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Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe


Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

It’s nearly 40 years since filmmaker Alexander Payne‘s family owned and operated the Virginia Cafe, a restaurant that for generations held a niche in the city’s downtown dining market. Recently, the filmmaker’s father, George Payne, shared some history and memories of the place and the family with The Reader.

George’s immigrant father, Nicholas (Papadopoulos) Payne, was founder and proprietor of the Virginia.  Nick, as the patriarch was called, came to America in 1910, learning the confectionery trade from an uncle, John Birbilis, who helped Nick and brother Peter open the Palace of Sweets in Council Bluffs. In 1920 Nick, with cousin Fred Schizas and two other partners, bought the Calumet, a large, busy, around-the-clock food joint at 1413 Douglas Street that dated back to 1893. They remodeled it, renamed it the Virginia and kept it one of Omaha’s few 24-7 operations, George said. The other partners eventually dropped out.

According to George the Virginia served strictly American fare — steaks, chops, sandwiches, salads, a full breakfast line, daily lunch and dinner specials and traditional holiday favorites. The cafe housed its own bakery, had its own butcher and stocked a freezer with eight kinds of ice cream.

At its peak, he said, the popular cafe kept a payroll of 85 employees on three different shifts and served up to 3,000 diners a day.

George joined his father in the family business in the early ’50s. An Omaha Central High, Dartmouth and Northwestern University grad, George is a World War II vet who worked on the war production board in Washington D.C., where he met his wife, Peggy. He and Peggy settled in Omaha, where the youngest of their three sons, Alexander, fell in love with movies.

The future filmmaker was only 9 when a fire destroyed the Virginia but he has fond memories of the cafe.

“People loved that place,” Alexander Payne said by phone. “There was no key to the front door. They didn’t need one — they never closed. I used to like to go back to the kitchen and watch the chefs work. I remember all the wait staff and cashiers were so nice to me because, of course, I was the owner’s son. Our family ritual was dinner there every Thursday night.”

The Paynes ordered right off the menu.

While no Greek food was on the menu, the restaurant embodied Nick Payne’s classic immigrant made-good success story. Like many newcomers he went out of his way to be a super patriot. He sold millions of dollars worth of government Liberty Bonds during the Second World War, said George Payne, who added his father landed “quite a coup” when he inked a contract to feed all area military enlistees. From WWII through Vietnam, the Virginia served “last meals” to wide-eyed recruits en route to basic training.

“Those are the kinds of things that are a little unique from the Virginia,” the dapper George Payne said. There’s more. The cafe played a part in a tense chapter of Omaha history when a 1935 streetcar strike erupted in violence. George was 20 then and working part-time in the restaurant. Martial law was declared and more than 1,000 National Guard troops sent in to restore order. “That was serious stuff,” George recalled. The Virginia, located right on the streetcar line, was near the conflict between strikers and strikebreakers. The soldiers’ presence quelled the rioting. The cafe was commandeered into serving three meals a day to the troops.

“They came in and took over our business,” said George, who remembers the first guardsmen tromping in with their boots and packs and hanging their rifles on coat hooks attached to the fine mahogany wainscoting, which sent his father into a fit. From that point on the soldiers stacked their weapons safely out of harm’s way.

The Virginia was justly proud of its decor. Its glorious neon signage, plate glass windows, decorative tile-fronted exterior and rich mahogany interior with white table cloth covered tables and booths were straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. Distinctive murals of the American landscape and fine renderings of all 50 state seals adorned the lounge and dining room and the massive cross-section of a redwood tree was mounted in the party room.

“There wasn’t a restaurant in town that had that kind of atmosphere at all,” George said. “It was very well done. My dad had vision.”

This eclectic design reflected the diverse customers the Virginia catered to  — professionals, office workers, politicos, housewives, clerks, stock boys, cabbies, crack-of-dawn delivery men, night owls and bar crawlers.

Up front, right at the door greeting customers, was Nick, trademark cigar in hand, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie and kibitzing with the line of people that formed at lunchtime. If anyone tired of the wait and started to leave George said Nick would coax them to stay with, “‘Don’t go. You know you’ll be back in five minutes. Where you going to go?’ He had a way with people.”

The cafe enjoyed a brisk trade before it went up in flames in 1969. Neither Nick nor George were there when the fire broke out on a Sunday night. They were awakened with the news and came down to see a burned out shell. After two full days of being hosed down, George said, the building collapsed in on itself. It was a total loss. George salvaged a few mementos and artifacts. There was talk of reopening at another spot but the family opted to walk away. The site of the Virginia was sold to the city, which built the W. Dale Clark Library near there.

“I really didn’t quite know what I was going to do…” George said. He wound up with the Sheraton Hotels group and then the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration — posts that took him around the world.

Nick Payne left a rich legacy that George has carried on. The elder Payne helped found the Omaha Restaurant Association, which his son presided over as president, as he did the Nebraska Restaurant Association. In 1956 American Restaurant Association Magazine inducted Nick into its Hall of Fame. The father was heavily involved with St. John Greek Orthodox Church. Nick Payne died in 1989. George Payne, now 92, has continued, with Peggy, his father’s support of the church.

The family retains close ties to Greece and has made periodic trips to their ancestral homeland. Alexander Payne one day intends to shoot a film there.

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Itzel Anahi Lopez: Young Latina on the rise

March 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Itzel Anahi Lopez: Young Latina on the rise

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico

 

Rising young Latina professional Itzel Anahi Lopez is making her mark.

This past spring the 20-something earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bellevue University. Her studies included marketing and communication arts.

She wants to be a CEO, but she already successfully launched her family’s popular restaurant, Maria Bonita, 1921 Missouri Ave., a year ago in August.

According to Lopez the eatery attracts everyone from South Omaha residents to suburbanites to visitors from Mexico. Her mother Miriam is head chef and her father Miguel the jack-of-all-trades assistant. Both her sisters work there.

Lopez manages the busy catering operation that serves major community events, including the Latino Heritage Awards Banquet and Cumbre.

“What we offer is very unique, very personalized. We decorate our banquet tables. It’s all authentic, flavorful, colorful. We go above and beyond.”

The restaurant’s received high praise for its authentic, homestyle food, inspired by the cuisine from the family’s native state of Hidalgo, Mexico, and for its colorful, festive decor. The warm, floral greens, blues, purples, oranges and reds are on a mural adorning the west wall, on signs out front, and on the table tops inside. Miriam’s handmade arts and crafts hang on the walls. Homemade, hand-wrapped candies occupy a display case.

Even the menu and website (www.mariabonitaonline.com) continue the theme.

The distinctive look is a homage to the family’s homeland.

“Where we’re from. it’s just sun all year long,” said Lopez. “My grandparents owned a huge ranch, growing watermelons, papaya, you name it.”

She said her father would harvest the fruit and bring it to the local market, where the entrepreneurial family sold not only produce, but flowers, tacos and craft items.

“My grandmother used to garden. Lots of flowers. Very colorful. That was transmitted from my grandmother to my mother, our mother transmitted that to us. This is what we grew up with — colors, flowers, gardens. It was just all in our lives, So, when we opened this place, we wanted to transmit that in the color scheme. We admire our culture, we love our customs, we want our traditions to still be here.”

Wherever Lopez’s path leads, she said faith and family will be front and center in her life. Education, too. The Omaha South High graduate was the first in her family to attend college. A younger sister followed in her footsteps, just graduating from Creighton University. The sisters’ youngest sibling starts at Central High School in the fall.

Itzel was 14 when she came to America. After a year in ESL classes she was proficient enough in English to join regular classes at South, where she excelled academically and in extracurricular activities.

“I love South and South loves me. They have been very supportive of my restaurant and we support South any way we can.”

She earned South alumni scholarships and other financial support, opting for Bellevue University, where she said she “fell in love with the small class setting and personalized attention from teachers.” Gina Ponce was her mentor and advisor. Her biggest influence though is her mother:. “My mom’s definitely my role model. She’s done great things.”

She’s grateful her father’s dream of sending his girls to college is being fulfilled. “My dad’s dream came true, that’s quite nice,” she said. She’s humbled by how far her family’s come in America in only a decade.

“It’s very satisfying,” she said. “I’m very proud of my family.”

Studying for a master’s may be her next move on the path to “help minorities reach their goals. That’s my passion. That’s why I do all the things I do.” Her community service includes Cinco de Mayo coordination, South Omaha Arts Institute educational outreach and Community Learning Center site supervision (Castelar).

Pot Liquor Love: Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

The Omaha fine dining scene features so many top chefs doing their versions of elevated American comfort that it’s not only hard keeping up but keeping them straight as well. One chef-owner doing his best to stand out from the pack is Anthony Kueper at Dolce in northwest Omaha. Here is my profile of him in the Fall 2017 issue of Food & Spirits Magazine.

 

Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

In four-and-a-half years, Anthony Kueper has gone from sous chef to executive chef to chef-owner at fine dining Dolce in northwest Omaha.

Dolce is another of the city’s new crafted American food spots, but unlike the young, fresh-from-culinary-school phenoms running some of those other kitchens. Kueper is a 43 year-old veteran of the food wars.

From savoring fresh mussels in France at age six to taking cooking classes at 12 to preparing meals at home for his younger siblings and for friends, his life as a gastronome started early.

Born into a military family, he moved with his father’s U.S. Air Force assignments and everywhere he went he indulged in the indigenous food culture: street frites in Holland, Tex-Mex in the American southwest and paellas in the Philippines.

His father twice got posted to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue and it was that second, more permanent posting that saw Kueper finish school here and get his first professional training.

“I worked atJulio’sandJones Street Brewery. It was good food but it was basic stuff.”

Then there was fortuitous stint atThe Bistroin theOld Market.

“Two chefs there influenced me a little bit and actually got me to go to culinary school –Gene Cammarota and Kenneth Hughes,” said Kueper.

Being exposed to their high end techniques, he said, “gave me the idea there was more to just cooking.”

Along the way he bumped into future notables, includingPaul Kulik.

Kueper left Omaha for culinary school in Kansas City, Missouri in the early ’90s, but as with any chef it’s what came after that most shaped his aesthetic.

“I got a piece of paper from culinary school – the rest of it was learned in kitchens and from the people I rubbed elbows with and surrounded myself with. It’s who you choose to follow that’s important.”

He was in his early 20s when he landed a chef gig at the Ritz Carlton on the Plaza in K.C.

“My first chef position at the Ritz Carlton hit me hard. I almost didn’t recover. I was very talented at an early age. I had a lot of hype put behind me. I had a lot of powerful people around me.”

Under the Ritz Carlton brand he worked in Atlanta for the Olympics and in San Francisco opening a new venue. Then he felt it was time to do something else.

“When I left the Ritz Carlton and went to Colorado to try and do something on my own, it was a big challenge. It wasn’t a real niche for fine dining, so I ended up doing a lot of bar and grills – fun food – and tried to throw some of my technique into that. There’s only so much you can do.”

Colorado is where he grew personally and professionally and where he met his wife, Daniela. They have three children together.

“Yeah, I met a girl from Germany and she put hooks in my heart.”

After she returned to Germany, he sold most of his belongings and joined her there.

“I left my restaurant in Aspen and lived in Hamburg for two years.”

He joked that if it gets out he’s really a romantic at heart, he won’t be taken seriously as “a tyrant in the kitchen.” The couple returned to the States to start a family. Colorado became their home base.

He worked for some real characters there, including an eccentric Frenchman. Then there was ‘The Dude’ at a place called Toscanini. That led to Kueper joining VIN 48 in Avon. He was there from the end of 2008 to the beginning of 2012

“It was a good experience.”

Meanwhile, Daniela missed the flavors of home.

Fortunately, when they lived in Hamburg he schooled himself on the local cuisine.

“So she wouldn’t be homesick I learned how to cook German food. I learned how to make schnitzel at a two star Michelin restaurant.”

After all his travels, Kueper finally came back to Omaha. The decision to come here was all about family. One of his boys had respiratory issues in the high altitude of Colorado and Kueper wanted to be closer to his parents. But settling here was not the ultimate plan.

“I planned on spending a little time in Omaha before finding something in Chicago, Minneapolis or Kansas City. We weren’t going to put our roots down in Omaha.”

Besides, it was a rough go the first couple years back.

“It was difficult because I’m an older chef with a pedigreed resume. I’m not a 27-year-old kid that ran half the kitchens in town.”

Star chefs likeTim NicholsonatThe Boiler Roomweren’t even old enough to drink when he left here. Things had definitely changed.

To keep his fine dining skills honed he worked atV. Mertzfor nine months, but making $11 an hour wasn’t cutting it to support a family. That gig though led to Dolce.

“The V. Mertz name alone kicked open doors for me with the resume I had.”

Dolce’s original owner,Gina Sterns, discovered him there and brought him on board in 2013. He admired how she took what began as a pastry shop to a fine dining establishment. Health issues forced her to take a step back. In 2014 Lincoln restauranteursJason Kuhr and Tyler Mohr purchased it.

“We helped elevate this space to what it is because, I mean, it’s in a strip mall. You don’t know what to expect from the outside. It does surprise a lot of people that they can find this little gem of a place there. We’ve done a lot to improve the ambience. Jason had the financial strength to do the things that would have taken me a lot longer to do in terms of remodeling, revisiting and reinvigorating the space. My food and what he did made what Dolce’s standing on now.”

Meanwhle, Kueper helped the Mohrs openOllie and Hobbes in Omaha but found himself overextended.

“I wasn’t happy. I was working way too much, even Sundays, not seeing my family. I was pulling down a lot of money, but it wasn’t worth it.”

That’s when he decided to focus his energies on one venue and worked out the purchase of Dolce. He actually tried before, when Sterns still owned it, but he and a partner didn’t have the capital.

He had tried the chef-owner hat on in Colorado.

“It was an exciting thing to open a new restaurant, but it turned out to be a bad partnership, so I kind of wash it from my memory.”

This time around he’s flying solo and loving being his own boss. He’s taking the fresh-local upmarket comfort food thing to the next level.

“The whole local food movement – trying to get all your products from within a 120-mile radius – is the greenest way to go about it. I don’t want to be buying my pigs from New York. This is where food comes from. This is a huge farming community.

“Where it matters, we do buy organic – in our meat, in our dairy. About 50 percent of our produce is organic.”

If Kueper’s learned anything, he said, it’s “that people have to love what you do and how you do it,” adding, “That at the end of the day is what matters.”

“The people that come here like our food, they like what we’re doing with the food, they like our message.”

He’s all about providing an experience that touches deep reservoirs.

“Food is a memory. The bread pudding we do is based off my dad’s mother’s recipe. My dad says it’s the closest rendition he’s ever had, it’s just different. The thing that’s different is she saved up all the scrap bread from the bread she used to make. I’m using a different style bread. My dad generally tears through his food, but when he hits that bread pudding, he slows down, so he can savor everything.”

True to its comfort concept, Dolce keeps things simple.

“If you look at our menu, they’re simple things that people can identify with.”

But with that fine dining twist.

“We serve kale with our steak and I swear to God we go through more kale. And we’re not doing the kale chips or salads or anything like that, we actually use it as a good vegetable on our proteins and people are like, ‘You made me eat kale – and it was wonderful.’

“For our roast chicken we start with good local chickens that we brine in-house. A seven herb emulsion goes on it – it’s oregano, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, spinach and we add some roasted garlic. A lot of people can’t put their finger on it because it’s such a blend. We make a tomato marmalade by cooking tomatoes down with a little bit of sherry vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. We serve the dish with simple gnocchi and broccolini.”

Kueper draws inspiration from the past.

“I’m really a traditionalist when it comes to the history of things. I cook with historical background. I try to do it the way it was done years ago before there were microwaves and preservatives. We dry-age some of our own meats here. I’d like to do more, but we don’t have the facility space.”

The day this reporter visited, a Mangalista hybrid hog got delivered. It’s an old breed valued for its high fat content that keeps the meat succulent when roasted.

Many myths attend fine dining that Kueper’s eager to overturn.

“People think it’s unhealthy – it’s not. We don’t use tons of butter. We use herbs salt, acidity, just the right amount of balance in things.”

Flavors are carefully curated.

“We don’t try to overpower flavors. There might be one thing that’s going to knock your socks off but then        everything else is going to be subdued.”

Today’s Omaha food scene is quite different than the one he left two decades ago.

“Omaha has come a long way. The cooks and the kitchens in Omaha are there. The diners still need to be educated. You constantly have people tell you, ‘You know what you should do?’ Like put a crab cake on a salad. It’s very classic, it’s very nice. I’m not saying that’s not a good idea, but it’s just not my expression. It’s not the type of food I look to put forward.

“I like to push people out of their comfort zone just a little. It’s all driven by technique. And if I can win you over on one of those things, I will build a customer for life. It’s kind of cool that way. I have people that don’t like duck who love the duck that we do. I’ve had people tell me they hate salmon but ours was the best salmon they ever had.”

His Margarita Mussels is another example.

“That’s one of my signature dishes. I think I’m bringing it back this fall. The tequila is added to a citrus broth. It hits all the right notes.”

He said its creation came about “from just being playful.”

Experimenting with ingredients is a lifelong process.

“You’re never done learning. I’ll work with an ingredient until I think I’ve figured it out. I will try stuff and really shoot from the hip.”

A couple years ago he taught himself to make ramen noodles from scratch. “They seem so simple and basic, but when done right,” he said, they’re oh so delicious.

More recently, he concocted a translucent omelet made from just egg yolks.

Baking is something he’s mastered in recent years.

“I wasn’t much of a baker, but now I’ve become quite an advanced baker. I’ve learned a lot teaching myself.

“It’s all time and temperature. It’s just basic chemistry and all the laws can be changed in different applications to make things happen. It’s just how you approach it and if you’re willing to take a chance. I have a lot of failures, but I have a lot of successes, too. I don’t serve my failures – I eat them.”

Two things Dolce’s known for – ‘Taste of the Moment’ and ‘Date Night’ – continue. Taste of the Moment specials change every day according to his mood and shopping finds. On a late August visit it was herb goat cheese ravioli with red pepper pasta.

“We roast off sweet red peppers, remove the skin, and blend them up with the eggs. It’s served with smoked chicken broth with Shiitake mushrooms, spinach and truffle oil.”

More than ever, he can follow inspirations as they occur.

“Now that I’m not working for somebody else, I can do it my way. I don’t have to ask somebody if it’s okay to do a ‘weird’ dish. I’m doing my artichoke creme brulee this fall. It’s something I learned how to make in Germany. It’s artichoke and parmesan in a creme brulee, so it’s savory. It’s served with asparagus wrapped in our house-made prosciutto.”

Freedom to do your own thing is nice, but not everyone’s going to like everything you do. His five-course tasting menu usually has one dish that challenges diners. When he first took over as chef at Dolce four years ago, a local reviewer openly questioned his execution on some dishes. He took exception with the digs though he acknowledges he wasn’t at his best then.

“That was a long time ago. At the time, I had a young crew. I was just getting established here under new ownership. I was trying to feel them out. I wasn’t cooking to my potential – not like what we’re doing now. It was good food, but I wasn’t putting it all out there. I was sparing some of myself inside.”

The vagaries and demands of his field can drain all but the heartiest souls.

“As a chef you can throw yourself out there and it’ll end up burning you up. It’s hard to keep stable mental health in this industry, it really is.”

With all his experience, he perhaps feels less compelled to prove himself and more inclined to bask in the glow of doing what he loves. It’s why on a recent vacation to his old stomping grounds in Colorado he made a point of catching up with buddies from VIN 48 so they could cook together again.

Before leaving for the trip, he said, “I haven’t seen them in five years. I’m doing it because I miss them. Two of the guys I trained are running the place.”

The trip served as a reminder to keep it simple, stupid.

“I’ve cooked some of the best meals with no running water. I was an avid backpacker and camper. I had tortillas, Fantastic Foods hummus (a dehydrated product) and fresh caught trout that I smoked over a live fire using a little orange juice and soy sauce.”

Food is what you make of it and Kueper’s all about giving diners a memorable experience in his warm-toned, intimately-scaled Dolce, where maybe you’ll meet your new best friends while dining.

“There are these two couples that come in to dine together at least once a month. They met each other here. Their love and passion was food and our restaurant brought them together, and I think that’s cool.”

How dolce (sweet) too.

Located at 12317 West Maple Road. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m, and for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to close.

For menu and reservations, vista http://www.dolceomaha.org, or call 402-964-2122.

 

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity in North Omaha

August 11, 2017 1 comment

Nancy Williams with No More Empty Pots and other players are taking a systems approach to addressing food insecuity in North Omaha.

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity
by Leo Adam Biga

Food insecurity in northeast Omaha is a question of access, education and poverty.

Nancy Williams has designed her nonprofit No More Empty Pots around “equitable access to local, fresh, affordable food” via a holistic approach. It offers the Community Market Basket CSA (community supported agriculture) as well as shared commercial kitchens, a training kitchen and classes. Its Food Hub in Florence is adding a business incubator, community cafe, kids kitchen and rooftop garden.

“We could just do one thing and satisfy a symptom, but we’re trying to address the root cause issue of poverty – of which hunger is a symptom. The food hub concept is a systems approach to not just deal with hunger but to get people trained and hired and to support startup businesses. So we have a multi-pronged approach to supporting local food and supporting people who need access to food and the people providing that food.

“Poverty is not just about food deserts and hunger. it’s about livable wages, adequate education, meaningful connections. It’s about being able to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. It’s about people engaging. You see, it’s one thing to get people to food because they’re hungry or they don’t have access to it. It’s even something more if they have access to living wage jobs where they can then choose their food.”

Pots is based in North Omaha, she said, in recognition of its “rich cultural heritage of food and community” and concurrent “disparities in health, healthy food access, equity and economics.”

“So, we wanted to make a difference there first, then catalyze a ripple effect in urban, suburban and rural spaces. We believe in the reciprocity of local food.”

An effective food system involves a social contract of public-private players. In Omaha it includes United Way, Together, the Food Bank, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue, vendors, producers, schools, churches.

“It’s not a simple thing to talk about food access and deserts,” Williams said. “It’s a whole system of the way we produce food and get food to people, the way people consume it and how we value it. The different ways intersect. It takes all of it. But there needs to be some calibration, hole-plugging and shifting.

“We can get there, but it has to be done collaboratively so we’re not working in silos.”

On the access-education-employment side are community gardens and urban farms like those at City Sprouts, which also offers classes and internships. A farmers market is held there, too. Charles Drew Health Center and Florence Mill also host farmers markets.

Minne Lusa House is a neighborhood engagement-sustainability activator..

Some churches, including Shepherd of the Hills and New Life Presbyterian, provide free monthly community meals. New Life also provides food to participants in its youth summer enrichment program.

“There are food insecure kids that come,” pastor Dwight Williams said. “There is a lot more need than we are able to access.”

Community organizations serving seniors, youth and the homeless have a free meals component to meet food insecurity needs. The Omaha Public Schools provides free and reduced lunches to the majority of its students. Private institutions rely on donations to fill the gap. Local farmer Brian Vencil recently directed a $2,500 donation from the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program to help feed kids at Holy Name School.

Nancy Williams said everything has its place.

“Community gardens make food accessible, help people become more self-sufficient and engage. It’s about community building. You can’t have food without community. At farmers markets customers learn about where the food comes from, talk to growers about production practices and how to use products. It develops relationships. The more food customers get from farmers markets the more likely they’ll continue shopping there and expand their palette, which gives growers the opportunity to grow and sell more and put more money into the local economy.”

Pantries play a role, too.

“On average we have about 600 clients come through our food pantry weekly,” Heart Ministry Center executive director Eric Crawford said. “We’ve been seeing more clients come. We’re on pace to give away more than 3 million pounds of food this year.”

Heart case management services strive to get clients to self-sufficiency.

Project Hope director Lori Lindberg said its pantry serves mostly one-time, emergency needs recipients.

Church of the Resurrection is trying a mobile food pantry starting July 15.

Then there are the aquaponics systems Greg Fripp and his Whispering Roots team build, often with students in schools, that grow vegetables and fish.

“Aquaponics has its place in that next level of production,” Williams said. “There’s education, job training, entrepreneurship. There’s an opportunity to do institutional supply because you can scale it.”

The new Fair Deal Grocery was located on North 24th Street to fill fresh food scarcity in the area.

“Whenever you can put food where people are, it’s better than trying to find transportation or other means of getting people to it,” Williams said.

Fair Deal Village Marketplace manager Terri Sanders said it’s challenging getting people to try it.

“Sometimes it takes more education in some places than others,” Williams said. “If you’ve never been exposed to it, just because it’s plopped down in front of you doesn’t mean you’re going to go to it. You need somebody to help you make that transition. Sometimes you don’t even know you need it until somebody points out the benefits and then you take advantage of it.”

The Creatives Collective works with north side residents on education-advocacy through classes, events and activities, including culture fairs.

Jody-Ann Coore is community engagement coordinator for the Omaha Economic Development Cooperation, which sponsors the Collective.

“Education is a big gap for people,” Coore said. “Residents say it’s something the community needs. They often don’t know how to shop for healthy foods or don’t know some of the foods or don’t know how to cook them so they are tasty and appealing to the palette.”

Partnerships with local organizations help built food literacy. Still, getting residents’ buy-in takes time.

“It’s a neighborhood difficult to engage because they’re so used to being told what to do and not asked how to solve those issues. But we’ve seen progress. Resident committee members are taking part in the planning. We’re working on getting more residents involved. The beautiful thing is that each has personal networks they can tap into, so it’s pretty much radiating out.”

Greg Fripp’s sustainable practices dream is taking shape at Highlander Village on North 30th Street. The world headquarters for his Whispering Roots will include a greenhouse, education center and production center. Steelhead trout and vegetables will be grown there. He partners with farmers markets, Hy-Vee stores and others to get food to market. Roots teaches youth and adults how to build food systems and grow food.

“Highlander’s goal is about community development- engagement, and that’s exactly what Whispering Roots does. We say, ‘we grow, we feed, we educate.’ We need to draw more attention to North Omaha. it’s not that students in underserved communities can’t learn and don’t want to learn, they just need access to support, materials and resources. And then they can compete.”

Fripp said he’s learned “you have to meet people where they are and understand that community in order to deliver them a solution that actually works.”

“You provide solutions tailored for that specific community because every community’s different. Everybody needs food, but the way you implement these techniques, policies or systems needs to fit within that community.”

He sees more inclusivity happening.

“We’re getting more organizations that want to spend time with community and collaborating.”

“I am a fan of any model that works in a community with the community that produces what the community needs in the way the community needs and that values people in that process,” Nancy Williams said. “It’s not going to look the same everywhere and frankly most things shouldn’t look the way they’ve always looked because those things aren’t working.”

Fripp sees a need to bridge a disconnect between policymakers and “people implementing change on the ground.” “When that happens,” he said. “we’re going to see an acceleration of change in terms of how some of this stuff gets delivered. You still have some people who make decisions not really connected to the community.”

“We’ve made progress getting access to lots,” said Fripp, who also does community gardens and urban farms. “That was something that didn’t happen in the past. We put together a team to write new policies to allow people to use city lots to grow food.”

Similarly, he’s seen acceptance of aquaponics grow.

“We’re not as advanced as other cities, but we’re coming along. People are starting to see the power of what we do – from growing food to educating children to engaging public. They’re starting to see it really works
and at whatever scale you want to do it.”

Pot Liquor Love: A cornucopia of food stories, past and present, you may have missed


A cornucopia of food stories, past and present, you may have missed. Sample these as part of your summertime epicurean indulgence.

Brought to you by your purveyor of Pot Liquor Love–

©Leo Adam Biga 

A Soul Food Summit | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/a-soul-food-summit/

Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/11/charles-halls-fair-deal-cafe/

Big Mama’s Kitchen & Catering | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/category/big-mamas-kitchen-catering/

Shirley’s Diner | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/shirleys-diner/

A. Marino Grocery | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/a-marino-grocery/

Omaha Chapter American GI Forum | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/omaha-chapter-american-gi-forum/

The Great Omaha Chocolate Festival – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/the_great_omaha_chocolate_festival/

A Culinary-Horticulture Marriage | Edible Omaha
http://edibleomahamag.ediblecommunities.com/gardening/culinary-horticulture-marriage

New film ‘Growing Cities’ takes road trip look at urban …
https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/21/new-film-growing-cities-takes-road-trip-look-at-urban-farmers-cultivating-a-healthy-sustainable-food-culture/

Eat to live or live to eat, Omaha’s culinary culture rises …
http://thereader.com/visual-art/eat_to_live_or_live_to_eat_omahas_culinary_culture_rises/

A Different Kind of Bistro – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/a_different_kind_of_bistro/

JOURNEYS: Within Our Reach: A Starving World – Metro …
http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/November-2014/JOURNEYS-Within-Our-Reach-A-Starving-World/

Pot Liquor Love: Chicken is King at Time Out Foods | Leo …
https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/28/chicken-is-king-at-time-out-foods/

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary I | Leo Adam Biga’s My …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/01/a-southern-road-trip-diary/

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary II | Leo Adam Biga’s …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/12/southern-fried-love-road-trip-diary-ii/

Book depicts area whole foods culture in stories, recipes …
http://thereader.com/visual-art/book_depicts_area_whole_foods_culture_in_stories_recipes_pics/

Good Memories and Good Eats – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/good-memories-and-good-eats/

Righteous Southern Grub at Dixie Quicks | Food & Spirits …
http://fsmomaha.com/righteous-southern-grub-at-dixie-quicks/

Maria Bonita | Omaha Magazine
http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/maria-bonita/

Passing the Torch at the Dundee Dell | Food & Spirits Magazine
http://fsmomaha.com/passing-the-torch-at-the-dundee-dell/

Anne and Craig McVeigh Bring Beacon Hills Take on American…
http://fsmomaha.com/anne-and-craig-mcveigh-bring-beacon-hills-take-on-american-comfort-cuisine-back-to-where-their-food-careers-started/

Doing Things the Dario Way Nets Omaha Two of its Most …
http://fsmomaha.com/doing-things-the-dario-way-nets-omaha-two-of-its-most-distinctive-restaurants/

Chef-Owner Jenny Coco Proves She Can Hang with the Boys …
http://fsmomaha.com/chef-owner-jenny-coco-proves-she-can-hang-with-the-boys/

Mary Current and her Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce | Leo Adam …
https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/06/mary-current-and-her-crazy-gringa-hot-sauce/

The Long Goodbye for Bohemian Cafe – Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/…/the-long-goodbye-for-bohemian-cafe-iconic- omaha-eatery-closing-after-92-years/‎

Chef-Owner Jared Clarke Goes Wood-Fired | Food & Spirits …
http://fsmomaha.com/chef-owner-jared-clarke-goes-wood-fired/

Tacos and Tequila Take Center Stage at Hook & Lime | Food …
http://fsmomaha.com/tacos-and-tequila-take-center-stage-at-hook-lime/

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity – The Reader
http://thereader.com/news/a-systems-approach-to-addressing-food-insecurity/

Tacos and tequila take center stage at Hook & Lime


Tacos and tequila take center stage at Hook & Lime
by Leo Adam Biga

The high concept behind Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila is a small plate nirvana paired with crafted margaritas for a fine dining-meets-street food experience.

The changing menu is anchored by tacos and tortas, family-style meals and appetizers. Seafood, pork, beef and chicken proteins predominate but some veggie dishes are available, too. The tortillas are made fresh on the premises every day. The extensive bar program is highlighted by homemade syrups and infusions and fresh-squeezed juices to complement the many varieties of tequila (140) and mescals (25).

Owner-manager Robbie Malm is vying for a North Downtown niche after making a success of Dudley’s Pizza in Ak-Sar-Ben Village. He’s confident Hook & Lime is reeling in the discerning diners it needs.

“I think we are starting to find our audience,” he said.
“When I drop food off at the table, people are just wowed by the presentation. They’re eating with their eyes first. They’re pleasantly surprised. It’s a lot tastier and more beautiful than they thought it would be. It’s fun to see because it feels like we’re over-delivering.”

He looked at other locations before fixing on NoDo,where a development boom is underway.

“I am very glad we ended up settling here. I like the idea of being part of an emerging neighborhood. I like being one of the anchors as the place builds up around us. It’s really exciting seeing everything going up. Right across the street we’ve got people that will be working here, staying here, living here.

“And obviously I’ve got a giant baseball stadium (TD Ameritrade Park) right behind me, which doesn’t hurt.”

Not to mention the CenturyLink arena-convention center. Then there are Slowdown and Film Streams on the same block and the Omaha Design Center and Hot Shops Art Center within easy walking distance.

“We get a lot of traffic from the Slowdown and Film Streams events and we’re starting to get a lot of neighborhood regulars,” Malm said.

Whoever ventures there is sure to note Hook & Lime is not your mainstream Mexican restaurant.

“We try to stay as far away from Tex Mex as possible and that is something we still have to explain to people,” said head chef Brandon Kalfut, He was chef de cuisine under Alex Sorens at the start-up before Sorens left. Kalfut previously worked in Denver and with Dario Schicke at Avoli Osteria and Clayton Chapman at The Grey Plume.

“If diners order a dish and they seem a little hesitant on it,” Kalfut said, “our servers are very well-trained on what goes into it and getting people set into a comfort zone on the menu. There are familiar things and adventurous things on the menu, and that’s kind of what we try to strike a balance between.”

Familiar include’s a battered cod fried fish taco. On the more adventurous side is the Yellow Tail Escabeche.

“But you don’t have to dive all into something that’s totally unfamiliar,” Malm said. “You can get one of each. That’s kind of what we want to promote. For people who are just dipping their toes in the water, that’s fine – start here, and then come back next week.”

With some authentic offerings, such as the Salsa Flight, certain notes have been toned down while remaining true to the original.

“Some of these traditional sauces tend to be bitter and very layered in flavor and sometimes that’s a hard sell because people aren’t expecting that,” Kalfut said.

Two signature dishes – the Chorizo Torta and the Bone-in Barbacora – represent the pains taken to do things right. The house-made sausage is made with select cuts from the whole hog used head-to-tail in the kitchen and the shank is prepared over several days.

“A lot of technique and time is dedicated into making our chorizo,” Kalfut said. “It’s a double grind. For every one pound of meat, it takes about 17 ingredients. We grind anywhere from 80 to a hundred pounds, so multiply those 17 ingredients by 80 or a hundred. It’s one day literally just creating all the seasoning for it. A thousand peppers go into a hundred-pound batch. We soak and char off the peppers. Somebody physically stands in front of the grill to lightly char each pepper individually.

“The second day you grind the meat and marinate it. On the third day you do a secondary grind. We do all this before it’s even capable of going on the menu.”

The dish then is ready to be composed.

“Our Chorizo Torta is a classic,” Kalfut said. “We complement the chorizo with a local wild arugula, marinated white onions, house-made creme and a fried egg. A lot goes into something that eats really well, yet it’s simple and a hundred percent approachable.”

So is the Bone-in Barbacoa.

“It’s a five-pound bone-in beef shank. We actually have people call-up to make reservations just to reserve one because we can only do so many per week. It’s a cut of the cattle (femur) rarely used whole. We do a 24-hour salt cure and a three-day sous-vide (precision cook in a water bath). Then it rests one day before we even let it go on the menu.

“We do table-side service where I hand-shred the shank, tilt the bone up and pour all the bone marrow juices on it. We finish it with Kampala sea salt.”

“It’s an experience,” Malm said.

“It comes with our rice and Anasazi beans and we send out a bunch of accouterments,” Kalfut said. “Part of the bone-in presentation is an explanation of all these specialty components that don’t exist anywhere else on our menu because it’s all just infused into this one dish.”

For Malm, the care that goes into this single menu item is “a good example of our approach to everything, where we like to say nothing is an after-thought here. Rice and beans is the easiest thing to make an after-thought, but we have that same level of attention to detail for it.”

It all matters.

“And that extends to the bar program,” he said. “We make our own syrups. With our margaritas, instead of using Grand Marnier, we make our own orange brandy. That’s a collaboration between the chef and the bar manager. It’s always fresh-squeezed juice. We’re not using any kind of corn syrup, sour mix garbage. I would say these are the best margaritas in town.”

Bar manager Brian van Egmond, who learned his trade working at various Omaha spots and in Monterrey, Calif., said, “This is my first full cocktail menu and I am very excited being able to take our margaritas and give people a craft experience. Everything here is handmade in-house. We’re not carrying any liqueurs, we’re actually building them in-house. It’s something to really round the experience and we’re doing it at a great price point.”

Using his alchemy with flavors and Kalfut’s food science savvy, he said, “we’re able to take a 30-day infusion and crash it down into a five-hour process, which is hugely significant in keeping costs down.”

Details make magic of what could be mundane.

“The house margarita is a lot of times the after-thought
cocktail on the bar menu at Mexican restaurants,” Malm said. “We start with Exotico Blanco – a citrus zest infused tequila. We use the orange brandy – pulling that citrus essence into the mix, and our in-house made Turbinado syrup. All those things combined make a damn tasty margarita – and that’s the house margarita.

“That’s what sets us apart.”

Kalfut and van Egmond work closely on food-drink pairings.

“Finding the nice subtle differences between two or three Blancos to complement two or three fish dishes,” van Egmond said, “means one is going to have a grassier note and another one’s going to be a little sweeter and pull through to complement a more savory dish. You’re trying to get two completely different items to work together in a sort of harmony.”

Having someone with Kalfut’s experience, van Egan said, is an advantage.

“Brandon’s been a great source to learn from during this whole process.”

Collaboration “makes the pairings a lot more fun,” Kalfut said. “From the chef’s side of it, I’m like, ‘These are tasting notes for the dish,’ and then Brian reads them, spends time thinking about it and starts pulling stuff off the shelf and matching key points from the food’s flavor profile with key points from tequila or mescal profiles.

“Brian’s very open to us saying, ‘No, that won’t work with that dish.’ Then he grabs another bottle down. With his knowledge and palette, he has the ability to find what will complement the dish.”

It helps, Kalfut said, that “we take the criticisms of the food and the tastings very well from each other” and from customers, too. “We do take guest feedback very strongly, so if there’s something that needs to be tweaked, we evolve to what diners are looking for.
Getting it out of our heads and onto a plate is the first step and then after that it’s just feedback, feedback, feedback, until you get it to that perfect little bite.”

Hook & Lime is also a reflection of its chef’s and owner’s
personal cuisine adventures. A trip to Mexico made Malm a tequila convert and fired his passion for tortillas.

“One of my favorite dining experiences there was this giant market with food vendors making the tortillas right in front of you. An old Mexican woman would roll up a ball of masa in her hand and put it right on the grill. Seeing and smelling that fresh cooked tortilla was one of the main inspirations.”

As for Kalfut, “I go down to Austin, Texas a lot and try to hit up as many of the authentic restaurants as I can. My (culinary) background is very much French-Asian, so I would say a lot of the stuff I do is influenced by the places I’ve eaten, the places I’ve gone to.

“Ten years ago I didn’t think this (Mexican cuisine) was something I’d be doing. But I am very strongly influenced by outside sources and putting my own little love on it. I mean, I put own love on every dish, but you’ve got to start from somewhere.”

He and Malm, who both advocate sustainable practices.

“We’re as close to zero waste as we can be on all of our proteins,” Kalfut said, “Everything we bring in is head-to- tail and we find a way to use every component. Same with our produce. Every single day we only have about one Slim Jim trash can worth of food waste.”

The team takes it one step farther by recycling its oil, cardboard and glass.

Local sourcing is also important to Hook & Lime. Its local purveyors are listed right on the menu.

When the restaurant first opened Malm was strictly focused on the business side but he’s gotten more involved on the food side.

“To the point that he expos now,” said Kalfut. “He does all the final touches on a lot of the plates that go out. The first two months he was like, ‘Nope, don’t bother me with it,’ and now he’s the final touch on a lot of plates and he does it just as fast and as god as I can do it.”

“”Maybe not just as good, but I’m coming close,” Malm said.

Those last-minute touches complete the dish and plate.

“Like our Caesar salad needs to get some olive oil as well as fresh black pepper,” Kalfut said. “Our chicken taco gets Espelette french pepper as well as micro cilantro, olive oil and finishing salt.

“Sometimes it’s tweezer work where we literally use micro tweezers to place these things directly on each individual taco, for example.”

Malm enjoys it all, but “what really jazzes me,” he said,
is “the creation part” of turning concept into reality.

“Figuring out how it’s going to look, getting samples of plates and figuring out how they’re going to go together, piecing the menu together little by little – I really like that part of it. At Dudley’s, once that was done, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for reinvention and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do something smaller. I wanted to find a little more of a niche where the menu could be reinvented on a regular basis.

“The idea was always an elevated tacos and small plates concept restaurant. It’s a little more elevated than I originally had in mind. It’s evolved a lot, like every idea does. You tweak some things and little by little you find out what it wants to be.”

“We’re on our 12th menu adaptation,” Kalfut said. “I think we’re finding our stride. We’re continuously pushing.”

He’s happy to have an owner equally motivated by quality.

“Robbie’s never once said, ‘No, don’t buy that, it’s too expensive, no don’t bring that in, it’s too foreign.’ It’s always, ‘Yeah, bring it in, we’ll try it, we’ll see if it makes sense, we’ll see if it works, and if it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.’ That, from a chef’s perspective, is a dream come true.”

A by-request-only tasting menu is available on a select basis.

Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to close for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.

Visit http://www.hookandlime.com.

Tenth Street Market will bring Vic Gutman’s dream to fruition


Tenth Street Market will bring Vic Gutman’s dream to fruition

by Leo Adam Biga
leoadam.biga@morningsky.com

Vic Gutman is creating Omaha’s version of a year-round public market, modeled after Seattle’s Pike Place and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

A Mother Goose nursery rhyme describes the joy of going to market for everything from a fat pig to a plum bun. After a decline, real-life public markets are making a comeback.

The Omaha Market House, Livestock Market and City Market once all operated. With the advent of the Omaha Farmers Market in 1994 and the subsequent emergence of co-ops, community gardens and urban farms linking producers with consumers, Omaha’s food ecosystem is reviving lost arts.

The next logical step in this move back to a local foods nexus is the public market slated to open in fall 2018.

The planned Tenth Street Market is the dream of Vic Gutman. The founder of the Omaha Farmers Market and Omaha Summer Arts Festival, his newest project culminates his extensive research into public markets and long-stated goal to bring one to Omaha again.

Built in 1890 as a streetcar barn, the Rail & Commerce Building at 10th and Pierce is set to become the Tenth Street Market, a year-round public market modeled after Seattle’s Pike Place and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

His company Vic Gutman & Associates is busy raising funds for the nonprofit project that needs $18.3 million to repurpose a 108-year-old building as the public market place. Upwards of two dozen permanent vendors as well as pop-ups, dine-in restaurants, enclosed event spaces, and a scenic rooftop eating-viewing spot are called for in Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture’s design. The all-local vendors will variously sell fresh and imported produce, meat, fish, cheese and assorted prepared foods ranging from baked goods to ethnic bites. Many trends will converge at the market: farm-to-table purveyors, street food, fine dining and education.

Ever since he first experienced one in his youth, Gutman’s been intrigued with public markets as catalytic hubs and conveners of commerce and community.

Laura Hall
Marketing & Development Specialist, Vic Gutman & Associates
Another fresh food option in Omaha will make the downtown area a more attractive place for people to live and work. It’s a gathering place for the community and a place for entrepreneurs.
It will bring traffic to an area of downtown that’s somewhat undiscovered at this point. It will also preserve a building that holds a rich piece of Omaha’s history to be enjoyed by future generations.

“I remember going to the Eastern Market in Detroit as a child and young adult,” he said. “That market brought people together from the city, from the suburbs – black, white, rich, poor, everyone. They all came together. I was attracted, too, by the stories behind the vendors. Many came from generational family farms or businesses. They were always very colorful, interesting. To me, it was the essence of community.”

Vic Gutman plans to create Omaha’s own unique version of public markets like Pike’s Place in Seattle.

In 1987, he attended a national public markets conference that sparked his study of the model.

“I have been researching this for 30 years. I’ve gone to markets all over the country, the world. I have interviewed managers of markets,” he said. “I’ve taken notes about what I liked, what I didn’t like.”

A 1990s feasibility study concluded downtown Omaha wasn’t developed and populated enough to support a market. Besides, Gutman said, “There wasn’t a strong enough movement yet about local food.”

“Well, all that has changed. I think the city is now ready for it because it’s no longer just a niche audience very interested in what they eat and how it’s prepared. The local food movement has really grown and it’s a much wider audience than it used to be.”

A farmers market resurgence laid the groundwork.

“People drive long distances to go to the farmers markets because not only do you have a great choice of fresh local food there but you have a chance to interact with the people who grew your food or baked the bread or made the jams and honey,” Gutman continued. “People also enjoy running into friends and neighbors there. Ingrained in the human species is a need to socialize, a need to be part of something bigger than yourself, and that’s always been true for the farmers markets.”

Consultant David O’Neil with Projects for Public Spaces said a public market “reveals a culture that’s already there.” He said, “By putting the pieces together in the right way, they kind of come together and then people can see it. It creates a sensual scale of accessibility.”

“It’s not just about buying and selling at one of these markets,” O’Neil said, “it’s the social dynamics. It creates an elixir for the local economy that’s almost magical. As the reappearing local economy comes back, people are like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know we had that.’ It’s very important to put these components of a local economy back in place and a market not only does it, but it activates all these other dormant roots. Everything starts reconnecting. It’s very exciting.”

Gutman said the Tenth Street Market is designed to tap these diverse roots.

“We are a mission-driven market. Sales for the tenants will be critical to the success of the market but also factoring into the success is that it attracts people of all different socioeconomic backgrounds and from all parts of the city. We want everyone to feel welcome there.”

The renovation of the historic building will preserve and bring back to life a beautiful winding staircase.

The 65,000-square-foot brick market building at 10th and Pierce Streets was once a streetcar barn and postal annex. The sloped, two-story National Register of Historic Places structure features a wood-paneled mezzanine and a grand staircase with scrolled wrought-iron railing.

The crossroads location appeals to Gutman.

“We want to be located in an economically diverse neighborhood and we feel where we are is that. We are close to South Omaha, North Omaha, we are right adjacent to downtown. There’s a boom of development now on South 10th Street but some of the oldest neighborhoods of the city are there, too.

“We want to be able to provide access to fresh food, healthy food, local food and the area we’re in doesn’t have an abundance of options to shop for this kind of food right now. So we will provide that service.”

David O’Neil said a public market’s convergence of producers, suppliers and consumers energizes an area.

“It’s just sort of what happens when you bring people and things together in a way where everybody benefits. With all the different transactions, there’s a lot of energy and innovation in these markets.

“People call it a local economy. It’s like a tributary economy, too, because it connects to the other economies, including the underground economy.”

Gutman said the market will satisfy the expanding interest people have in buying from local makers.

“When you think about food, it’s very personal. The whole experience of shopping and knowing the people who grew or prepared your food is a very nourishing thing that personalizes the experience. And food goes to a very basic need.”

O’Neil, who ran a public market in Philadelphia, finds markets to be “fascinating” intersections of life that become real “assets” to their neighborhoods.

“They make places safer. They’ve very good with social integration and upward mobility. Another core strength of public markets is creating value in the property around them. The power of the market brings in other investors to make more of a market district.”

The right mix of vendors, he said, begets “a critical mass and then you get a few things going on the outside and all of a sudden, wow, there’s this whole other dimension.”

Rendering of the Tenth Street Market provided by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture
A market manager will run the Omaha operation.

O’Neil sees good potential in locating Omaha’s market near the revitalized South 10th Street corridor that’s seen an estimated $130 million in reinvestment.

“You’re extending the core of downtown and it’s sort of becoming another node in downtown. Things are happening there and I think the market will accelerate more things happening.”

It’s hoped the market will be a destination stop for visitor-tourists. Shuttles will run to it from downtown.

Gutman believes a key attraction will be the urban vibe.

“Only in an older restored historic building like this could you be successful creating the feeling when you walk in that that market has always been there,” he said. “That’s why we’re keeping the character of the building with its concrete floors, exposed brick walls and steel columns.

“We’re not going to try to make it look upscale or ritzy. We want to keep the vintage industrial feel because that’s what the legacy markets that have been around a hundred years look like.”

For Gutman, it’s all about stirring the entrepreneurial pot for the greater good.

“I want this to be about community. I want this to meet community needs: job creation, access to fresh, healthy, and in many instances, local foods. I want this to be about nutrition education. I want this to be collaboration with multiple other nonprofits.”

Community forums helped curate the market’s features. “We have truly thought this through,” Gutman said.

Now it’s all down to a few big donor asks coming through. He hopes funds are secured to begin construction in the fall.

“The big challenge is getting funders to understand what we’re doing and to have confidence this can succeed and have the impact we’re saying it could have. This is not a homeless shelter, food pantry or typical social service, so it’s new for many funders. We’re doing what we can to help them see and buy into the vision.”

The project will likely be eligible for tax increment financing.

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