Tag Archives: ice cream

Her Fountain of Youth

July 11, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Few visitors who sneak a peak at Betty Davis’ treasure trove of soda fountain collectibles can appreciate their impact on generations of Americans who grew up before the 1950s.

The ice cream molds, dippers, five-headed malt mixers, banana bowls, trays, tall glasses, tin Coca-Cola signs, and a 12-foot-long counter with a gray marble top and marble frontage—stored in Davis’ spacious Council Bluffs home and garage—recall a more innocent age: a time when a boy and girl slipped two straws into one ice cream float and sipped as they leaned toward each other, and when soda jerks, in their white jackets and bow ties, had more swagger than Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Cocktail.

“The soda jerks were what bartenders are today,” says Davis, retired executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society in Omaha. “They knew everybody, they listened, they gave everyone personal service—mixing the concoction in front of you. They were the biggest big shots in town,” she says with a laugh.

From the early 1900s through the soda fountain’s heyday in the Depression-era 1930s, most jerks were men (no kidding!), until women filled in during World War II. “They got the name when they jerked the pull handles of the carbonated water in two different directions to regulate the flow into the flavored syrups,” she explains.

An unabashed romantic about the era, Davis grew up across the river listening to stories about how her parents “courted at the soda fountain” at Oard’s Drug Store, now Oard-Ross, on 16th Avenue in Council Bluffs.
And she vividly remembers holding the hand of her “tall, Danish” grandfather as they walked to the drug store to get ice cream.

Years later, in the late 1980s, while volunteering at the old Western Heritage Museum in what is now Omaha’s Durham Museum, those memories came flooding back when a group of former “fizzicians” from the region gathered for a reunion around the museum’s established soda fountain.

“Over 500 people showed,” she marvels. “I discovered that the soda fountain was implanted in people’s memories. The public came just to look at the soda jerks and talk to them. It was magic.”

The overwhelming success of that first reunion led Davis in 1990 to found the National Association of Soda Jerks. The association grew quickly, swelling to more than 1,000 members in less than two years. “I got a personal letter postmarked Washington, D.C., from a former soda jerk. It was from [former U.S. Senator from Kansas] Bob Dole. He’s a member.”

But age has caught up with the dwindling ranks of soda jerks, as it has with Betty Davis. Now 83 and experiencing mobility difficulties, she realizes the window of opportunity to open a soda fountain museum showcasing her happy hobby has closed. “This is of no value to me locked in a garage,” she reasons quietly.

After months of searching for a “worthy” home for her collection, Davis heard about a multi-pronged, ambitious nonprofit headquartered just a few blocks north of the Historical Society, where she worked for many years.

The mission of No More Empty Pots, located on North 30th Street in the historic Florence neighborhood of north Omaha, revolves around food. The organization not only provides access to locally grown, affordable, nutritious food, it offers culinary arts training in one of two commercial-grade kitchens, located in the labyrinthine basement of the renovated turn-of-the-20th-century row of buildings.

Another component of this food hub, the Community Café at 8503 N. 30th St., slated to open to the public in the fall, caught Davis’ attention on many levels because of its parallels to the soda fountains.

“Betty told us how drug stores started selling sodas and ice cream to draw people into the store to buy things, and the fountain was never meant to be a moneymaker,” says Nancy Williams, co-founder and executive director of No More Empty Pots. “This cafe will help our employees learn how to converse with people and really serve them, and not just with food. That will translate into many different career paths.”

Believing the cafe can become “a beacon…to unite all the ethnic differences we have,” Davis signed over her soda fountain collection and the trademarked National Association of Soda Jerks to Williams and No More Empty Pots. A display case in the middle of the cafe will house Davis’ relics of the soda fountain era, her contribution to the preservation of an American tradition.

The 12-foot-long World War I-era soda bar, which Davis picked up years ago in Soldier, Iowa, will stand behind the large windows of the storefront, beckoning people to come in, enjoy a freshly made soda, and socialize.

“We’re going to make our own soda syrups and extracts from seasonal fruits and herbs and then add the carbonated seltzer water,” Williams says. “And we’ll have local seasonal ice cream.”

Confident that her goals and the mission of No More Empty Pots align, Davis sees her soda fountain breaking barriers, inspiring conversation, and making people happy for many years to come.

Visit nmepomaha.org for more information about the nonprofit receiving the soda fountain and memorabilia.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of 60Plus.

The Grey Plume

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A few years ago it would be hard to believe that Omaha would be home to one of the top three greenest restaurants in America, let alone a James Beard Foundation award semi finalist. In the past you would have to visit cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to find restaurants and chefs with accolades such as these, but The Grey Plume has been in the national spotlight since the day they opened in 2010.

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Chef/Owner Clayton Chapman has racked up more James Beard nominations than any Omaha chef in history. “Farm to Table” and “Eco-Friendly” restaurants are quite common in many large American cities, but in Omaha it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. The Grey Plume takes all of this to a new level with the close collaboration Chapman has with his growers and ranchers.

The restaurant is quite handsomely designed with a formal but still comfortable feel. White tablecloths and velvet-covered bench seats give the restaurant a plush, luxurious look.

Great care was taken in the design to use reclaimed and recycled materials as well as special low-energy kitchen equipment with a small carbon footprint. The artwork featured around the restaurant comes from local artists, as does some of the plateware made from recycled wine bottles.

Chef de Cuisine John Engler’s menu is constantly changing, but on a recent visit I saw several dishes that fondly recalled previous visits. My dining partner and I started off with one of my favorites, the Duck Fat Fries ($9). As the name implies, these crispy hand-cut fries are fried in duck fat and served over aioli with a farm-fresh egg on top. The combination is incredible. We also tried the Smoked Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi ($12). This beautifully presented appetizer features pumpernickel bread crumbs which provide flavor as well as texture. It also has a cherry purée and fresh leeks. I am certain I will be ordering this one again. Next we tried the Cold Potato Soup ($9). This concoction had a velvety cream texture and was garnished with truffle powder that gave it a great umami boost. We also had the Heartland Organics’ Spring Greens Salad ($8), a nice light salad featuring local mixed greens, feta cheese, radish, and lavash with an olive oil dressing. For entrees I had the Morgan Ranch Wagyu Beef ($36). It featured perfectly cooked “petite filet” or teres major cut. The dish also had some oxtail, tongue, and an amazing sausage, all from Morgan Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. A light demi glace sauce, shaved asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and Yukon gold potatoes made this dish a delicious combination. My dining partner tried Plum Creek Farm’s Chicken Roulade ($27). This moist chicken was served with baby bok choy, snap peas, farro, and a savory strawberry puree—another stellar entree. For dessert we had TGP Hand Crafted Chocolates ($13.50) and the Ice Cream Trio ($8.50). The ice cream dish consisted of a trio of scoops: salted caramel, orange chamomile, and sorrel. The sorrel, at first, seemed an odd flavor for ice cream, but I was instantly hooked.

 

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At times in the past I felt that the service at The Grey Plume was perhaps a bit stuffy and overly formal. Servers sometimes make your head spin with their immense knowledge of food and wine while using French words and terms that most diners have never even heard of. But this was not the case on this particular evening. Our server was friendly, humorous, and casual, but provided excellent service. He went out of his way to explain the dishes to my dining partner using layman’s terms. He also earned extra points on his wine recommendation of an exquisite French bordeaux that went perfectly with my Wagyu beef.

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There is no doubt in my mind that The Grey Plume is one the best restaurants in Omaha. Unfortunately my income bracket does not allow me to frequent places in this price range often enough. But don’t relegate this special place to birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. You owe it to yourself to experience The Grey Plume, the hot spot that has so deservedly received so much critical acclaim all across America.

Cheers!

The Grey Plume, 220 S. 31st Ave.

402-763-4447 or thegreyplume.com

Food=4/5 Stars

Service=3 1/2 /5 Stars

Ambiance=4/5 Stars

Price $$$$

Overall=4/5 Stars

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Dairy Chef

July 19, 2014 by

It’s not yet noon on a recent Tuesday morning, but the parking lot at Dairy Chef in Elkhorn is already packed. Decked out in Elkhorn High School’s colors, the humble red and white shack is more than meets the eye.

It’s here that malts, sundaes, and dipped cones reign supreme, not to mention their famous Storms—think here of a variation on a popular concoction with a similarly wintry name at Warren Buffett’s places that also have the word “Dairy” in the name. The Dairy Chef, under the hand of owner Mike Ozmun, is all about keeping customers happy. A self-proclaimed foodie, Ozmun enjoys traveling the country to find inspiration for what might be next for the menu at this homey little mainstay of the ice cream circuit.

“When I hear of someone that has something great,” says Ozmun, “I go find out about it. I’m infatuated with food.”

Though the ice cream menu stays true to the decades-long tradition of the Dairy Chef, the remaining food is all Ozmun. From French dips to pork tenderloin sandwiches, his grill selections ensure that nobody goes home hungry. All items are made fresh daily. One hundred pounds of potatoes are hand-cut into fries each morning, and meats are straight from Rick’s Meats a mere three blocks away.

Ozmun purchased the Dairy Chef in May of last year, but he’s no stranger to the ice cream joint. After moving to Elkhorn in 1991 with his wife, Cheryl, and children, Sarah and Michael, the family were familiar faces at the place they later bought, visiting anywhere between two and five (five!) times a week. Now Michael is both the general and kitchen manger. Sarah is also a manager. Cheryl handles the scheduling and ordering of provisions.

“When we decided to take it over,” says Sarah, “we all as a family agreed that if we were going to do it, we had to do it together.” Her favorite part of the job is seeing all the regular customers and being a part of their lives in the community that has maintained it’s quaint, small-town vibe even as Omaha grew to absorb the once-standalone city.

Good table manners can be, at times, optional. Just ask Larry Anderson.

The mechanic from Waterloo, brings his 14-month-old Great Dane, Harley, to Dairy Chef a couple times a week. “He’s too big for a puppy cone now,” says Anderson, “and he kept trying to drink my malts, so he gets his own large vanilla cone.” The scene that unfolded next had “viral video potential” written all over it as the humongous hound attacked the equally gargantuan treat.

It’s just one of the all-American, slice-of-life vignettes that play out every day at a little place that caters to a nation’s long love affair with ice cream.

“It’s friendly, and it’s great ice cream,” says Ozmun. “You’ll always get a smiling face…and it’s worth the wait!

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Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Summer is in full swing in the metro, bringing the kind of heat that make us all want to scream for some good old-fashioned ice cream. Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack, the brother-sister duo and proud owners of Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream at 12th and Howard streets, can accommodate those cravings with their all-natural ice cream available in some tantalizing and daring flavors.

Both Omaha natives, Ohira and Pittack began their ice cream careers by working at Ted and Wally’s under previous owners Dave Kirschenman and Julie Gilbert. In 2001, Kirschenman and Gilbert decided to sell the shop and Ohira and Pittack were up for the adventure.

“I called Joe, who had moved to Lincoln to go to school to become an English teacher, and said ‘Hey, do you want to come back, try to get a loan, and run this?’” Ohira says.20130506_bs_3374_Web

Her brother was onboard, and the two quickly rolled up their sleeves, staying faithful to the founding philosophy of quality and community but making some modifications along the way. The partnership proved to be not only ambitious but successful, too. Under Ohira and Pittack’s ownership, the shop switched to using all-natural ingredients purchased fresh from local merchants. In order to accomplish this, they created their own recipe for the ice cream base to replace the previous one purchased from Hiland Dairy. The result was a more costly and labor-intensive process but one that has earned awards for Ted and Wally’s, as well as loyal customers both locally and out-of-state.

“It’s a product we make in-house, made from scratch, and nobody else has our recipe,” Pittack says. “Ted and Wally’s in the Old Market has been doing it since 1986, so it’s an Omaha tradition. We have generations of people that come in here now.”

Ted and Wally’s unique flavors are what garner the most attention. Sure, the shop offers traditional flavors, such as chocolate and vanilla, but Ohira and Pittack tend to showcase more creative selections they’ve invented themselves. Sometimes, shop employees and the public chime in with flavors they’d like to see.20130506_bs_3379_Web

To date, Ohira and Pittack have created more than 1,000 ice cream flavors, not including variations. Some public favorites include Monica’s Unicorn Farts, a cotton candy-marshmallow-cake mix with Lucky Charms and sprinkles. Suggested by a Ted and Wally’s employee, the flavor was a big hit, as was Mr. Cigar, a cigar-flavored ice cream celebrating the birthday of Mr. Cigar at S.G. Roi Tobacconist. Another customer favorite is Quit Yer Job and Eat Chocolate, a concoction of chocolate mousse ice cream with chocolate chips, brownies, and Oreos. But those flavors, albeit tasty, are tame compared to some of the other creations Ohira and Pittack have come up with.

Some of the more unusual flavors have been bacon, fish, and prime rib. Sriracha ice cream has been on the chalked menu board, as well as jalapeño. Recently, Ohira created a new flavor featuring grilled octopus, which, she admits, “is probably not going to be a big seller.”20130506_bs_3462_Web

As for what inspires these nontraditional flavors, everything is game. Sometimes, a friend’s story will spark an idea; other times, it’s a book. Ohira says she must’ve created at least 100 new flavors after reading Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. But most of all, Ohira and Pittack credit their culturally diverse family—as well as their own preferences for variety and newness—with being big inspirations for Ted and Wally’s unique selection.

“I get bored doing the regular stuff and like to try different things,” Ohira says. “I remember people used to say that we have weird flavors. One of those was cotton candy, which isn’t that far out there. But now it’s way more fun and people are a lot more receptive.”

Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream
1120 Jackson St.
402-341-5827
tedandwallys.com