Tag Archives: industry

Brush With Greatness

August 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

People don’t spend much time contemplating the products made by Omaha’s NAGL Manufacturing Company, but many certainly depend on them. Consider NAGL’s top product, the humble nail polish brush. When people apply a fresh coat of color to their toenails or fingernails, they typically think about the polish’s hue and brand, but it is rare to stop and consider the origin or merit of the tiny little brush that applies the paint to make one’s digits pop.

Anyone who has used nail polish in the past 80-plus years has almost certainly used a NAGL-made brush. Carl J. Nagl started the company in the mid 1930s in its original location near Johnny’s Cafe in South Omaha.

“We produce [brushes] for all the major nail polish brands,” says Erica McDonald, controller at NAGL. “NAGL used to make a wider variety of cosmetic brushes, but now we primarily do nail polish brushes and anything that might look like a nail polish brush but is used to apply something else.”

NAGL, currently the world’s largest supplier of nail enamel brushes, produces brushes and/or bottles for beloved brands like CoverGirl, OPI, Revlon, Avon, L’oreal, Sally Hansen, Maybelline, and many others.

“Every nail polish brand, really,” McDonald confirms.

While you would not think of a nail polish brush as a product requiring forward thinking, NAGL does their own development, like their flow-through brush, as well as customizing and creating per customer request. It might not happen daily, but they have created brushes for Essie’s gel couture bottle with a twisted design and Christian Louboutin’s striking, stiletto-esque bottle toppers.

“We are happy to accommodate customer-driven changes that allow for their own take on a brush or product,” McDonald says. “Customers come to us with an idea in mind, then we show them what’s possible within their budget and limitations. We like to give them the flexibility to do whatever they want.”

The company, currently located at 36th and Martha streets, changed hands several times and was eventually purchased in 2003 by Team Technology Inc., which helped NAGL branch into medical, dental, and automotive markets.       

In addition to making 2.5 million brushes every single day, NAGL annually produces more than 84 million oral swabs for use in medical facilities. The company also creates brushes for automotive touch-up paint, model kits, super glue, and antifungal solutions, plus caps, bottles, packaging solutions, a vibrating flosser, and more.    

“If you’d asked me before I started here, I would’ve guessed that this nail polish bottle, cap, and brush came from China,” McDonald says. “But it comes from Omaha, Nebraska. It’s kind of wild that these everyday products that you rely on to enhance your beauty come from here—much less this residential neighborhood.”   

In addition to being made-in-the-USA, the company prides itself on its sustainability practices.

“We distill 100 percent of our acetone and lacquer, and recycle the sludge that remains from distillation. This saves nearly 6,000 gallons of these hazardous substances from going into landfills each year and remains well below EPA requirements,” McDonald says. “We also reduced our waste output by 50 percent, starting in 2014, by implementing a full-facility recycling program. With a very plastics-heavy operation, it’s very important to protect the health and sustainability of our environment.”

Despite changes in ownership and product lines over the years, McDonald says NAGL remains a workplace that inspires employee loyalty. McDonald’s predecessor was with NAGL for 35 years, and human resources manager June Jones has worked there since the 1960s.

“It’s neat to work somewhere you’re actually making the product that you’re selling,” McDonald says. “You get more invested, and our team’s involved in the entire process.” 

Visit naglmfg.com for more information.

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

Building More than Bridges

May 19, 2017 by

Omaha is home to some big players in the architecture, engineering, and design world. Companies like HDR, Leo A Daly, and DLR Group are a few that call Omaha home.

Our lives are touched daily by the work they do. If you’ve driven on the West Dodge Expressway, used one of our state-of-the-art medical facilities, or enjoyed the ambience of a coffee shop or hotel, then you understand the magnitude of their work. But few realize the role they play in helping us bring conferences, meetings, and events to our city. 

The tremendous success of Omaha’s business community is also a great asset in helping Visit Omaha bring conferences, meetings, and events home. It’s one of the reasons our city recently hosted the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives for their annual convention. This group is made up of more than 200 influential scientific and technology associations, which are now more familiar with Omaha and may choose to bring a future
meeting here.

In 2016, thanks to local businesses and people like you, Visit Omaha hosted more than 342 meetings, events, and tours that brought more than $229 million into our economy. Visit Omaha also booked an additional 186 events for future years, worth more than $86 million. These are big numbers and showcase tourism’s impact on our city. But local business operations also win. Conventions such as CESSE can shine a light on an industry, help recruit future talent to our city, or even inspire a new business to set up shop here.

We know your endorsements often lead to meeting groups choosing Omaha, and we encourage you to bring your next event home. Our team at Visit Omaha can help you think through the details, provide expertise on hotels, venues, and attractions, and create a successful event that benefits both you and the city.

When you build these types of relationships, you’re building more than bridges.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

A Conversation with Nancy Pridal

May 15, 2017 by

Scott Anderson: What are the biggest changes that the engineering industry will face in the future?

Nancy Pridal: Understanding the implications of tomorrow’s technology on how we do business today is a bit of an unknown. We have to resist the “success as usual” syndrome and continue exploring opportunities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things, etc.

Scott Anderson: Can you give me an example?

Nancy Pridal: The distinction between who addresses infrastructure needs are becoming blurred. Tech firms like Amazon, Verizon, Google, and Apple are all jumping into infrastructure issues, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities. They’re actively seeking solutions. These were historically led by engineers. As an industry, we need to be at the table. Understanding and participating in these conversations at the highest level is critical now.

Scott Anderson: So, what is the impact that the engineering industry is experiencing today?

Nancy Pridal: At an educational level, engineering schools are reassessing core curriculum that hasn’t dramatically changed since the ’50s. Current pedagogy is being examined to produce the engineers we need for the future.

Another big issue for the industry is attracting diversity to STEM. While the field of engineering is continually expanding and can provide abundant opportunities for women and minorities in technical and leadership roles, these groups are still greatly underrepresented. The main reason women leave engineering is company culture, so it’s critical that we understand the impact of culture on women in the industry.

To engage youth in our community, Lamp Rynearson has taken a lead role in advocating for the ACE Mentor Program, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. It’s essential for the engineering industry to align its culture and policies so it attracts and develops a diverse group of professionals who will add the most value in this exciting future.

Scott Anderson: Are there any signs of the future impacting the present state of engineering?

Nancy Pridal: From a construction standpoint, we have seen an increase in “stringless paving” that has changed what we provide for construction administration and staking services. Drones and other new technology are already becoming go-to technologies in our field. 

Scott Anderson: So, if engineers are not involved in surveying and other traditional engineering tasks, what roles will they play?

Nancy Pridal: Lamp Rynearson is leading this discussion with peer firms now, to ensure that as a company and as an industry we are keeping pace, if not leading the way, toward future advances in our field. The key for us is to remain nimble and open-minded to anticipate the future needs of the communities we serve.

We must be continuous questioners and continuous learners to serve the continually changing needs of our communities. As engineers, it’s who we are. There’s a book called A Whole New Engineer by David Goldberg and Mark Somerville, which forecasts what it’s going to take for the engineer of the future to advance the places where we live and work.

Nancy Pridal, Lamp Rynearson & Associates senior vice president, is a civil engineer strategist with widespread project and client management, strategic planning, leadership development, and geographic expansion experience. With offices in Nebraska, Colorado, and the Kansas City area, Lamp Rynearson claims a varied and extensive list of civil engineering, landscape architecture, and survey services.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

A Family Masterpiece

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some childhood memories stick with you. Dave Carroll, a retired Union Pacific manager, holds onto the memory of one fateful childhood leap that dented his grandfather’s prized 1950 Mercury.

“I’ve got so much of my life in this car,” Carroll says. When he was about 6 or 7, Carroll was playing with cousins at a tree house on his grandparents’ farm in Fullerton, Nebraska. His grandfather John Carroll’s out-of-commission vehicle sat under the tree house.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. Instead of going down the rope ladder, I jumped out of the tree house onto the car and I caved the roof in.”

Carroll remembered his grandpa’s large hands. “He got in the car and he took his hand and popped it out, and I thought, wow.” Some wrinkles remained in the car’s roof and would stay there for many decades. “The funny story is, years later, I paid to fix that roof,” he says.

His grandmother, Etta Carroll, bestowed him the car after his grandfather passed away. Then she accidentally sold the car for $50 to a neighbor kid, while Dave was serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Dave and his father, Jack, travelled to Fullerton to get the car back after Dave returned from overseas. The duo were quickly chased off of the property by shotgun.

“We went downtown and we found the local constable. He was having coffee at the coffee shop. My dad knew him. We told him the story and he said ‘come on, we’ll go back.’” The story ended well for Dave, who was still in possession of the car’s original title. And the car has been with him since then.

Over the years, the Mercury was transported across the United States on a flatbed trailer while Carroll worked his way up at Union Pacific, from a position on the track gang to one in management at the company’s headquarters. His career led him to places such as Sydney (Nebraska), Denver, and Cheyenne. At every new location, Carroll brought along his beloved Merc’. “My intention was to build it, but being a railroader, I didn’t have the time or the funds.”

Carroll returned to Omaha in the ’80s. He met and wed Dianne Cascio Carroll, owner of Anything Goes Salon. Soon after, he began his odyssey of fixing the Mercury. Having the roof repaired is just one of the many changes Carroll has made to his car.

“There’s so many things that have been done to this car,” he says. Over more than 30 years, Carroll says he has spent thousands of hours refurbishing the car. Some projects were finished, only to be torn up again and redone so that he could try the ever-evolving products in the industry that worked better. “That’s my problem,” he says. “I redo things.”

He has often lost track of time while working in his garage in the Huntington Park neighborhood in Omaha. “I’ve had my wife open the door and say, ‘you know what time it is?’ I look at the clock and it’s 10 after 1 in the morning and I’ve got to be to work at 6 in the morning.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about my parents, and honoring the memory of my grandfather. I kept this car because it was in the family and it’s never been out of the family.”

Carroll’s imagination has affected every aspect of the car, from the striking Candy Purple body color, to the custom purple snakeskin roof interior. The air-conditioning vents were salvaged from a 2002 FordTempo. He ordered the custom-made steering wheel from California, and the windshield from Oregon. Thanks to Carroll’s insatiable creativity, the car has a digital dash, an electrical door opener, a late-model motor with custom aluminum valve covers, four-wheel disk brakes, rounded hood corners, a smooth dash and Frenched-in (curved) headlights.

The restoration has also been helped by Ron Moore of Moore Auto Body, Rick White of Redline Upholstery, and Rod Grasmick, an antique auto restorer. Using qualified professionals means that Carroll knows his car is taken care of, but he also finds them to be knowledgable friends.

“I have a couple of friends that are helping me with this car, that’s how our [automotive] community is—everybody helps everybody,” he says.

Will the car ever be finished? “My dad is always telling that he hopes to get to ride it in when it is done, and him being 92 years old puts a lot of pressure on me,” he says.

“My wife says, ‘you’re taking forever.’ Well, look at it this way, there’s better and newer stuff coming out all the time,” Carroll says. And so the journey continues.

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

Buy Omaha Profile

February 24, 2017 by

Our industry is too often focused on the completion of transactions as the measure of success.  At OMNE Partners, we build relationships by providing best-in-class real estate services and looking beyond a single transaction. We believe in treating our clients’ businesses as our own, with great care and end-to-end attention to detail, which only exists in a true partnership.

My career in commercial real estate began at the Omaha-based, family-owned real estate development firm the Slosburg Company. I was fortunate to work closely with the partners of the firm—their knowledge and advice was invaluable. From there, I moved to the Lund Co. Once again, I was fortunate to work with great people. John Lund and the other founders of the firm, Rich Secor and Jerry Kelley, were significant influences from day one. Working directly for Jason Fisher, Lund Co.’s president, I learned how leadership influences company culture and open communication fosters loyalty.

People who work at OMNE Partners can expect a culture that is committed to collaboration across departments. Everyone here is aware of how important they are to our success. We are very intentional about it. We recently implemented regularly scheduled, very brief (as quick as five minutes), company-wide update meetings. The purpose is to open the lines of communication and ensure everyone is working together outside of what is articulated in an organizational chart. We openly discuss company goals and the specific impact achievement will have on the firm.

One of the tasks we completed through our rebranding was the definition and expression of our principles.  What resulted was the beginning of what would become our manifesto. There is one line that sums it up well: “At our core, we care deeply about each other and the community we live and work within.”

TJ and his wife, Kate, have been married for 13 years and have three boys: Max, Ted, and Gus.

B2B

OMNE Partners
13340 California St., No. 100
Omaha, NE 68154
402-697-8899
omnepartners.com

 

Our Livestock Legacy

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nothing screams “feed me!” like the smell of a thick, juicy steak sizzling on an outdoor grill. The aroma draws friends and neighbors to an informal, laid-back rite of summer: the backyard barbecue, now in its peak season. But before you throw a T-bone, cowboy ribeye, New York strip, or sirloin on the “barbie,” give a tip of your chef’s hat to that hunk of meat.

After all, beef put Omaha on the map. The cattle industry became the brick and mortar used by pioneering families like the Roths, Buschers, and Simons to build solid businesses; it created hundreds of enterprises related to the meat industry, like the great steakhouses of Little Italy. The packinghouses paid “the best wages in the city,” so young adults like Terry Moore could prosper and start a family. The demand for workers brought diverse cultures to Omaha that enriched life here.

For more than 80 years, livestock drove Omaha’s economy. “Omaha was the largest livestock center in the world; we’re talking the 1950s and ‘60s,” says Bob Buscher, Sr., whose great-grandfather, John Roth, a German immigrant, started a small beef-packing outfit, John Roth & Son, in 1885. “Millions and millions of dollars worth of meat went through the Omaha stockyards to the packers every week. We even beat Chicago.”

Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son’s.

Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son.

Chicago first gained Omaha as a spirited rival for livestock supremacy way back in 1883 when a group of prominent Omaha businessmen decided they wanted to corral some of the wealth Chicago had amassed from its stockyards. And why not? they reasoned. Omaha had the lush pastures and the Union Pacific Railroad. Equally important, Omaha provided a more central location for cattle barons and ranchers of the Plains and the West to bring in their steers, hogs, and sheep.

According to newspaper clippings of the era, the business syndicate—which included John Creighton, one of the founders of the university that bears his family’s name— bought “2,000 acres of land about four miles due south of the Omaha post office.” They set aside 200 acres for the animal pens and “split up the rest into building lots.”

“Millions and millions of dollars worth of meat went through the Omaha stockyards to the packers every week.” – Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son

The Omaha Union Stockyards opened in August 1884 with a shipment of longhorn cattle from Wyoming as the first tenants. By early 1885, a slaughterhouse began operating in the shadow of the yards. Almost overnight, Omaha went from a sleepy frontier town to a hub of agriculture and commerce, thanks to its upstart namesake: South Omaha. As the stockyards expanded throughout the 1890s, the packinghouses and the burgeoning meat industry drew thousands of immigrants with the promise of jobs. Poles, Czechs, Bohemians, Greeks, and Lithuanians joined the Irish and Germans in carving out a better life.

The Simon family, the name behind Omaha Steaks, traces its proud heritage to a Latvian immigrant and his young son.

“Our family started as butchers and became exclusively wholesalers,” says Todd Simon, a fifth-generation owner. In 1898, Todd’s great-great-grandfather, J.J. Simon, got off the train in Omaha with his son, B.A., because the landscape reminded J.J. of the Riga farmland he had left behind. “They bought sides of beef from the packinghouses, cut them up into smaller pieces, and sold them to hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores. They basically replicated what they knew in Latvia.”

Cousins Todd and Bruce Simon of Omaha Steaks.

Cousins Todd and Bruce Simon of Omaha Steaks.

Their new butcher shop, Table Supply Meat Company, began in 1917. The business moved to 12th and Howard streets in Omaha in 1924. No one could have imagined then what fortunes lay ahead for that modest enterprise.

By the time the Simons arrived here, South Omaha—a separate jurisdiction— had become the fastest-growing city in the nation. Census records show 8,000 residents by 1889, leading one local journalist to dub it “The Magic City.”

“It even had its own newspaper, the Magic City Hoof and Horn,” says Gary Rosenberg, research specialist at the Douglas County Historical Society, which houses a treasure trove of information on the Union Stockyards.

“Our family started as butchers and became exclusively wholesalers.” – Todd Simon of Omaha Steaks

With its unprecedented growth—and wealth—South O became a much-coveted acquisition by its neighbor to the north. The city fiercely fended off many annexation attempts before finally conceding to a merger with Greater Omaha in 1915.

But the beef industry never conceded its importance to the region’s economy and kept nipping at the heels of Chicago. By the early 1950s, the stockyards stretched from 27th Street on the east to 36th Street on the west between L and Q streets. The majestic, 10-story Livestock Exchange Building, where buyers and sellers completed transactions, rose from the middle of the stockyards on South 30th Street. Tens of thousands of animals came into Omaha every week for processing. When the markets opened in New York on Monday mornings, the buying and selling frenzy began.

“You didn’t want to be caught on L Street on a Sunday evening,” remembers Terry Moore, long-time president of the Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and a graduate of Omaha South High School. “The trucks carrying the cattle in from the ranches would be lined up all the way past 90th Street to the west, trying to get into the yards.”

Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

“The stockyards had to be the most interesting place on earth,” recalls Buscher, who, as a teenager in the ’50s, often accompanied his father, Clarence, when he went to buy cattle for Roth & Son. “My dad would go down the alley with all the pens of cattle, 25 cattle per pen. He’d bid so many cents per pound on this pen and that pen, and he never wrote it down. Never. He remembered everything.”

Nor were any contracts involved. After haggling over prices and often cursing at each other, the buyer and commission firm agent would come to an agreement and use a handshake to seal the deal.

“A cattleman’s word was his bond,” says Buscher with a hint of reverence. “In all the years I paid the bills, I don’t remember a discrepancy in the number of cattle we bid on or the price.”

“The trucks carrying the cattle in from the ranches would be lined up all the way past 90th Street to the west, trying to get into the yards.” – Terry Moore, president of Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

Anyone who grew up in South O after World War II remembers close-knit ethnic neighborhoods where life revolved around a variety of Catholic and Orthodox churches, and social clubs. They also remember a vibrant city with a bustling commercial strip.

“You couldn’t see the sidewalk for all the people shopping on South 24th Street,” recalls South District Councilman Garry Gernandt, who grew up at 20th and Vinton. “We had Phillips Department Store, Buck’s Shoes, TV repair shops, dime stores, restaurants, and lots of ‘mom and pops.’”

On November 21, 1955, the Omaha World-Herald trumpeted the news Omaha had waited decades to hear: It had overtaken Chicago. Bragging rights as the center of the world’s meat industry had finally come to the Midlands. According to the Omaha Daily Journal-Stockman, “Fully one-half of the Omaha labor force is employed in some facet of the livestock industry.”


The demand for meat products kept 13 independent packing plants humming alongside the “Big Four” meatpacking companies: Armour, Swift, Wilson, and Cudahy. Each of the large plants employed more than 2,000 people. The Armour plant alone could process 1,360 head of cattle, 4,800 hogs, and 3,600 sheep in an eight-hour period.

“I went to work for Swift and Company right out of high school in 1961,” says Terry Moore, following in his father’s footsteps. “I worked in all areas of the packinghouse: the kill floors, the coolers, the hide cellar where we cured hides, the engine room, the sausage room, the specialty-cut room—that’s where we’d fill the restaurant orders for the day when they wanted the extra-thick cuts of beef or pork.”

From the hide to the hooves, no part of the animal went unused. A pinched-off hoof, for example, could stabilize gunpowder. The rest of the foot, when boiled, yielded oil for waterproofing.

“You couldn’t see the sidewalk for all the people shopping on South 24th Street.” – Garry Gernandt, South District Councilman

Generations of families who worked in the stockyards or the packing plants found themselves constantly surrounded by mud, manure, or blood. And that was fine with them.

“On a summer evening when it would rain, my father and I would take a deep breath,” says Moore. “My father would ask, ‘What is that, Son?’ I’d say, ‘It smells, Dad.’ And he’d say, ‘That’s the smell of money, son, the smell of money.’”

That’s the same line Sally Kawa’s (KAH-vah) father, Jack, fed her when they had to hose down the floors of their restaurant, the iconic Johnny’s Café.

Johnny’s Café sisters Sally Kawa and Kari Kawa Harding.

Johnny’s Café sisters Sally Kawa and Kari Kawa Harding.

“The stockyard workers and cattle haulers would come in for lunch and manure would drop off their boots,” says Sally, who now co-owns Johnny’s with her sister, Kari Kawa Harding. “We had washable linoleum floors then. I’d say, ‘Daddy, this smells,’” at which time Jack would give her the stock reply.

While Italian immigrants, who elected to live between the river and 10th Street, started most of Omaha’s early steakhouses, a Polish immigrant named Frank Kawa invested what little money he had into a bar called Johnny’s at 4702 S. 27th St., next to the stockyards. What started in 1922 as a small, eight-table operation quickly grew into a South Omaha staple.

“We’d have a chuck wagon-style lunch, where all the workers would line up at the steamship round [of beef] counter for their sandwiches,” says Sally. “It was a quick way to serve people.”

“Back in the day, we’d open at 5:30 in the morning for breakfast and not close until 2 in the morning,” adds Jack Kawa, Frank’s son.

“The stockyard workers and cattle haulers would come in for lunch and manure would drop off their boots.” – Sally Kawa of Johnny’s Cafe

Even after the stockyards closed, Johnny’s survived—outlasting once-popular steakhouses that Jack can still reel off: Angie’s, Sparetime, Mr. C’s, Caniglia’s, Johnny Hrupek’s, Ross’, Marchio’s.

“People didn’t forget us,” muses Sally. “We added chicken, fish, and salads to the menu to change with the times, but we still serve old-school favorites like braised ox joints. It’s our biggest seller.”

When “the smell of money” started to turn, it hit people in South Omaha like the thud of a fallen steer. By the late ’60s, the tall, multi-storied, brown brick packinghouses with the kill rooms on the top floor had become woefully outmoded. Built at the turn of the century, they lacked the latest technology and had succumbed to gravity. Terry Moore remembers, “You could take your pen and slide it in between the bricks, and the mortar would fall out.”

At the same time, rural areas like Glenwood and Sioux City, Iowa, and western Nebraska lured packers to relocate to be nearer the product—the cattle, sheep, and hogs. Ranchers could sell direct and avoid the middleman.

One by one, the Big Four packinghouses packed up and moved out, followed by many of the smaller ones. By 1971, Omaha lost its “greatest livestock city in the world” title. The Union Stockyards eventually closed for good in 1999, the same year the Livestock Exchange Building became a historic landmark.


Out of the stagnation that followed emerged a new era for Omaha’s beef industry.

“We still have three of the largest independent packers in South Omaha,” Councilman Gernandt points out. “Greater Omaha Packing, Nebraska Beef, and XL Four Star Beef [now JBS].”

The workforce now consists mainly of Hispanics, Sudanese, Somali, Asians, and some Hmong. “The [melting] pot’s still percolating; it just has different ingredients,” says Gernandt.

John Roth & Son, at 5425 S. 43rd St., got out of the slaughter business in 1986. A few years later, it began manufacturing edible dried animal plasma and rotary-dried blood meal. In 1995, Bob Buscher, Jr., became the fifth generation to work there.

Ironically, the Simon family business that never owned a slaughterhouse or sold retail became the nation’s largest direct marketer of premium beef and gourmet products, single-handedly making “Omaha” synonymous with “steak.”

“They would ask the railroad people, ‘Where did you get these steaks?’ And they would tell them, ‘Well, we got them from Omaha Steaks.’” – Todd Simon

“[Momentum] started in the late 1940s,” explains Todd Simon. That’s when his grandfather, Lester—whether by luck or design or a little of both—secured a contract with Union Pacific Railroad to supply beef products for the dining cars.

“Customers were impressed with the quality of the food, and they would ask the railroad people, ‘Where did you get these steaks?’ And they would tell them, ‘Well, we got them from Omaha Steaks,’ which is how Table Supply marketed them,” says Todd. “And that’s when we started getting calls from around the country for our steaks.”

The business soon began shipping products directly to restaurants and customers in wax-lined cardboard cartons filled with dry ice. In 1966, capitalizing on its best-known commodity, Table Supply Meat officially changed its name to Omaha Steaks.

Today, Todd and his first cousin, Bruce Simon, president and CEO, helm the multi-million-dollar enterprise. Their fathers, Fred and Alan, remain public ambassadors of the company’s philanthropic largesse. Omaha Steaks boasts three million active customers; ships four million coolers of its beef throughout North America each year; employs a permanent workforce of 1,800 Midlanders; uses cutting-edge technology to drive sales, just as it pioneered direct mail, telesales, and the internet as marketing tools; and remains dedicated to Omaha.

A labyrinth of alleyways, fences, and pens stretching through acres of muck and mire became the measure of success for Omaha’s beef industry in its first century. Perhaps the prosperity of Omaha Steaks, the resiliency of South Omaha, and the honesty and loyalty of our modern cattlemen will become the hallmark of the next 100 years.

Style and Substance

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nick Hudson first helped found Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) back in 2008, he says some people thought it was a bit of a joke. Six years later, no one’s laughing. During the first year, about 2,000 people attended the event to see creations by 12 designers; by the end of this year, 51 designers will have shown their work, with an estimated 8,000 people attending—and the event just keeps getting bigger and better.

Unlike fashion weeks in New York, London, and Paris, OFW isn’t just about all things sartorial. It serves as a platform for up-and-coming designers to learn about the fashion industry and introduce their creations to the public, all without having to pay a fee to participate. “A lot of designers come from wealthy backgrounds,” says Hudson. “[Making it in this industry] requires resources. The vast majority of our designers, though, come from limited means and challenging economic backgrounds. [With OFW], there’s no financial barrier.”

To this end, Hudson founded the Fashion Institute Midwest, a program that helps designers learn about all aspects of the fashion industry from developing their lines to getting them to the public. Designers apply online, specifying what they’d like to focus on and what they hope to get out of the program. Some want to enhance their opportunities for getting into top design schools; others hope to build their businesses.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Typically, 70-90 designers apply annually with 40-50 making the cut. The designers are all from the Midwest, coming from states like Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. Ages range from as young as 13 to those in their early 30s. A selection panel consisting of nine fashion industry experts interviews the applicants. “Mainly, people audition to be a part of the show,” Hudson explains. Brook Hudson (Nick’s wife), who manages OFW’s day-to-day operations, adds, “The cool thing about the interviews is that the panel doesn’t just decide. We give the designers feedback on how to sharpen their focus and ideas. It’s a conversation.”

From there, designers work with OFW’s team of volunteer mentors to learn about the fashion industry. They receive expert advice on subjects such as where to get fabric, how best to show off designs, and how to pitch and promote their lines. They also participate in workshops or roundtable discussions focusing on topics like doing consumer research and how to broaden their appeal for retail markets. This forms the core of the program. “What people don’t realize,” Hudson points out, “is that there is constant mentoring and support taking place throughout the year behind the scenes.”

Rick Carey and David Scott (“The Style Guys”), Omaha fashion stylists and hair and makeup legends who have worked at fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Miami and at international photo shoots, became involved as panelists and designer mentors this past February. “The mentoring program is amazing. We help the designers get their collections together so [they] look fantastic,” explains Carey. “As Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame says, our job is to help the designers ‘make it work.’”

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Scott adds, “From those original sketches on a piece of paper, no one realizes where designers go from there. You have to find the perfect seamstress who can sew that perfect zipper or perfect hook, someone who knows how to work with a specific type of fabric. We’re very much into the total look.”

Another critical component is finding the perfect models to showcase the collections. Alyssa Dilts, director of Develop Model Management, does the casting calls for OFW and works with designers to select models. “I compile the list, and the designers have a week to select [their models],” says Dilts, who has done some professional modeling herself. “I then finagle the schedule for them to coordinate and make sure the models are available.”

Equally important are all the other volunteers who make OFW possible. “The public has no clue about what’s involved,” says Scott. “They really don’t realize how many people it takes to put it on.”

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Indeed, volunteers do everything from setting up and tearing down the catwalks, marketing the event, distributing press passes and VIP bags, coordinating the action backstage, and greeting and seating guests. Makeup artists and hairstylists similarly volunteer their time and talent. “We’ve got a great community of people involved who all donate their time and expertise,” says Hudson. “It’s unheard of. It’s a huge part of why we’ve been able to grow so fast. That’s why we’re able to keep building…Because of the community.”

What’s new and exciting for OFW this August? The six-night event will take place downtown in the Capitol District (10th & Capitol streets area) in a 30,000-square-foot space composed of one tent flanked by two smaller ones and after-party courtyards featuring DJs and live bands. Designers/artists Dan Richters and Buf Reynolds are collaborating to create a large-scale art installation through which people will enter the event. “It’s the first time we’re doing it. We’re graduating to a different level,” notes Hudson.

Given all this, it’s no wonder that in just six years, OFW has emerged as one of the top fashion weeks in the Midwest, one that attracts experts and designers from around the country. “It’s more than an event,” Brook proudly points out. “We’re on the verge of creating a new industry for Omaha.

Omaha Fashion Week takes place August 19-24. Tickets range from $30-70; Saturday Finale VIP tables (for 10) can be reserved for $1,000. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit omahafashionweek.com.

OFW SCHEDULE

Monday 8/19: Children’s Wear
Tuesday 8/20: Avant-Garde
Wednesday 8/21: Ready To Wear
Thursday 8/22: Evening Wear
Friday 8/23: Men’s & Swimwear
Saturday 8/24: Grand Finale Gala

Lee Douglas Interiors

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lee Douglas Interiors, a full-service design firm based in Lincoln, Neb., has expanded into Omaha with the opening of a new design studio in Bel Air Plaza.

Established in 1989, the business, owned by Lorele Lesoing and Doug Dittoe, services home builders, outside designers, and residential clients. The Omaha studio also serves as a retail storefront, stocking furniture, home accessories, and artwork.

“Our design team draws on six decades of experience in the [home design] industry,” says design assistant Meg Penrod. “We’re accomplished in custom home creation, ground-up construction planning, design finish, remodeling, and project management.”

Other interior design services include: hourly consultation, wall treatments, window coverings, bedding, upholstery, furniture, and accessories. The business also employs a faux-finish team, and offer original artwork and mural design services.

“Lee Douglas Interiors has worked with several Omaha clients over the years and felt their store and services offered something unique to the city,” adds Penrod. “We’ve earned a reputation for designing unique, warm, and creative atmospheres exceeding customers’ expectations. Our clients are anyone wanting a clever approach toward aesthetically beautiful yet practical and functional design for their everyday life.”

Penrod says the studio has plans to launch Lee Douglas brands and an exciting online store.

Lee Douglas Interiors
12100 W. Center Rd., Ste 1101
402-932-9932
leedouglas.com

Here Comes the Bride

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as April marks the arrival of springtime, so, too, does it signal the beginning of wedding season—typically viewed as mid-April through mid-October—and the onset of “wedding fever” for many excited soon-to-be and wanna-be brides.

Regardless of whether your nuptials are a year away or far off in the distance, wedding season is a great time to attend Omaha bridal fairs and visit bridal boutiques, floral shops, and other wedding businesses in the metro and start making a list of all your must-haves for your special day. After all, creating your dream wedding takes time and planning—why not get started now?

To celebrate wedding season, we’re spotlighting three metro businesses that provide distinctive products and services for Omaha brides: gown boutique, Rhylan Lang; accessories vendor, Inez Gill; and floral service, Flowers for Special Occasions. All three are owned by local, young women who are not only on top of national trends, but in fact are leading the way in the Midwest with unique, high-end wedding fashions and accessories.

Rhylan Lang

The goal of upscale bridal boutique, Rhylan Lang, is simple—to make sure that each bride leaves with a dress that is as amazing as the memories created. “Every dress in the store is made from silk fabrics,” says owner Tracy Ponec, 29, of her unique collection. “If there is beading, it is Swarovski. If there is lace, it has intricate details. I want brides to be able to tell the difference in quality.”

Ponec, who has a joint degree in textiles and journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been working in the wedding gown industry for nine years. “In college, I [did] bridal alterations,” she says. “I never thought I was going to make a career out of it.”

After graduating, she moved to Kansas City. “I had done a few internships that were more in-line with fashion-related public relations, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for that in the Midwest.” But with years of bridal alterations experience on her résumé, she took a shot and applied to the highest-end bridal salon in Kansas City, even though they weren’t hiring. Of course, she got hired. She even had the opportunity to do some professional training in New York with bridal design teams for Vera Wang and Reem Acra. “The owner [of the salon] and I made a great team. I learned so much from him. A few months in, he told me he thought I was born to do this.”20130227_bs_7349 copy

When Ponec returned to Nebraska, she saw the bridal market with new eyes. “Knowing how many of my brides in Kansas City were from Omaha, it was pretty obvious there was something missing for these brides in the Nebraska market.” She worked a bridal position for a short time but then decided it was time to bring her vision to life. A few years later with a business plan in hand, Ponec opened Rhylan Lang.

The name “Rhylan Lang” is actually a play on Ponec’s maiden name, Rhylander. “There is part of me in the name, but [the brand] isn’t about me. It’s about the brides,” she says. Because she cares about her brides, Ponec wanted her gown collection—which starts at a range of $1,600 to $6,000—to be exclusive in the state. From there, it was important to that the dresses were the highest quality fabrics and finishes available at each price point.

“During an appointment, a professional stylist will help select gowns from our inventory based on what a bride is looking for and their budget. The experience here is more intimate and far less chaotic than brides are used to. It’s a pleasant change for those that have been shopping a lot.”

For more information, visit rhylanlang.com or call 402-933-3510.

Inez Gill

Courtney Zurcher, 24, got the itch to start her own accessories business after making scarves for her family and friends. Today, she is the owner and designer at her accessories business, Inez Gill. Since starting Inez Gill, Zurcher’s accessories have been featured in Omaha’s Wedding Essentials and on Daily Candy, an e-mail newsletter and website devoted to what’s new and hot. She’s even designing accessories for the Daily Candy editor’s wedding.

“Inez Gill actually came from a combination of family names,” she explains of her business’ name. “My grandfather’s mom, Inez, was the kind of woman who just painted everything. She even painted the fridge once. She was very eccentric. Gill was my grandmother’s last name. She was a traditional mom and did needlework to make clothing.” Zurcher likes the combination of Inez and Gill because “one was artsy and one was practical,” which is how she’d like to approach her business.

When it comes to weddings, more brides are willing to pay for high-end products that are unique. That’s where Inez Gill accessories come in. “Accessories have a lot of life because you can put it on and it will change an outfit completely,” says Zurcher, who recently displayed her work at Omaha Fashion Week. Most of Zurcher’s bridal accessories are for the brides who want really fun, colorful looks. “I want [my pieces] to feel like accessories from a 1920s hat shop down the street—things that tailors and seamstresses would custom-make.”20130227_bs_7349 copy

While most designers and bridal vendors ship in their accessories, Zurcher creates and designs each piece. “Some designers draw sketches, but I just think of what I have, and then I put it together. I do have to put a lot more thought into how I design an accessory though because I take so many different pieces and put them together. I have my own system, and I don’t buy anything pre-made, unless it’s like a vintage leaf or something.”

With suppliers coming from everywhere (even some out of England), Zurcher has a lot of unique pieces to work with in creating each accessory. Natural stemming, vintage leaves, rhinestones—she finds all kinds of items from her suppliers and antique shops. “I don’t really follow a particular style,” she says of her mix-and-match work.

But just because Zurcher makes her accessories by hand doesn’t mean they look handmade. In fact, she prefers to spend more time making each accessory have a high-end look, even if it takes her more than the usual three to five hours. “I just like making things that make people feel good.”

For more information, visit inezgill.com.

Flowers for Special Occasions

“We have a strong passion for floral design,” says Jessica Pitt, 29, owner and designer at Flowers for Special Occasions. “We are always reinventing our work to stay fresh and in touch with the ever-changing fashion of the [wedding] industry.”

Although Pitt studied Fine Arts at College of Saint Mary and Behavioral Sciences at Bellevue University, she says that the floral business is in her blood. With four generations of her family having been involved in florals, it was only natural for Pitt to take up the business. “I grew up in my mother’s flower shop, spending afternoons as a child playing in the shop and eventually working there from the time I was 15 through college.”

A customer actually gave the business its name. “We were trying to establish ourselves as a vendor who worked exclusively with weddings and other special events. The name just sort of stuck,” Pitt says. But the business is also known as the Flower Design Studio, which Pitt explains comes from their days as a co-op with two other businesses.20130227_bs_7197 copy

Pitt says Flowers for Special Occasions is unique because they custom-make floral arrangements. “None of our work is based on cookie-cutter bouquets,” she adds. “We work with the client to develop a special feel for the event, and we create our pieces based on our collaborations.” Budgets of all sizes are welcomed by the Flowers for Special Occasions team. It doesn’t matter if a couple is working on a small or large budget—Pitt says the floral arrangements will look beautiful.

“We have built a very loyal following through the years. We work primarily through word of mouth. I believe [that] our happy clients and their referrals are what has built and sustained our company, making it the success it is today.

“Since we are a family business, we all have a personal stake in wanting our business to succeed. We never cut corners,” she says. “We have one chance to get it right, so we always strive to give each wedding something very special.”

For more information, visit flowersforspecialoccasions.webs.com or call 402-891-1602.

Elle Lien Lynch

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“If this were a movie set,” says Elle Lien Lynch, gesturing to the coffee shop, “everything that you see would be something that the set dec buyer would have to find and buy. The one thing I wouldn’t have been responsible for would have been the things you and I, the actors, touch.” Suddenly, the ceramic mug on the table seems glamorous. A prop.

Last December, Lien finished her work as set-decorating buyer for Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska. The movie, estimated for a late 2013 release, follows “an aging, booze-addled father [as he] makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize,” according to IMDb.

Though Lien had no prior experience in the industry (she’s the former owner of closed downtown restaurant Daily Grub), Deidre Backs, a friend who had worked with Payne in film, suggested she submit her resume for the set-decorating buyer position. “Being a local is a huge plus as a buyer,” Backs says of the reasons she encouraged Lien, “because locals know where all the bodies are buried. And with her history of running a restaurant, I knew that handling the accounting side of the job would be no sweat.”

Though Lien says she knows Payne from around town, he had no idea she had applied for a job on Nebraska. “My resume got tossed into a pile with a bunch of other people,” she says. Still, something about it obviously caught the eye of set decorator Beauchamp Fontaine. “I am a hunter,” Lien says, referring to her experience in interior design and buying vintage furniture. “I put that on my resume. I’m a hunter-gatherer. I find old things and breathe new life into them.”

She started work in Norfolk, Neb., last September for a month of preproduction before filming began in October. Lien says she went into the experience without knowing much about the film besides the fact that Payne was directing. “Everything’s very vague,” she says. She read the script on her first day at work. When Payne noticed her in the film’s office one day, he told her, “Welcome to the circus.”

“I’m a hunter-gatherer. I find old things and breathe new life into them.”

“I think he was surprised to see me there,” she recalls.

While Lien says that Fontaine determined the look and feel of a set, she would occasionally defer to Lien’s Midwest background. “These are my people,” Lien says with a laugh. That familiarity with small-town Nebraska culture was probably helpful considering that much of what Lien found to decorate the sets (oh, and every item had to shoot well in both color and black-and-white, thanks to the look of the film) was in people’s garages or thrift stores. “If it had been ordering curtains or buying new things, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much,” she adds. “I would have been fine, but I loved this job.” She delightfully describes her responsibilities as speed shopping with someone else’s money.

Of course, she came from running her own restaurant where “you have your finger on absolutely every aspect of everything.” Working on Nebraska, Lien says she was more like a piece of a puzzle. “It’s very structured,” she says, describing how within the set decorating department, there’s the set decorator (Fontaine); the set decorating buyer (Lien); the lead man, who’s in charge of getting the stuff to the set, returning it, and storing it; and the set dressers, who place and install the various pieces in the set.

But wait, there’s more. Set decorating is a department within the art department. And, surprise, the art department is also a department within the art department. Then there’s scenic and prop. “You all feel like you’re doing your part,” Lien says, “but it’s just so big and decentralized.” When asked if she’d like to work on a film again, she says, “I would love to be a lead man. But it all appeals to me. It was the absolute perfect place for me to land for my first film.”

Though she and husband Joey Lynch had been seriously contemplating a move to New Orleans to be closer to more film industry opportunities, Lien credits Nebraska with gently changing her mind. “I felt like maybe it was why we didn’t move,” she says. “I felt a real sense of pride in this place.”