Home > Food, Lovely Still, Nik Fackler, Omaha, Writing > Pot Liquor Love: Quirky, cozy Shirley’s Diner does comfort food right and you might just run into rising filmmaker Nik Fackler (“Lovely, Still”), whose family wwns-operates the joint

Pot Liquor Love: Quirky, cozy Shirley’s Diner does comfort food right and you might just run into rising filmmaker Nik Fackler (“Lovely, Still”), whose family wwns-operates the joint


Thanks to the Food Network’s crazy popular Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives the nation’s funky good eats joints are getting their due.  The show made a pit stop in Omaha a few years ago and of the five spots they featured here, honestly only one, maybe two can boast the quality product that’s up to host Guy Fieri‘s standards.  The subject of this story, Shirley’s Diner, was not among the Omaha (technically, Millard) eateries profiled, but it should have been.  Its classic diner fare is done right, with lots of love.  The place is quaint.  Its decor, eclectic.  And then there’s the proprietors, the Facklers, a family of creatives with a charming eccentric streak.  The husband-wife team of Doug and Denise Fackler are an unrepetenant Flower Power-era couple who ooze charm and friendliness. Their son Ben runs the kitchen and he shows a real talent and twist on diner favorites.  Then there’s the joint’s brush with Hollywood fame courtesy Ben’s brother, Nik Fackler, a rising filmmaker whose Lovely, Still was inspired in part by the oldster regulars there.  The film’s stars, Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, ate there.  Nik, who until quite recently still helped out at the diner, often drops by when he’s in town.  Nik and his film are the subjects of several stories on this blog.

 

 

Denise Fackler

 

 

Pot Liquor Love: Quirky, cozy Shirley’s Diner does comfort food right and you might just run into rising filmmaker Nik Fackler (“Lovely, Still”), whose family wwns-operates the joint

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Quirky, cozy Shirley’s Diner trades on the charm of its throwback, wood-paneled decor, old style home cooking and personal touch for satisfying breakfast-lunch experiences. The nouvelle-hippie couple, Denise and Doug Fackler, that’s owned the popular Millard spot for 17 years put in long hours to ensure high quality. They hand cut and tenderize filets for Shirley’s signature pork tenderloin and chicken fried steak. Along with head chef and oldest son, Ben Fackler, it’s a tight, family-run place that does comfort food right. The food’s everything-made-from-scratch, fresh-not-frozen goodness can’t be faked or fudged.

Expect generous portions of such lunchtime favorites as pork tenderloin and chicken fried steak, hot beef/turkey, fried chicken, grilled pork chops and spaghetti and meatballs. There are several burgers, grilled chicken and staple sandwiches, from Philly steak to a Reuben and its sister Rachel (turkey in place of corned beef) to a cheese frenchy. Appetizers, soups and salads fill out the lunch menu. Breakfast features standard egg, meat, biscuit and hash brown combos along with omelets, Eggs Benedict, a variation called Canadian Sunrise, a croissant or English muffin sandwich and buttermilk pancakes. Try some cream sausage gravy with your biscuits and browns. Daily breakfast and lunch specials abound.

Desserts include deep fried Twinkies and Oreos and root beer floats.

Authentic American food at moderate prices explains why lines sometimes form outside. It’s worth the drive to find this gem tucked away in the Millard Plaza strip mall. Urban explorers would do well to seek it out during what the owners say has been a slump they attribute to high gas prices, a spate of competing restaurants opened nearby and an aging customer base.

Doug Fackler is a rocker from way back

 

 

Once word extends beyond Millard and gas prices ease Shirley’s may again be the “gold mine” Denise said it used to be. The draws will still be the classic American diner fare, the staff’s warm hospitality and the fun ‘50s-era, memorabilia-rich interior, but also the cafe’s association with a rising star. You see, Doug and Denise’s youngest son is wunderkind filmmaker Nik Fackler, the 23-year-old Millard West grad who just wrapped shooting his first feature, Lovely, Still, in Omaha.

That Fackler directed Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn in a picture with sleeper hit written all over it may just send curiosity-seekers to his family’s diner. Throw in the fact the character Fackler based Landau’s character of Robert Malone on is a regular there, and you have all the makings for a genuine tourist stop. Then there’s the whole fame factor derived from the stars having visited Shirley’s, where Landau actually met the man he plays.

There’s more. Nik practically grew up in the diner and as recently as last summer worked there to earn some scratch. Should Lovely nab Oscar nominations, perhaps for its legendary stars or Fackler’s original screenplay or direction, then Shirley’s will be an iconic shrine. It already is with its theme booths devoted to James Dean, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Denise’s own Aunt Betty, a 1951 Miss Omaha beauty pageant winner and World War II-era pinup girl.

Nik Fackler, ©photo by Bill Sitzmann of Minor White Studios

 

 

Show biz runs in the family. Aunt Betty was a professional model. Doug’s played bass guitar and sung backup in Omaha bands for 40 years. He once cut a record with Eric Burton of The Animals fame. He’s played in bands that have fronted for Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf. Doug may be best known for his gigs with Bumpy Action and the River City All Stars. He’s also a shutterbug. Denise sings and plays piano. She was in Bumpy Action with Doug. She made USO tours to South Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Hawaii. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the couple enjoyed a successful career as studio session artists, lending vocals and instrumentals to countless radio/television jingles. Her voice, she said, is on all the award-winning C.W. McCall Old Home Bread spots and on John Denver’s last album.

Nik’s a musician in his own right. He plays guitar, sings and writes music. He leads his own band, The Family Radio. With his mom’s encouragement he said he began writing stories as a child. She’s a writer herself. For years she’s cultivated the real life stories of customers at Shirley’s for a forthcoming book. Don’t be surprised if the vivacious Denise chats you up on your visit and you end up spilling your guts. Or she may plop on your lap and break into song. That disarming sweetness and spontaneity is shared by Nik, who still stops in, his shaggy appearance and slacker demeanor right in line with the laidback vibe. “We’re very loose,” said Denise.

There’s already a Fackler family booth whose walls are adorned with framed photos of Doug and Denise on stage — him with his Gibson guitar and bell-bottomed pants and her in a mini-skirt. There are shots of Nik, guitar in hand, making like dad behind the mike. It’d be only right if someday a booth is dedicated to Lovely, Still, complete with pics of Martin, Ellen and Co.. Maybe a signed copy of the script. If things go right, Nik might even rate a booth of his own. Right next to James Dean.

The booths’ vintage, wall-mounted jukeboxes work, but are disconnected. Who needs them with the Facklers around? You’ll fall for their soulful cuisine, eclectic tastes and creative clutter.

Shirley’s Diner, 5325 South 139th Plaza, is open daily. For more info. call 402-896-6515.

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