Tag Archives: employees

What a Load of Garbage

April 20, 2017 by

When you hear the words “garbage collection,” you might think of a truck rolling into the neighborhood and a couple of guys hopping off to pick up your waiting bin(s).

It turns out that the Omaha metro area is one of the last places in this country where trash is collected that way.

Omaha mayor Jean Stothert wrote in a March 2016 press release, “I feel like our current service is way outdated.”

Efforts to modernize have been underway for some time now, according to an email from Justin Vetsch, 30, the Omaha senior district manager for Waste Management. Waste Management is the company that handles the City of Omaha’s garbage collection services.

“Back in November of 2016, upon the city’s request, Waste Management implemented a pilot program which showcases what a modernized collection system would look like, with automated trucks and standardized 96-gallon carts for trash and recycle,” Vetsch says. “This pilot program will conclude in April. The feedback and comments that Waste Management has received from residents indicates the pilot area is going well.”

Mike Shrader, 57, is the owner/manager of Premier Waste Solutions, a private company servicing Sarpy County, northern Cass County, and western Douglas County. He has been in the waste-collection industry since 1975 and hopes the city’s new system works as well as it has for his company.

“The vast majority of municipalities across the country use some form of a carted system,” Shrader says. The old model of collection, in which employees rode on the back of the truck and picked up the trash, has not been viable since the 1990s. “It’s hard to find individuals who are willing to do that kind of work, week in, week out.”

The Shrader family, looking for a different model, was introduced to an automated pickup system in Arizona, in which the garbage trucks use mechanical arms to pick up 96-gallon carts. What used to be a two- or three-person job now only needs a driver, and the carts hold about three times as much waste as a residential garbage can and can be wheeled around instead of lifted.

With the exceptions of the city of Omaha, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Ralston, every other community in the area is what Shrader called a “carted community,” though there’s a pilot program underway now in Bellevue that is similar to the one in Omaha.

Overhauling the system is expensive, Shrader says, which is why it has not happened yet, but changing to this automated system brings with it a number of advantages.

Safety

“Not only is it more efficient for the hauler, in a sense of one-man crews, it’s also safer,” Shrader says. “When we look at the injuries across the nation … it’s usually the second or third person that’s on the truck.”

Aesthetics

When everyone in the neighborhood has the same carts, Shrader and Vetsch say, it gives the neighborhoods a sense of uniformity.

“A modernized system would also include easy wheeling, and standardized covered carts with lids, which are more aesthetically pleasing to have lined down neighborhoods versus loose bags and individually selected cans,” Vetsch says.

Environment

If you have ever had your trash can tip over in a stiff wind, then you know it is a hassle to retrieve trash strewn about your curb and lawn.

“The lids are attached, and they’re on wheels,” Shrader says. “They do a better job of withstanding some of the wind.”

The carts will still fall if the wind is strong enough, but they have an easier time remaining upright, and the lids help make them more “critter-proof,” Shrader says.

Vetsch pointed out that having fewer trucks on the road is good for the environment as well.

“As part of the current pilot, Waste Management is collecting the recycling in 96-gallon carts every other week,” he says. “With recycling collection every other week, it reduces truck traffic in the city’s residential neighborhoods, along with reduced emissions from fewer vehicles.”

Recycling

“Going with a cart system for the recycling is probably the bigger plus,” Shrader says. “Not only do you have a lid on your recycling cart, but you have the capacity of 95 gallons versus 18.”

“In most cases, the ability to have a cart with a lid for recycling dramatically improves recycling participation, as a household may be currently limited due to the recycling bin’s size,” Vetsch says.

The future of Omaha’s garbage collection has yet to be determined, of course. Like any new system, Vetsch says, there will probably be a sense of hesitation.

“I really hope this pilot program works for them,” Shrader says. “It’s like coming out of the Dark Ages.

“If the city would accept that program, I think they’re going to be very, very happy with that for a long, long time.”

Visit wasteline.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Pacific Life

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The site of Omaha’s old Knights of Aksarben complex—acres of once-busy thoroughbred horse racing and concert space turned albatross—has blossomed anew as the live-work-play destination spot known as Aksarben Village.

The booming mixed-use development is home to popular eateries, a movie theater, health club, and two colleges. This is part of why Pacific Life Insurance Company moved its regional business operations office from downtown to a new five-story building there in late 2015. The company’s Omaha office has grown from 250 to 450 workers since the blue-gray motif structure’s 2014 groundbreaking.

The gleaming, glass-fronted Holland Basham Architects design offers many creature comforts and inhabits prime real estate at 6750 Mercy Road.

The new digs provide a branded presence after a low-key profile at downtown’s Landmark Center.

Angela Greisen, Pacific Life assistant vice president for human resources, says, “We couldn’t have our name on the previous building in any big, visible way. We’d been in Omaha 12-plus years and people still didn’t know we were here.” That’s changed, she says, as events “bring thousands of people to the village and our new building with our big branding and signage is right there in the middle of everything.”

“That’s been huge for us. It’s also given us higher applicant flow because people now know we’re here and here to stay and we’re growing.”

Where many employees had to use off-site parking downtown, they now have an 850-stall covered garage. A heated, enclosed skybridge connects the building to the garage.

Greisen was part of a project team drawn from each Pacific Life business unit that polled employees about their likes and dislikes.

“The three most important things employees said they wanted were parking, amenities, and a nearby location with easy access,” she says.

Aksarben was the clear site choice. Pacific Life partnered with Magnum Development on the $33 million new build. The company occupies the second through fifth floors. Eateries and shops fill the ground floor.

“Staff response has been great,” Greisen says. “They love the parking, the amenities, the bright, airy feel of the building with the wide-open layout, natural lighting, and clean, modern finishes. Though we added only about 10,000 square feet, it’s organized much more efficiently.”

Each floor plan incorporates cutting-edge work spaces to enhance communication, team-building, workflow, and group projects via huddle spaces, conference rooms, and commons areas. She says, “Staff can seamlessly interface in real time with colleagues at other locations through videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and webinar technology.”

There’s a Wall Street trading-room floor look to the third floor internal wholesaling area. Flat-screen panels stream motivational performance messages and live market conditions to the sales desk floor.

In multiple areas, adjustable, stand-up work stations are available. Employees can indulge their freshly brewed beverage cravings at several Keurig stations.

The in-house Park View Cafe is a grab-your-own, pay-with-your-phone Company Kitchen model. The spacious room converts into a meeting-reception space with audio-video connectivity. A covered balcony offers a panoramic overlook of Stinson Park.

Though not green certified, the structure integrates many conservation features, including energy efficient windows, LED lighting, HVAC that is programmed to shut off when areas are unoccupied, low water usage restroom fixtures, and motion-sensor lighting.

Greisen says employees appreciate Aksarben Village’s warm welcome and plethora of things to do. Proximity is a big plus, too, as Pacific Life is an employer partner of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, whose south campus is in the village. As an employer partner, company representatives promote their job opportunites and participate in career fairs; staffers also speak to classes and conduct mock interviews when asked. Greisen hopes this partnership will grow.

“We expect an increase because we have a partnership with UNO, and now we are literally on the edge of their campus,” she says. “It’s very convenient. Increased visibility.  It gives us even more opportunities to partner with the university.”

This visibility, along with the popular amenities, could mean an increase in sought-after employees at Pacific Life in the near future.  And that can help secure Pacific Life’s future.

Visit  aksarbenvillage.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

How Omaha Railroaded Council Bluffs

April 6, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Union Pacific Museum

Thirteen years before Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867, a group of Council Bluffs businessmen helped establish “Omaha City.” They didn’t view Omaha as a rival to Council Bluffs; rather, they saw Omaha as a prime route for the transcontinental railroad—and a road to riches. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the nation’s most ambitious construction project, while forever forging a unique bond between the two cities and Union Pacific.

The saga begins in the 1850s, when Dr. Thomas Clark Durant and Henry Farnam partner to construct a rail extension across Iowa, called the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad. They subsequently commission Grenville M. Dodge to explore possible routes for a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and Salt Lake Valley.

 It’s a difficult decade for Omaha—a bank panic in 1857 wipes out investors, and the city’s population declines. Then, the Civil War ignites in 1861. Desperate to unite the country east to west, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It OKs land grants to attract private capital for construction and authorizes UP’s origin at a point on Iowa’s western boundary, to be approved by the president.

Motivated by his large interest in the M&M, Durant is determined to link his Iowa rail extension with the transcontinental initiative, says Patricia LaBounty, collections manager at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. By Oct. 30, 1863, Durant is elected UP’s director and vice president, taking nearly complete control of the enterprise. He appoints Peter A. Dey as UP’s chief engineer (Dey had surveyed the M&M with Dodge) to further explore four possible connections alongside the Missouri River, including Omaha and Bellevue.

Durant lobbies Lincoln, who’s also inundated with requests to fix the origin at locations stretching from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City. Judge John P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior in Lincoln’s cabinet, recalls Durant’s advice: “Now, the natural place for this terminal point is at the mouth of the Platte River, but Omaha is the principal town in Nebraska; the wealth of the territory is there, and the energies of the people radiate from there, and I think they ought to be considered, and the best thing is to start it from Omaha.”

After consulting with Dodge, on Nov. 17, 1863, President Lincoln writes his first executive order on the subject. To ensure the railroad builds a continuous rail line and bridge surmounting the Missouri River, he sets the starting point on the Iowa side, across from Omaha. But his language is somewhat ambiguous, and Durant seizes the opportunity to plan an elaborate ground-breaking ceremony—in Omaha.

Held in early December 1863, near the ferry landing at Seventh and Davenport streets, and featuring bands, cannons, and fireworks, the event attracts throngs of citizens. Writes David Bristow in A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha: “And so it was an act of great faith—right there in the middle of a bloody civil war—to begin the most ambitious and expensive building project the country had ever attempted. It began in Omaha—it was a day, as the Omaha Nebraskian put it, ‘to thank God and take courage.’”

On March 7, 1864, Lincoln pens a second, more formal executive order, again specifying the origin on Iowa’s boundary opposite Omaha. Construction languishes due to lack of financing during the war, so a second Congressional Act on July 2, 1864, creates additional land grant incentives. A map detailing the railroad’s first 100 miles west from Omaha is filed with the Interior Department later that year, which President Lincoln approves.

And then, amazingly, Durant flip-flops. Despite two presidential orders, the UP Board of Directors’ approval of the Omaha route and his initial support, he changes his mind. A new consulting engineer, Silas Seymour, has identified steep grades surrounding Omaha, so he and Durant seek to move the origination point to Bellevue.

“Just like Omaha, Bellevue has already authorized land grants to UP, provided it begin the railroad there,” LaBounty says, “and Durant continues playing both sides of the fence. By May 1865, he requests surveys on the Missouri-Bellevue route and the best location for mechanical shops at Bellevue or Fremont.”

Omahans are outraged. The anger is apparent in telegrams exchanged between Durant and Edward Creighton, president of First National Bank and founder of the university that bears his name. Due to the reroute, Durant says no buildings are needed in Omaha. He’s had “enough of interference” and threatens to “make application to the President to change the terminus.” Responds Creighton: “Omaha must be the only point of connection with the Missouri River. Without this, there will be trouble.”

The issue is resolved Sept. 23, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson approves an amended location in Omaha that addresses the grades through a circuitous route, and construction to the west finally begins. But the drama doesn’t end there.

Given Lincoln’s presidential orders, it was assumed the Missouri River bridge would be constructed between Council Bluffs and Omaha. But UP’s board of directors rumors otherwise. In March 1868, a prominent Omaha delegation, including Nebraska Gov. Alvin Saunders, businessman Ezra Millard, and Omaha Herald publisher Dr. George L. Miller travel to UP’s New York City corporate office to settle the issue. They are appalled, writes Bristol, when Dodge announces the board has selected Bellevue. Using a tried-and-true strategy, Omaha and Council Bluffs unite to offer the railroad land, rights-of-ways and money. The railroad accepts, and the $2.5 million iron bridge is completed in 1872.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court settles the argument over the railroad’s origin point, establishing Milepost 0 in Council Bluffs. Both cities become transportation and business hubs, with a major rail yard and passenger transfer hotel in Council Bluffs, and Omaha home to UP’s operational headquarters and mechanical shops. Today the bond continues, with more than 4,000 Union Pacific employees in Omaha and Council Bluffs proudly serving the state and the nation.

Although Union Pacific is headquartered in downtown Omaha, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in Council Bluffs. Visit uprrmuseum.org for more information about the railroad’s history.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Office Furniture

February 24, 2017 by

A Survival Guide

Office furniture dealerships work with companies large and small to reshape their work environments. Here are some observations to keep in mind once the walls have come down.

Variety is key

Don’t just scrap the panels: Effective open-plan work areas need to offer a range of spaces. A “layered” approach may work best. Provide spaces for those people who really need quiet to focus, whether they just find it easier to work in quiet or they are more introverted. Successful spaces work when everyone in the company, regardless of personality or role, feels comfortable and confident in accomplishing their work.

Plan for the entire space, not just the corners

Create “enclaves” for collaborative working while making sure those spaces do not disrupt people sitting nearby. While it is important to provide areas for private/personal time, do not place them so far away that the trek to reach them is not worth it. Create “adjacencies,” spaces offering a phone booth or enclave where you are not walking more than 20 feet to reach them.

Design to meet your company goals

Your company needs to ask: What are our goals? “More collaboration” is a start, but “more collaboration between the product team and the sales team” is a goal that you can design your office around. Companies today often say they want to be more like Google. What is it about the workspaces at Google that you find appealing, and is that something your office’s culture can embrace? It may be more important to uncover how the company identity is expressed through physical space.

Establish Rules

It’s not enough to create spaces; you have to enforce boundaries. Open spaces create noise.  There’s just no getting around it.  Rules may be needed about how areas can be used. Certain spots for working in require a “no phone call” rule.  No exceptions!  It sounds very corporate and Big Brother to some people, but when you are working in an open space, protocols can be very important.

Get bosses out of offices

Sometimes managers may still need to function behind closed doors, but letting higher-ups spend their days inside old-fashioned private offices while employees work in the open sends a bad message. It also isolates them from the very benefits open plans promise. Once exposed to this new approach to the workplace, many executives say, “Wow, I’ve learned more about my own company in two weeks than I did in the past two years.”

While open-plan offices do not fit every company’s culture, they have come a long way from the “cubicle farms” of the past. More importantly, they are delivering an increasingly comfortable way to work.

Doug Schuring is the director of sales administration at All Makes Office Equipment Co.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Retaining Your Rock Stars

December 22, 2015 by

The fastest way for companies to drive away rock star talent is well documented:
micromanage them.

To retain them forever? Also well documented: coach them.

Well documented by whom, you ask? None other than two of the world’s top trendsetters
in management and corporate culture: Google and ADM.

Archer Daniels Midland?

Yeah. So, let’s start with Google.

In 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen, a research initiative to understand how its most successful managers manage. For a full year Google’s statisticians data-mined more than 10,000 quantitative observations of ideal manager behaviors.

As Laszlo Bock, then Google vice president of people operations, said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier, and do everything better. The biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager. So what if every manager was that good?”

One year later, Google came to some telling conclusions. Managers that naturally practiced an empowering style of trusting rock stars to perform like rock stars were considerably more successful than those who hovered over their direct reports as if they were incompetent children.

To train underperforming coaches, Google hired coaches from my alma mater, CTI, in San Francisco.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” Bock said in the same article. The remaining 25% of the managers who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—learn to coach don’t manage anymore.

Their 33,000-plus rock stars now perform at a much higher level than before and are much more likely to be retained by Google. And Google is among the 10 most profitable companies in the Fortune 500.

But what about ADM and their like-sized team of 30,000 rock stars?

While the notion of “coaching” may conjure up images of Silicon Valley start-ups with meditation rooms and beer on tap, ADM, the 112-year-old agri-business colossus based in Decatur, Illinois, is one of the leading proponents of “coaching-based performance improvement.”

While Google launched Project Oxygen in 2009, ADM initiated Coaching to Win (CTW), a program to train managers to coach direct reports that inverted the traditional, top-down management technique.

Since then, CTW has reaped breakthrough ideas to cut costs, improve efficiency, and increase the bottom line. If lower costs and higher profits don’t sell you on this style of coaching, maybe eliminating the annual torture of performance reviews will.

According to CTW creator, Jane Pierce, ADM’s former vice president of talent development, “A far better use of management time than reviewing past performance is coaching rock stars to high performance in real time throughout the day.”

A meta-analysis by Bersin & Associates found that corporations which employ a coaching management style have 21% better overall business results than peer companies.

In markets like Omaha, which enjoys virtually full employment even after ConAgra’s cuts, it’s very much a rock star’s market. So hire rock stars and treat them as such to enjoy the highest retention rates.

Handle them like incompetent children, especially in Omaha, and you won’t be handling them for long.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

PlayPal?

June 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was printed in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

PayPal’s offices are distinctly visible to passersby on nearby Interstate I-80. Volleyball and basketball courts for employees rest beside a small lake—the PayPal Pond. The La Vista campus is PayPal’s largest site outside of corporate headquarters in San Jose.

Employees enter the sleek, low-lying glass office buildings to find a casual workplace, a fitness center, free video game console stations, and arcade games. Walls of artwork produced by employees’ children cover the corridors and cubicle walls that separate cavernous, open office spaces. A vast ceiling stretches above the well-lit, bright scene.

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The PayPal campus consists of two buildings. The first (built in 2005) is one-story; the second (built in 2007) is two stories. Rooms and sections of the first building are named after countries and organized by continents. The second building is partitioned according to the names of superheroes and super-villains. A team of programmers might be troubleshooting with a client in “Batman” before catching up with colleagues in “Africa” for a conference call with San Jose.

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The cafeteria features a cornucopia of food options, all of which can be ordered and paid—before the lunch break has even begun—via a PayPal mobile application.

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Nature-Inspired Office Space

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Tom Kressler

The four elements—earth, fire, wind, and water—connote strength, simplicity, and timelessness andwere the source of inspiration for the design of the Pinnacle Bank Headquarters at 180th & Dodge streets in Omaha.

Pinnacle Bank, a Nebraska-based institution now in eight states, worked closely with the team at Avant Architecture to make the building essentially a piece of modern art. Rising from the horizon, the stone, steel, and glass structure suggests strength and elegance, simplicity and beauty.

“We’re really all about Nebraska and the Nebraska way,” says Chris Wendlandt, Senior Vice President of Marketing/Retail. Having previously worked with Avant, Wendlandt says the architecture firm knew their philosophy well. “Avant worked to match the building with the brand, and I think they did a great job.”

Wendlandt says that the goal was to create a space that would be simple, warm, and inviting, and something that both employees and their customers would be proud of.

Atrium.psd

Since their grand opening in June 2011, the response of employees and clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

The overall design of the building is sleek, yet elegant. “The emphasis is on light, openness, and views [of the exterior landscape],” says Wendlandt. Italian tile runs throughout the approximately 82,000-square-foot building. Other materials carried throughout the building’s design are the dark, German wood veneer, Oberflex, used in cabinets and doors, as well as a Gage Cast bronze metal that can be found near the teller line, in the elevator, and in other parts of the building.

Glass plays a prominent role in the overall design as well. Running through the lobby is a green-tinted channel glass wall, hinting at the element of water and providing light, as well as privacy, to first-floor offices and conference rooms. Large glass-panel walls on both exterior and interior walls keep with the open and airy feeling.

“The consistency throughout the whole building gives it that warm feeling, but then the artwork really brings [to life] what our brand is,” says Wendlandt. While the design of the space is minimalist, the artwork is what captures the attention of the viewer.

Board Room.psd

Aided by Holly Hackwith of Corporate Art Co., the art in the building was commissioned especially for the Pinnacle Bank project. With the majority of the artists being from Nebraska and the surrounding area, their work conveys the feel of Pinnacle’s home state. “We went through and identified artists we thought worked for the building,” says Wendlandt. Some of the more prominently featured artists are Jorn Olsen, Helene Quigley, and Matt Jones.

Then, in what Hackwith calls an extraordinary gesture, the Pinnacle executives allowed their employees to select which pieces would go into their personal offices. The result is an art collection that is a healthy mix of traditional and modern, serene and vibrant.

“Their employees really felt like they were a part of the process,” says Hackwith. Each work of art includes a plaque detailing the name of the piece, the name of the artist, and a brief description of the piece and artistic process involved.

The executive offices on the upper floors have glass-panel walls that look into the hallways and common areas. Employee cubicles have lower walls with glass panes imbedded, giving nearly every employee access to natural light and breathtaking views.

Roof Deck.psd

A community meeting room was created so that many of Pinnacle’s nonprofit clients can reserve it for their own use. “Community is…very important to us,” says Wendlandt. She says that they made a conscious effort to include a conference room with community access to it. All conference rooms are equipped with the latest in audio-visual technology

The top floor houses a green roof as well as a meeting area surrounded by glass-paneled walls that can slide open and be used to entertain clients or hold business meetings.

The building has achieved its sought-after LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. To earn this distinction, the building must meet green building standards regarding energy performance, water efficiency and several other aspects. In September 2012, the Pinnacle Bank project was also honored for its superior design with a silver award in the Corporate-Healthcare category by the Nebraska-Iowa Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

President Sid Dinsdale and the executives at Pinnacle Bank have created a new work space that reflects their values as a company. In doing so, they have also built a monument to where they came from and the clients they serve.

Believe the Omahype

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha resident Will Simons has worn many hats. As the managing editor of the now defunct Omaha City Weekly, he flexed his journalistic prowess while balancing a music career in the local band Thunder Power and jumpstarting his own business venture, Omahype. The curated online events calendar aims to provide locals with all of their entertainment needs. It solves the problem of having to sift through several different websites and papers just to find out what’s going on, plus it’s optimized for mobile operating systems. Simons had a little help coming up with the concept.

“I can’t say it was my idea initially. It was definitely a team effort. I used to interview local musicians at a previous job. One of those interviews was with Laura Burhenn, who, at the time, was a recent Omaha transplant from D.C. She was about to release the debut album for her group, The Mynabirds,” Simons explains. “She mentioned that she was in the early stages putting together an online youth culture-oriented events calendar and blog for the Omaha area and asked if I’d liked to help out. Of course, I said yes. With a background in arts and entertainment journalism, I knew Omaha sorely needed a one-stop website that listed all the best events in town for a younger, more culture-savvy audience. What sealed the deal was when Laura told me that two of the most talented web designers in town, Dave Nelson and Cody Peterson [of Secret Penguin], were already on board to help build it.”

Getting it off the ground hasn’t exactly been simple. To run Omahype successfully, obtaining multiple advertisers is key for Simons and the rest of the team. People are slowing coming around, but with all four founders having time-consuming day jobs (and rock careers), it’s difficult to juggle it all. However, Simons is working on a solution.

“The biggest challenge is generating enough money from advertising to justify someone working for Omahype full-time. I am transitioning into a part-time situation at my job so I can direct most of my energy toward Omahype,” he says.

Will Simons

Will Simons

“Aside from advertising, we’re seeking sponsorships from companies with employees and customers in sync with the readers of Omahype. We also plan on throwing more events. Our goal at Omahype is to support, nurture, and expand the cultural landscape of the city.”

Peterson is currently working on Omahype’s redesign and once that’s done, Simons assures visiting Omahype will be a “beautiful and intuitive experience.” In addition, browsers will discover the most relevant listings for concerts, art galleries, comedy shows, and independent films. Also, local restaurant reviews and concert photographs are popping up more regularly. Simons is optimistic.

“With the new redesign, we hope to realize our goal of having an online calendar that is the one go-to source for all of the Omaha area’s best events and major cultural happenings,” he concludes. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to expand to [other] cities at some point. Oh, and an office space would be nice, too [laughs].”

In the meantime, Simons and crew have executed a handful of fundraising events to help generate funds. They are planning on throwing more music events to keep up the momentum. Most recently, Omahype sponsored its third annual Rock-n-Shop event at The Slowdown on December 14. It featured a slew of prominent Omaha bands such as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds and, of course, Thunder Power. Several local vendors were also on hand to showcase their goods. If Simons keeps this up, Omahype could very well be the go-to calendar for all of Omaha’s “cool kids.”

Malara’s

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Two elderly gentlemen are just getting up from the table. “We don’t work here,” the one in the knit sweater says gallantly, “but we could probably seat you.”

They probably could at that, if they’re some of the regulars who have been gracing Malara’s Italian Restaurant since it opened on 22nd and Pierce streets in 1984. Caterina Malara, an American by way of Argentina by way of Italy, first put her name to a small carryout shop as a way of providing for her young family. “There weren’t any tables or anything,” says her daughter, Maria Szablowski. “We mostly served sandwiches then.”

Decades later, Malara’s has expanded in both size and menu, and Szablowski is now the restaurant’s manager. “We make pretty much everything ourselves,” she says. Her favorite is the fried cheese ravioli, though her niece, Ashley Gomez, is torn between her grandmother’s lasagna and the Italian cheesecake.20130204_bs_5079 copy

Malara’s serves strictly Italian comfort food, and the food is prepared accordingly. “We’re casual, you know, spaghetti and meatballs,” Szablowski says. Recipes are vague, if there are any at all. “It’s a pinch of this, a pinch of that.” Gomez adds that when Malara teaches her kitchen a new recipe, she’ll say, “No cups! You judge yourself.” With such a home-style method, dishes are surprisingly consistent.

Szablowski says that if Malara had her way, the menu would be constantly filled with new items. For the sake of the staff, they introduce one or two new dishes every so often while keeping on staples like the homemade cheesesticks, chicken parmesan, and ricotta cannoli.

Still, the matriarch is very much present in her restaurant. “She’s here everyday,” Szablowski says. “We can’t keep her away.” Malara still cooks a bit, but is less hands-on. “She watches you like a hawk,” Gomez says with a laugh, but adds that Malara is very patient, especially with her great-grandchildren, a few of whom work in the kitchen.

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The fact that the restaurant is family-run is inescapable, from the daughter waitressing on weekends to the photos of great-grandkids on the wall. Even if staff members aren’t family strictly speaking, they may as well be. Szablowski and Gomez compare notes on which employees have been with them the longest: “Maki, the bartender, has been here for 22 years. Then there’s Marilyn, the cashier, she’s been here for 20. And Amy and Kathy and…”

If all you need to enjoy the cozy ambience is a dessert and a drink, consider having a sour crème puff under the original tin ceiling at the bar. Though Malara’s serves a full bar, wines and beers carry the day. Especially for Malara herself. “Mom loves her glass of Lambrusco every night,” Szablowski says with a smile.

Malara’s Italian Kitchen
2123 Pierce St.
402-346-8001

 

Localmotive

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Localmotive has been serving up made-from-scratch sandwiches and sourdough rounders on the corner of 12th and Jackson since March 2012, meanwhile building a loyal clientele. And the local food truck isn’t afraid of a little competition—in fact, they want other food trucks to follow their lead into Downtown Omaha. “We’re not crowding trucks in,” says Patrick Favara, one of Localmotive’s three owners. “There’s totally room for more.”

Favara credited their truck’s successful first year in the Old Market to extensive research. “There’s very little here to look at,” he says, adding that food trucks are still a new concept to the Midwest. “And there’s not much in Nebraska’s books yet. If there’s a model to look at, it’s Kogi.” The five-truck fleet in Los Angeles communicates multiple times daily through Twitter, Facebook, and its own well-maintained website so that customers never have to wonder when or where a truck will be out.

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

The Localmotive crew tries to do the same thing. “Communication is essential,” Favara said. “It determines your following.” Even though the truck can be found next to Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven nights a week, a schedule is always available on localmotivefoodtruck.com. Localmotive also has an office manager who stays on top of the truck’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. “We make that a priority,” Favara says. “We get back to the people who talk to us.”

You mean, it’s more than just Favara and David Burr in the truck and David Scott, sourdough king, in the kitchen? “You get a staff,” Burr says with emphasis. “You don’t do it all on your own.” Even with a peak staff of 18 employees during the summer, Burr recalls weeks at the beginning of their debut that included 120 hours of work. “Consistently,” he says, laughing. “…for months.”

The large staff is necessary, Favara explains, because unlike employees of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, truck workers can’t duck back to the kitchen to help with prep during slow times. “We staff as many people as a brick-and-mortar,” Favara says, “because they can’t do double-duty.”20121130_bs_6302 copy

Burr adds that while the upfront cost of a food truck is lower than opening a storefront, running a mobile restaurant has its own set of challenges with licensing, permissions, and maintenance. “It’s demanding work,” he says, “and not cheap. We’re a fellow restaurant…[just] in a different facility.”

After hitting many of their first-year goals (i.e., be a staple of late-night downtown; serve at the Farmers Market; be a source of good food for restaurant staff coming off the clock late), Burr, Favara, and Scott are focusing on their second year. Their 2013 goals include expanding their garden (even with the tough 2012 summer, they still used most of the produce they planted), have a regular beef supplier (“You’d think it would be easy to find local beef in Nebraska,” Burr says), and be more available to the young entrepreneurs of Omaha. “We love that crowd,” Favara says. The truck supplied a meal last May to attendees of Big Omaha, a convention produced by Silicon Prairie News.

And years down the road? They’ve thought of a quick-service restaurant, just a little kitchen with a walk-up window. More trucks one day, like Kogi, and maybe a trailer for festivals. “We’re not limiting ourselves,” Favara says with a smile. “We’re not the first food truck in Omaha, but I think we’re setting the standard.”

Find Localmotive’s location schedule at localmotivefoodtruck.com.