them.

Arnold, who says his new pizza and wine restaurant should be ready to open in the second week of May, has added many nice decorative touches inside, including sea foam green subway tile and brick accents. But the nickel wall, which Irwin spent 150 hours assembling, is a show stopper.

From a distance, it looks like it’s covered in iridescent mosaic tiles. But look up close, and its 5-cent glory is revealed.

“It was all built from scratch,” Arnold said.

When he decided to try the wall, Arnold – a seasoned restaurateur who also owns Greystone and Deano’s – decided he’d better find out if it was legal to use U.S. currency in interior decorating. He was told that, unless he was defacing the coins or selling them for profit, he was in the clear.

He emptied every drawer and searched under every cushion in his house collecting nickels, and he also visited a long list of banks, clearing out their supplies. He also tracked down a couple of rare buffalo nickels, which feature a profile of an American Indian in place of Thomas Jefferson. Those were put in a special place near the oven door.

The nickels on the wall total $801.50. Although that’s not nothing, when he priced mosaic tiles, they were $50 a square foot.

Arnold’s Oak & Pie will be a casual pizza place that serves wood-fired pizzas, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and appetizers. The restaurant also will specialize in wine and has a wine room that holds 500 bottles. Customers will be able to get house wine by-the-glass, though, for $6.

It’ll be open for lunch and dinner. Stay tuned for news about its official opening.