Tag Archives: Justin Swanson

Being Present for the Small Moments

April 2, 2018 by

My mom passed away three days before this past Christmas. My friend and former co-worker Justin Swanson passed two days before that. Between the two, I wound up saying farewell to Justin in the ICU before his non-responsive body was unplugged from life support and then later, in the emergency room, grasping for the last warmth in my mom’s newly deceased body.

It was an intense, stomach-twisting week.

But I’m not writing this to talk about death. I’m writing this to talk about the small moments that precede death. So let’s go back to May 2014.

We were hosting the closing party for Big Omaha at House of Loom. Among the frivolity of the full-capacity night was a sea of sweaty entrepreneurs, a random guy playing the accordion to house beats, and one of Twitter’s co-founders getting down on the dance floor. In the history books of that club, it was a legendary night.

I can’t remember why, but my brother was in town, so in a rarity, my mom, dad, and brother all wound up stopping by. As we edged out a spot just above the stairs in the upper lounge, a photographer walked by and grabbed a beaming family photo. 

Later that night, my mom experienced two strokes. She was never the same after.

Between dementia and Addison’s disease, we witnessed her expressions, personality, and communication slowly diminish.

There were also frequent trips to the hospital. This past summer, while working just down the street from where she was hospitalized, I took my lunch break to spend some time with her.

She was alone when I arrived, but thanks to the steroids that were pumped into her IV, she was more alert and alive than I had seen her in a very long time.

Given her worsening condition, I knew there was something special about this moment. So I flipped open a voice recording app on my phone, and I began what would become a 40-minute conversation that covered everything from childhood memories, experiences she still wanted to have, and the feeling she got when my 1-year-old daughter—her granddaughter—kissed her.

After I said my goodbye and left the room, I made peace with whatever was to come next. She transitioned four months later.

Cut to Nov. 11, 2017. I had just finished DJing a private party in the Old Market, and after packing everything up, I had enough time to catch last call somewhere. With no agenda on where I’d end up, I aimlessly walked down the street where I saw a group of people gather before walking into Brickway Brewery.

My attention caught, I looked inside the near-empty bar to see Justin Swanson cleaning glassware. I walked in behind the group of people and as the crowd cleared, Justin’s eyes widened and his hands went up in surprise at the sight of me.

See, there was about three years of my life that I saw Justin more than my family. He was a bartender and I was a co-owner at House of Loom. Because of our roles, our lives were inextricably intertwined.

That is, until we closed on Jan. 1, 2017. After that, we took separate paths and mostly lost touch. At the time I didn’t even know he worked at Brickway. So while I sat in a near-empty
bar with Justin, we caught up and conversed like old friends.

This column appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Reinventing the Classic

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Time travel back to childhood. Sink your teeth into two slices of white bread slathered with creamy peanut butter and purplish jam, the sandwich staple of sack lunches and after-school snacks.

Can you taste the love? Hungry for more? Many Omaha locals drive over to the Old Market Farmers Market on a Saturday morning for their fix. There’s often a line stretching around the black truck with an orange logo, where customers eagerly await gourmet twists on standard PB&J.

PBJ3PBJ—Peanut Butter Johnny’s—is the dream and brainchild of John Jelinek. You won’t find Skippy and processed strawberry jam here. Jelinek’s food truck rolls through town selling sandwiches made from many different types of bread, a variety of nut butters, and artisanal jams ranging from spicy jalapeño to exotic fig. He even puts bacon on his sandwiches.

Jelinek isn’t a chef or a well-known restauranteur in town. In fact, Peanut Butter Johnny’s is his first business. Jelinek previously worked as director of sales vendors for Time Warner. He dreamed of owning his own business, and he initially thought about opening a clothing store.

Then he considered opening a food truck, but he wasn’t sure if it would work for him; “There’s already a lot of pizza trucks and that sort of thing, and frankly, they do it better than I can,” Jelinek says.

Jelinek finally settled upon the idea of serving grown-up versions of childhood comfort food. He took the concept and (literally) rolled with it. Not being a chef, he wanted a professional to make sure his vision was as delicious as he imagined.

He contacted Beth Augustyn in the culinary arts department of Metropolitan Community College. Augustyn made a connection with graduate Jarrod Lane, a sous chef at Marks Bistro. The business owner and chef stuck together like…

Jelinek didn’t just connect with Lane. He also connected with chef Clayton Chapman of the Grey Plume, Patricia Barron of Big Mama’s, and chef Paul Kulik of Le Bouillon. Jelinek asked for help from these local culinary giants, and each helped create the specialty sandwiches on his menu.

“What’s great about John is he has a vision but he allows us to create,” says Chapman. “We went to a few tasting sessions to get that to where he wanted it. He’s incredibly creative and able to see something in its finished place much before it’s started.”

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Peanut Butter Johnny’s opened for business on the evening of Dec. 5, 2015, at a fundraiser for the Nebraska AIDS Project. Over the summer, the truck attended the free Memorial Park concert and fireworks, and the Fourth of July Parade in Ralston. Anywhere the people go, they go.

PBJ serves sandwiches upon sandwiches. And customers can’t get enough. At ConAgra in early July, Jelinek, Lane, and two other employees served 40 orders in little under 30 minutes. “People were telling us they’ve waited over an hour for other food trucks,” Lane says.

Jelinek’s multi-ingredient sandwiches require time and love. Aside from bacon, other dishes feature chicken, and many sandwiches come grilled.

“You can’t go wrong with PB&J,” claims customer Justin Swanson. “I want to support local business owners, plus this is way better than I can make.”

On a sweltering summer day, Swanson saw the truck parked near 90th and Dodge streets. He swung by to support the business (and his bar friend). Swanson is a bartender at The House of Loom, where Jelinek often chooses to spend his free time.

It’s these type of friendships that keep customers coming to PBJ. Chapman says Jelinek’s personality also draws return customers.

“It’s his enthusiasm, it’s his drive, it’s his passion for what he’s doing,” Chapman says. “You’re just naturally drawn to it.”

“So much of business is relationships,” Jelinek says. “So much of repeat business is relationships. Serving them good food and being nice to them so they say, ‘You know, let’s go back.’”

He wants the food truck community to keep making relationships, too, especially in the wake of new regulations.

“It’s important that we have rules that everyone can live by,” Jelinek says. “Food trucks want to find a way to get along well and be something unique.” 

Visit pbjohnnys.com for more information. Encounter

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