Tag Archives: Omaha Magazine


October 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In fall 2017, panels of local arts experts held a lecture series that explored the personal and societal benefits of all forms of art, from opera to painting. The panelists used buzzwords like “golden age” to describe the current status of the arts in Omaha. Indeed, these are years of great prosperity for large legacy organizations, but many artists are not fortunate enough to be a part of those organizations.

Enter Philip Kolbo, Grace Manley, and Hannah Mayer—three artists who founded OutrSpaces. These three saw a need in Omaha for a more inclusive space that offered rehearsal facilities, developmental opportunities for artists’ careers, a performance space, and an outlet for engaging the surrounding community. 

Kolbo graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2016 with a degree in percussion performance. He quickly found that, out of academia, it is difficult for performing artists to find professional facilities in which to practice.

“I am a percussionist—we have a lot of gear, we make a lot of noise, and we take up a lot of space,” Kolbo says. “You could find a few places here and there that could work for a specific performer, but nothing that really fit needs exactly.”

He began working with other artists to form a co-op space with a shared lease so he could have the practice resources he needed, and that’s when a lightbulb went on for Kolbo.

“All the work that was going into that seemed like so much for it not to be a sustainable idea,” Kolbo says. “So that’s when it really took off as a project that’s a sustainable resource for artists in this city long into the future.”  

OutrSpaces is a membership-based rehearsal and performance space. Members can pay $100 per month for unlimited access. Kolbo says the organization primarily hosts performances by any community member who wishes to use the facility, and artists are always paid. 

“[Outside of contract musicians] there are very few people in this community who perform 100 percent as a form of income and make a living wage off of that,” Kolbo says. “For Omaha to have a robust nightlife and arts scene, we really need to start financially supporting our local arts community.”

Manley says at the core, helping artists earn a living wage is what OutrSpaces is about.

“Everything really goes back to it,” Manley says. “How are you supposed to have a product without a place to create that product?”

Mayer says there is also an element of social justice to the OutrSpaces mission. Growing up as a self-described white, middle-class child, she says there were things she had to overcome studying music that would have been even harder as someone with less privilege. 

“I am passionate about breaking down these barriers that keep poor people, people of color, and other minorities from participating in something that has so beautifully shaped my life like classical music,” Mayer says.

Bach Mai is a musician who got involved with OutrSpaces early in its creation. Mai even used resources from the organization to start OutrSpaces’ Conspire Music and Art Festival. The event formed groups from 14 musicians, then gave the groups a week to create new music they performed at OutrSpaces on June 16. He says Omaha needs people like Kolbo, Manley, and Mayer.

“They’ve spent countless hours building the walls that house the many practice rooms and workspaces they offer to creatives,” Mai says. “I like to think of their space as something similar to a co-working space. A place where artists can go and work regular hours and separate their home from work.”

OutrSpaces closed its first location on 24th Street earlier this year when the lease expired and moved to a new space on South 13th Street. Happily settled into their new location, it seems the OutrSpaces crew is commencing countdown, and blasting off on an unremitting mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life for performing artists in Omaha, and—for this place—go where no one has gone before. 

Visit outrspaces.org for more information. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

From left:
Hannah Mayer, Grace Manley,
 and Philip Kolbo

Escape on Wine Road

October 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Driving into the heart of wine country in Northern California, our chauffeur has to point out where last year’s devastation ravaged the landscape of Sonoma County. At first glance, we only see lush green hillsides. Upon closer inspection from the passing vehicle, the brownish limbs of damaged evergreens indicate where flames once danced over the freeway in October 2017. Occasional construction sites and empty lots reveal the former site of gas stations, fast food joints, and hotels consumed by wildfires. 

“After the recent rains, everything turned so green,” says the driver, Hugo, a resident of Santa Rosa (the largest city in Sonoma County). His neighborhood was almost entirely destroyed, and his home was among the few that survived. “It burned so fast that, as soon as the firefighters got there, everything was gone. The heat was so intense that it was melting aluminum from the wheels on cars.”

Luckily, “vineyards are a natural firebreak,” Hugo says. Hundreds of fires across Northern California destroyed some 8,900 buildings, causing upwards of $9.4 million in damage close to the time of harvest season. But most of Sonoma’s grapes had been picked by then. Although some late-harvest yields could carry a smoky flavor, we can only speculate (as that vintage had yet to begin pouring during our visit in May).

Wine production—the vineyards acting as a firebreak—didn’t merely slow the devastation; the industry and its associated tourism remain a critical part of the region’s economic recovery. As we drive deeper into the grape-producing hills of Sonoma County, evidence of the previous year’s inferno fades from view and memory. We are getting thirsty. Bring on the wine!

Our trip began with a direct flight from Omaha to San Francisco on the morning of Saturday, May 5. Joined by my family, wife Michele and 8-month-old Faye-Marie, it was our first foray into California’s wine country. Neither my wife nor I had much knowledge of fine wines (let alone Sonoma wines), but we eagerly welcomed the opportunity to drink, uh, I mean, “to learn.” Yes, this was an educational trip. 

After some light weekend sightseeing in San Francisco—and gaining firsthand appreciation for the apocryphal Mark Twain quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”—Hugo’s sparkling Chevy Suburban from Pure Luxury Transportation arrived at our hotel. 

We left the foggy city and drove north through the Golden Gate Bridge, stopped for selfies, and (after another hour or so) were transported to the laid-back hillsides of Sonoma County to find perfect weather. It was all blue skies and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The day before in San Francisco was about 20 degrees cooler (a common temperature differential between the two Northern California locales).

We were, literally, traveling the Wine Road. The association of wineries and lodgings in northern Sonoma County, known as Wine Road, had invited us on the trip and arranged our travel itinerary and accommodations. Wine Road even took into account a schedule that accommodated all our interests and limitations (i.e., maximum wining/dining for us with minimal whining from the baby). 

Omaha Magazine’s publisher and associate publisher traveled to Sonoma a month earlier for photos, but they encountered rainy weather that left the hillsides nice and green for our subsequent reporting trip. Our timing, a few weeks before the Memorial Day tourist rush, seemed ideal. June through October is widely noted to be the best time to visit Sonoma, but tourism is also more packed during those five months heading into the grape-harvest season. 

Nine Sonoma wineries together established Wine Road in 1976. It now includes about 200 winery members (close to half of the vineyards in Sonoma) and roughly 50 associate lodging members. The Wine Road website describes its coalition as “a spirited constellation of nearly 200 wineries and 54 lodgings” that provides a resource to guide visitors and locals alike. Member vineyards range from modern and state-of-the-art to smaller boutique operations located throughout northern Sonoma’s Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. 

Sonoma is home to roughly 425 vineyards in total, including farmers who simply grow grapes for sale to larger companies, along with members-only vineyards where it can take years of being waitlisted before a would-be customer could even purchase a bottle, and everything in between. 

 Day 1: Arrival in Sonoma County

The wine country of Sonoma also offers the delicious paradox of mountain town atmosphere, rural farming interspersed with high luxury, and close proximity to expansive ocean shorelines. Just to the east is the neighboring, landlocked wine region of Napa County. Sonoma’s wine-producing regions cover roughly 65,000 acres, which is 25,000 more than neighboring Napa. 

Varied soil types and mild temperatures help make Sonoma a winegrower’s paradise. The county may be best known for its pinot noir and zinfandels, but it also produces a host of other varietals: chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, and petite sirah. Each subregion of Sonoma is known for particular grapes, and the Russian River Valley is widely considered to produce some of the world’s best pinot noir—the preferred varietal of the Paul Giamatti’s character in the 2004 film Sideways by Omaha director Alexander Payne. (Although the film was not shot in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, for the sake of the film’s protagonist, it probably should have been; the on-screen character’s obsession for pinot noir was associated with a spike in demand and price for pinot around the time of the film’s release.) The Russian River Valley is also notable for its chardonnay production.

Driving along River Road, we cross a bridge high over the Russian River. Happy kayakers float on the gentle river below (possibly with wine stashed in their vessels). Veering off the road, a steep driveway takes us up to our lodging nestled behind a wall of trees and dense foliage. We discover Sonoma Orchid Inn Bed and Breakfast—a cluster of cozy yellow cottages—to be a rustic, sun-soaked dream. Hummingbirds flit past multi-colored roses, and one of the property’s co-owners, Dana Murphy, welcomes us in the driveway.

Murphy offers a quick tour of the three-level main cottage. In addition to smaller standalone cottages outside, the main building features rooms for a range of price points. There is artwork and antique furniture throughout; a family-style dining room and living room on the main level with a library, fireplace, couches, floor-to-ceiling windows, and piano; and two kitchens, one for staff, one for guests. 

The nearby Russian River is a short walk from the lodging along Odd Fellows Park Road. The river takes its name from Russian explorers who established forts and planted apples in the area at the dawn of the 19th century. Then came Spanish missionaries, who introduced grapes to the Russian River Valley for personal consumption (making it the oldest wine-producing region of California). Formal annexation of California by the U.S. came in 1848, followed by the gold rush, logging and destruction of expansive redwood forests, Prohibition (which put local viticulture on hold), the rise and fall of hop farming, and eventual removal of apple orchards in recent decades. 

Sonoma’s history is fascinating, and the B&B site was originally the homestead of a prune/plumb/hops farmer who came out for the gold rush but missed the action. But I struggle to keep my focus from the mountain of chewy double-chocolate (gluten-free) cookies that Murphy—also the resident chef—had piled under a covered platter in the guest kitchen. 

The refrigerator is stocked with favorite wines from Sonoma, of course. To my surprise, the fridge is also packed with an ample selection of local craft beer and hard cider. Before becoming synonymous with wine country, Sonoma was famous for its production of Gravenstein apples and the hops necessary for beer. The high value of grapes in recent decades prompted growers to cultivate grapevines in place of orchards and hop farms. 

In recent years, however, the booming demand for craft beer and hard cider has led to resurgent use of these historic Sonoma agricultural products. Although the grapes remain more profitable per acre, the cyclical pattern of history in Sonoma agriculture feels poetic. But we are late for dinner (and I can only eat so many cookies before seeming like a rude guest).

Another driver picks us up, and we head into the quaint town of Guerneville. The small-town feel of the main drag belies the culinary delights waiting in the bars and restaurants. We stop at an uber-hip bistro, Boon Eat+Drink, to feast on roasted Brussels sprouts, a burger with truffle fries, and baked cod from a seasonally rotating menu (paired with Sonoma wine, of course, and a local Sonoma beer). Next door, we pop into the Guerneville Bank Club—a collective retail and art space in a restored historic bank—for a slice of spicy green chile apple pie with a scoop of lavender honeycomb ice cream. 

There is still sunlight, so we head over to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve for a walk. Giant redwoods tower overhead, and we meander through the trees on a flat trail with occasional interpretive signs that explain how the patch of old-growth forest narrowly escaped loggers’ axes. We take the “Discovery Loop” trail to pay respects to Colonel Armstrong (a redwood tree that is more than 1,400 years old) and Parson Jones (the forest’s tallest tree at 310 feet).

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Back at our lodging, our host explains that we made the right decision to skip Muir Woods National Monument on the way to Sonoma. Although Muir Woods is easily accessible north of San Francisco, the forest has become so crowded with tourists that reservations are needed to visit. We just showed up at Armstrong Redwoods, and we only encountered a few other couples and families hiking (there . 

 Day 2: Adventure and Gluttony

Experiencing local wineries fills the remainder of our trip. We have multiple chauffeurs during our tour, and I ask each driver to suggest the perfect number of wineries to visit on a trip to Sonoma. The answer varies. 

One middle-aged driver says that two or three at max is ideal per day. He sees too many visitors get sloshed early in the day and miss their dinner reservations to five-star restaurants. He’s been driving guests for many years, and his advice is solid. In contrast, another driver (in his 20s) insists that five wineries is the perfect number in a day. With youthful energy and/or high tolerance for alcohol, this could also work out well—so long as wine consumption is moderated at every stop, or there are no fancy dinner reservations in the evening that could be spoiled. 

There are vessels for spitting out wine at every winery. And staffers always assure us that this is perfectly normal. But I find it difficult to not swallow/guzzle great wine, so a less-ambitious winery tour is better for my waste-not attitude. Then again, I also want to sample as much as I can. Luckily, we experience a bit of both scheduling philosophies on our trip. 

We begin with a leisurely drinking day. But first, some adventure. My first full day in Sonoma begins at Sonoma Canopy Tours. Michele and the baby stay at the B&B as I head deep into the redwood forest. 

To check in, I must step on a scale to make sure I’m not over 250 pounds. A nearby television screen displays footage of helmeted humans screaming through the treetops hundreds of feet above the earth. Minutes later, I’m geared up and flying between the redwoods. My group’s lead guide, Bryan Hart, is a true comedian. Every stop on a platform high in the trees is master’s course in tree-related puns, i.e., Q: Why is this tree so healthy? A: Because of the antibodies (he points to the ants all over the tree). Hart’s assistant can’t help but roll his eyes at the constant barrage of puns (that he has no doubt heard a million times) about pirates, animals, wine, and celebri-trees. But I love it. 

Meanwhile, Michele is enjoying breakfast with travelers from as far away as Latvia and across the U.S. (including local Californians). Some are passing through on self-directed wine tours, others make the lodge a recurring destination for family trips. The co-owners, Murphy and Brian Siewert, are experts on Sonoma wineries, festivals, and activities. What’s more, they share their knowledge with a typical laid-back California fashion, absent of condescension (which we experienced all throughout Sonoma). They were helpful and informative without making us feel stupid about wine, which in all fairness, we were.

In an idyllic sun-soaked scene that could have been ripped from a Thomas Kinkade painting, I find Michele and the baby playing in the yard. Then we are off to our first winery, Korbel Champagne Cellars, which boasts of being the only producer of real champagne outside of France. Korbel’s operation in Sonoma was founded by three Czech brothers in 1882, a history that exempts it from a later international treaty that legally restricts use of the term “champagne” to sparkling wine produced in Champagne, France. 

Korbel provided the champagne for Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration. Of course a Californian would use “California Champagne,” and he set a tradition that has continued with the drink of choice in all subsequent U.S. presidential inaugurations. President Barack Obama received angry feedback from French wine lobbyists for his serving Korbel to no avail. His inauguration organizers more or less told the lobbyists to “put a cork in it.”

We visit the cellars, learn the company history, witness the stages of production, and linger in the tasting room until we’ve tried every variety (including several limited editions). Buzzed and late, we stop in the cafe for some fancy sandwiches to eat in the car. Had we not spent so much time in the tasting room, we would have taken our sandwiches to Armstrong Redwoods for a picnic. Never mind. We are off to our next destination, Iron Horse Vineyards. 

Iron Horse Vineyards’ tasting room consists of a cozy bar overlooking a sweeping vista of grapevines rolling downhill and out to the horizon. Iron Horse, like Korbel, was also a crucial drink for the Reagan administration. Iron Horse’s sparkling wine was served at his Perestroika meetings with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the Cold War. Although famous for its sparkling wine (and we sample the 2013 Russian Cuvee that commemorates the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting), the vineyard produces much more—including some delightful chardonnay and pinot noir. 

We close out the bar in the late afternoon, and we head to Forestville (another of Sonoma’s quaint little towns) for dinner reservations at Backyard. Backyard is a farm-to-table restaurant. Chef and owner Daniel Kedan brings out a spectacular charcuterie board with ingredients sourced from his own garden along with local organic farms. Live music is playing, and we order several other dishes—pizza, pasta, and fried chicken—that are all wonderful. 

Beware. Travelers in wine country must be careful of overeating as well as overdrinking. By the time we leave Backyard, I am so full that I have to walk up and down the little main street a few times

 Day 3: Novelty and Heavy Drinking

Our first full day was a crash course in sparkling wine. Our second full day will introduce the broader spectrum of Sonoma wines from chardonnay to pinot to zinfandel (and more). Wine tours, we are told, should start with lighter-bodied wines—sparkling or chardonnay—and move into the heavier-bodied wines. Pinot is a very light-bodied red wine. Cabernet sauvignon, on the other hand, is robust and dominates one’s palate).

After a family-style breakfast at the B&B, I take a lesson from the previous day and remind myself not to overdo it. Today is our big day of drinking with four vineyards and a brewery all on the itinerary. We start with a stop at Sonoma-Cutrer in the Russian River Valley.

While the baby is sleeping in the stroller under the shade of our table’s umbrella, we sample three refreshing chardonnays and a pinot while munching on a local cheese spread. Each chardonnay exhibits a different flavor characteristic: one is more fruit forward on the tongue, another carries stronger oaky hints from the barrel, and the third has a stronger mineral taste. The pinot, without any cross-reference, I’d simply describe as delightful (a descriptor that applies to each chardonnay, too). 

Our table overlooks two croquet courts. Two elderly couples smack at balls on one court, and our server offers a quick tutorial. We play a few rounds as the baby sleeps nearby. Swinging the mallet between planted feet takes some getting used to, but it’s a fun way to putter around the grass while enjoying more wine. 

Next, we swing over to Healdsburg for lunch at Bear Republic Brewing Co. We order a Big Bear Black Stout and the barrel-aged flight set. For Sonoma’s historical integrity, the hoppy flight would have been another good choice, but we are trying to pace ourselves. We order garlic fries and a beet salad. Then we’re off to Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in the Dry Creek Valley.

Ferrari-Carano’s palatial estate features sprawling gardens that are a tourist attraction independent of the winery, which employs a dozen or so full-time gardeners to care for flowers and hedgerows surrounding the mansion. There is even a special hotline (707-433-5349) for the public to inquire about the status of the tulips. The estate’s roughly 10,000 tulips and daffodils bloom in the spring. Owner Rhonda Carano designed all the gardens, and every year she chooses the colors of the tulips to surprise visitors. Roses are also found throughout the property (and in other Sonoma vineyards). Traditionally, roses served a purpose in vineyards by indicating to growers if pests were threatening the vines (the flowers were the first targets, though they now primarily serve an aesthetic role).

The vineyard has two tasting rooms: one on the main level, and one past the cellars downstairs. We start with tasting upstairs. Then, we head downstairs to experience a private sensory tasting where a sommelier has different canisters spread across a table in a dimly lit room. Each canister holds a different item: from fruits and herbs to spices and chocolate, paired with lighter wines first, followed by a succession of heavier-bodied wines. The exercise is meant to help strengthen one’s ability to articulate the sensory experience of the wine, as each person may experience a wine differently with different mental associations. 

By this point in the day, I’m thankful we have a driver. Our next stop is Fritz Underground. Founder Arthur Fritz started building the facility in the heat of the 1970s’ energy crisis. The production facility, cellar, and tasting room were all buried into a hillside in the Dry Creek Valley. By the time construction had completed, the energy crisis was over; however, the vineyard continues to yield the benefit of low utility bills and is ready in the event that America again faces an energy shortage. Touring the vineyard feels like descending into a futuristic bomb shelter, but the top-level tasting room feels like sitting in a church with the serving sommelier as the high priest. 

It’s Tuesday, and every Tuesday evening is the A Tavola dinner at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. We head over for the meal featuring actors serving dinner and drinks in a theatrical performance that comes directly to the table. 

Driving into the grounds, we keep an eye out for the red Tesla that the famous director and vineyard owner supposedly drives. We don’t see it. So we proceed to walk through the lavish grounds, past the expansive swimming pool area, toward the restaurant.

Waiting for our dinner reservation, we have time to peruse an expansive collection of memorabilia in the two-level Movie Gallery museum. There’s Don Corleone’s desk from the Godfather movies and vampire garb from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with other unforgettable props from Coppola films. There’s even a short-story dispenser that prints out short stories in three lengths (with a button for estimated reading time of one, three, or five minutes) from Zoetrope: All-Story, Coppola’s magazine of short stories and art. 

A very pregnant-looking hostess/actress takes us to our seat. There is a family patriarch in wife beater chastising waiters or running from his wife. Waiter-actors deliver multiple courses of pasta, pizza, and other Italian foods to our table (along with accompanying Coppola brand wines, of course). An accordion player sits at one end of the spacious room filled with tables of guests, and at different points of the evening, he is joined by other musicians. 

At some point, the family patriarch chases another man around the room with a knife. They run around outdoors and around the building. Then the antics resume indoors. By this point, it’s getting late and the baby starts to cry. The patriarch comes over and, still remaining in character, apologetically asks if the knife chase was too much. Not at all. But it has been a long day. We finish our meal and depart for much-needed slumber. 

 Day 4: Bitten by the Wine Bug

Feeling quite accomplished to wake up without a hangover, we enjoy one last breakfast with our host B&B and head to the final winery of our trip—DeLoach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Acquired by the Boisset Family of vineyards in 2003, the 25-acre vineyard continues the original DeLoach philosophy of sustainable winemaking. It is one of several Boisset vineyards in France, California, Italy, and Canada

As we approach DeLoach, our driver explains that this road is home to many “old vine” grape-bearing vines (35 to 40 years old, or older), discernible by the vines’ gnarled appearance and absence of modern trellis technology. When we sit down at the vineyard’s outdoor patio area, we have the opportunity to enjoy a range of DeLoach wines that includes both new-growth and old-growth vines produced by the property (and supplemented by neighboring vineyards).

A staffer gives us a tour of the grounds, the “biodynamic” eco-friendly garden that is home to various flowers, vegetable gardens, and animals (Faye-Marie is especially impressed with the goats and chickens). We also explore owner Jean-Charles Boisset’s party room—a James Bond-themed bar area with costumes, wigs, and sensory emitters (like what we had at Ferrari-Carano, but in squeezable perfume sprayers) decorating the walls. Our guide explains that each Boisset vineyard has a special party room with a different theme.

Our time in Sonoma is drawing to a close. We down our last glasses of DeLoach’s delicious old-vine wine, bid farewell to Sonoma, and our driver takes us back to San Francisco for an afternoon flight. Time to return to reality. 

The day after returning to Omaha, I can’t help but feel something is missing. I’m eating my lunch as I normally do, and it hits me: where’s my wine? Three and a half days of drinking some of the nation’s best wine can be habit-forming. And lunch is just not the same without it. 

Later that night, after shutting down the office, I head to the Costco near Omaha Magazine’s suburban office to pick up some groceries—and to see if I can find any of the wines we had tasted on our vineyard tour. Happily, I find a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from Sonoma-Cutrer. 

The bottle is above the price point I would normally spend. But the purchase is worth it. After putting the baby to bed, we slice some cheese and uncork the bottle. Two glasses of the crisp and refreshing chardonnay later, we are transported back to the frivolous, sun-drenched morning of snacking and croquet while our baby sleeps peacefully.

Wine, it seems, truly has the power to teleport the sensory experiences of one memorable moment to the present. Would I like to travel back to Sonoma? Most definitely. Until the opportunity arises, the occasional Sonoma wine will do just fine. 

Visit wineroad.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Iron Horse Vineyards in mid-March

From Fried Chicken to Frozen Farro

October 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the early 1950s, at the dawn of the frozen meal era, it was fairly easy to predict the type of meals that appeared in those iconic, foil-covered aluminum trays.

“They very much reflected what was put on the kitchen table for an evening meal, a Sunday lunch, or something like that, with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and some kind of a brownie for dessert,” says Kristin Reimers, director of nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha. “It was such a new technology that there was a need to keep the food familiar.”

Omaha figured prominently in the development of frozen dinners and entrees, and it still does. Reimers describes Omaha as “command central” for Conagra’s innovation in such products.

“All of the technology [for innovation] resides here in Omaha with the 1,200 employees that remain in Omaha,” she says. “This is where all the research and development occurs.”

That research and development team includes such high-level employees as food science experts, chefs, and processing and packaging engineers.

In 1980, Conagra purchased Banquet Foods Co. (an early marketer of frozen entrees). The company was a competitor to Omaha-based C.A. Swanson & Sons, which developed the TV Brand Frozen Dinner in 1953.

Then, in the late 1980s, Conagra blazed a new path in the frozen meal and entree market when it introduced the Healthy Choice brand at the urging of then-CEO Mike Harper.

Healthy Choice signaled a change in frozen meals toward better nutrition, as well as convenience.

Reimers says that in recent years, Conagra has revisited not just Healthy Choice, but all of its classic brands to make them more appealing to millennials and others who seek restaurant-style meals at home that feature foods different from what they might prepare in their own kitchens. 

“People are looking for the convenience, but they don’t just want the convenience,” she says. “They want the experience.” 

“People are embracing it and loving it,” she says. “They’re looking at these frozen meals as they would a restaurant experience—some way to explore new foods at a very small risk. If you don’t like it, no big deal. You haven’t spent a lot of money or a lot of time. But if you love it, it’s like ‘wow’—you’ve experienced something really exciting—and really nutritious, too.”   

“We can offer foods to people that maybe they haven’t tasted before. We’ve been able to really explore a greater variety of foods,” Reimers says. Foods such as the Adobo Chicken and Korean-Inspired Beef versions of the company’s Power Bowls entrees, which were introduced last year. Items in that product line include whole grains and vegetables that consumers tend not to keep in their pantries.

In July, Conagra Brands introduced Morning Power Bowls, which variously include grains such as farro, quinoa, oats, and buckwheat. They offer an Unwrapped Burrito Scramble, Turkey Sausage and Egg White Scramble, Roasted Red Pepper and Egg White Shakshuska, and Pesto and Egg White Scramble.

And the bowls themselves are made from a plant-based fiber instead of a plastic, providing a nod to today’s more environmentally conscious consumer along with a reduction in energy use for the company.

Regarding nutrition, consumers need not fear they are missing out on key nutrients when they choose frozen meals. Reimers says the nutrition of frozen meals is comparable to that of meals prepared using fresh or raw ingredients.

Freshness is no concern, either. 

“Vegetables that are in the frozen meals are probably fresher than a consumer would be using at home,” Reimers says. 


“The foods are harvested and brought to the frozen state, usually within the same day—hard to do, even if you have your own garden,” she says. “The amount of time that that food is exposed to air and to light that will cause the degradation of nutrients is very minimized in the frozen food.” 

Visit conagra.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Kristin Reimers, director of Nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha

Fishing With Flair

October 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Flair uploaded his first video to YouTube at age 15. As video productions go, there wasn’t much to it: four rough-cut minutes of Flair—then a freshman at Millard North—standing on the shore of a pond in suburban Omaha, fishing for bass. 

Flair, who turned 21 this year, has been fishing the waters in and around Omaha nearly his entire life. “As soon as I could hold a reel I was fishing,” he remembers. A love for the sport was passed down from his father, and the first videos Flair uploaded to his YouTube channel, Fishing with Flair, were made primarily for an audience of family and friends. “Just sharing tips,” he says. “Not much more than videos of me catching fish then tossing them back.” 

Quickly, though, Flair was posting fishing videos at a rate of two to three a week. While these early clips left much to be desired in terms of entertainment value, those formative years were, if nothing else, a full-immersion education in video editing and ease before a camera. 

The six years that have passed since Flair’s first upload are, in internet time, an eternity. As of this writing, Fishing with Flair is gaining new subscribers at a rate of roughly 25 to 30 thousand a month. 

What’s drawing them? Flair, mainly. After starring in more than 800 episodes, Flair’s natural charm and enthusiasm have a way of gluing your eyes to the screen. The content is fun, too. There are the “Barbie Rod Challenge” clips, the big-catch excursions to Mexico, and more. One episode finds Flair in full swamp camo, lying in the reeds of a golf course pond, trying to catch whatever he can while avoiding the eye of the fairway police carting overhead. 

As viewership rose over the years, Flair found himself bringing in a modest but regular income from ads placed before his videos.  

The moment of truth came the summer after graduation. Flair remembers, “I had just finished high school, was working at Scheels, and was enrolled to start college in the fall. I’d just bought a new truck but didn’t really have any other expenses since I still lived with my parents. It was all or nothing, so I just went for it.” Flair dropped out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and has been fishing for a living ever since. 

To say that Flair is a professional YouTuber is an oversimplification. More accurately, he is a documentarian, brand manager, fisherman, duck hunter, and burgeoning media mogul with his hand in at least a half dozen business ventures, all of which are connected by a long spool of monofilament line to that original clip of a high school freshman casting for bass one day after school.

While the “work” of regularly passing your days with a line in the water from sunrise to sunset may sound enviable to some, there are a whole host of other labors that are inherent to YouTube fame.   

For one, there’s the editing, reducing several hours of footage into one digestible 15-minute clip. There is also the attendant Instagramming, Snapchatting, Tweeting, and across-the-board brand sustenance required for life as a professional internet personality. All of which, by the way, must occur on a daily (at minimum) basis for fear of losing follower interest.

One can imagine that a less ambitious 21-year-old might stop here. For Flair, though, YouTube fame is only the launching pad to what has quickly become a multi-armed media machine. In fall 2016, Flair partnered with four other YouTube fishing personalities from across the country—each of them charismatic 20-somethings in their own right, producing fun and informative fishing content. The collective dubbed themselves The Googan Squad—“googan” being a pejorative term for the lowest of lowlife fishermen, an epithet often lobbed at the loud-talking, bank-sitting, fresh-water anglers that more seasoned sportsmen hope to avoid.  

The name solidified the young entrepreneurs’ image as a band of rogues, while also allowing them to court sponsors with greater clout. “Once we’d joined together under one name, we could approach advertisers and say honestly that we had access to 3.5 million viewers between the five of us,” Flair says. 

Today, the Googan Squad collectively owns a home in Dallas, Texas, that serves both as corporate office and crash pad for fishing excursions throughout the state. 

For Flair, what started as a hobby now includes a signature gear collection, a clothing line, a printing company, a mobile fishing app, and a private coffee label. 

On July 3, Flair and his teammates unveiled their biggest endeavor yet, their own line of patented bait and lures, Googan Baits. After heavy cross-platform promotion (the Googan Baits Instagram account boasted over 50 thousand followers before even making a single post) the first run of product sold out in 25 minutes.     

With so much momentum at his back, what awaits Flair in the murky waters of the future? “None of this has been done before, so it’s tough to tell,” he says. “I want to ride this out as long as I can. It will definitely come to an end. All celebrity comes to an end. I’d be fairly shocked if this lasts more than five years.” 

For now, as long as the fish and followers are biting, Flair will keep baiting the hook.

Find Flair’s latest videos on his YouTube channel with the simple handle “Flair,” or catch him on Snapchat (aflair430), Facebook (Fishing with Flair), Instagram (Fishing_with_Flair), or Twitter (@fishinwithflair).

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Divine Serpentine

October 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While Dulcie Mueller has been performing since age 5 with a variety of castmates and collaborators, she finally found the perfect partner several years ago in a cold-hearted reptile. 

Mueller, who has a background in dance, performs under the stage name Dolce Vita with her seven-foot-long Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor, BlondieS. Good duos are built on a foundation of mutual love, respect, and trust, and Mueller and BlondieS have that in spades. Mueller has previously performed with other snakes, but when she met BlondieS—whom she calls “the coolest snake in Nebraska”—everything just clicked.   

“I opened up [the box she came in], put BlondieS on my shoulders, and that was it—we’ve been best friends ever since,” Mueller says. 

But long before BlondieS became the peanut butter to her jelly, the Lennon to her McCartney, the Thelma to her Louise, Mueller was fascinated with snakes. 

“I first developed an affinity for snakes through a famous magazine photo from the ’80s—maybe it was Vogue—where there’s a naked lady with a giant boa constrictor draped over her body covering her,” Mueller says. “I was a freshman in high school when I saw that picture and just thought it was so beautiful and sexy without showing anything inappropriate—but, at the same time, it was kind
of inappropriate.”

School administration was of the opinion that it was indeed inappropriate, ushering Mueller down to the principal’s office the day after she hung the photograph in her locker. But with that inspiring image, Mueller’s love of the divine serpent and subjects others might consider strange was solidified. 

Mueller considers herself more of a charming snake performer than a snake charmer. She does various themed performances at venues ranging from house parties to music clubs to retirement homes and has performed for audiences of all ages, customizing her routine and costuming for each occasion. 

Mueller carefully socialized BlondieS early on to get her used to people. Between that and BlondieS’ naturally affable demeanor, the non-venomous snake has never posed a threat to Mueller or any audience member. In fact, everywhere the pair goes, BlondieS is very popular. 

“Everybody that meets BlondieS—that actually looks at her or holds her—absolutely falls in love with her,” Mueller says. “People don’t expect her to look so pretty when they get up close or to be so chill.”

In addition to her good looks and calm demeanor, she says BlondieS is a natural-born performer. The pair rarely practice together, as Mueller opts to practice on her own, then improvise with BlondieS.    

“I work with her, she works with me, and we just make it happen,” Mueller says. “She’s great at posing. I’ll put her on somebody’s shoulders, and I can gently guide her head and let her know it’s picture time. Then she’ll hold her head facing the camera or slowly move it like a model would when she’s changing her angles a little bit for the camera. I got really lucky with her.”

On stage, the duo’s skin tones complement each other perfectly, and BlondieS drapes beautifully around Mueller’s curves. It’s an unusual, offbeat display—particularly for Midwest audiences—but it’s exquisite to behold; a unique performance that acts like kindling for the imagination’s fire, as all good art should. Mueller sometimes conceals BlondieS in a basket or other prop at the start of their performance and she says her favorite reaction is the audience’s collective gasp of delighted surprise when the giant snake is revealed.    

“I like opening minds and giving people an experience they wouldn’t normally get,” says Mueller, who is careful never to push those who are fearful of BlondieS to interact. 

While Mueller currently performs independently with BlondieS, she’s open to collaboration and partnerships if it’s the right fit. In the past she’s worked with groups like Spank Candy and OEAA-award winning band Bennie and the Gents, as well as other local burlesque groups.  

At home, BlondieS has her cage but acts more like a house cat or dog at times.

“I’ve had her in bed with us, just laying on the covers, curled up at our feet, looking at the TV, which is really funny,” Mueller says. “Of course, we can’t fall asleep like that. I’m not worried about her hurting anybody, I’m more worried about her getting stuck somewhere or getting too cold.” 

Mueller says she’s realized through the years that she’s always happiest when she’s actively performing, although she also loves her day job—working with adults with intellectual disabilities.  

“[Snake performing] is just a crazy, wild hobby that I feel especially compelled to pursue because there’s nobody else doing it, but at the same time it’s a hobby and I have a really important full-time job, so it’s hard to divide my energy the way I would like to. I need to have, like, 200 percent energy so I can put 100 percent into both the hobby and the job,” she says.

As for anyone who judges Mueller’s performances with BlondieS as weird, that doesn’t bother her one bit. In fact, she’s rightfully proud of her unique art and hopes to bring fringe ideas into the mainstream.  

“I do what I do because I want to and I don’t feel ashamed, nervous, or worried about what other people think about it,” she says. “That’s what I want the audience to get out of it too…for them to go home feeling that they can also do anything they want and that they shouldn’t be ashamed about the weird things they might want to do or think. I just want people to feel free because I definitely feel free in my choices as a performer.”  

For more information, visit omahasnake.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

The Devil is in the Detail

October 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Jenny Gradowski drives up to her home each evening, she says the scene still gives her pause. “This is my home,” she says with awe. 

Gradowski and Joe Pittack live in a spacious white home at 3402 Lincoln Blvd., a grand place steeped in history. Their story here started last year, as they added their own touches to their new home. 

The couple shared what they know of its narrative one warm summer night on the house’s porch—a key selling point for Gradowski, who works at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. While the home lacks central air, and summer heat can be a challenge, the porch (luckily) remains a cool place to chat.

“It’s not really a wraparound, but it’s curved enough to feel that way,” she says. “The views, though—the views were enough for both of us.”

Designed to make a statement, Pittack and Gradowski’s home reigns over the Bemis Park Landmark Heritage District from its hill on a large corner lot, much like it did when it was built in 1902. The neighborhood was one of the first in the city to be designed with the contour of the land in mind. The view today consists of towering trees, a playground in the distance, and further afield, Cuming Street. 

The 14-room home was one of several homes that prominent architect Frederick Henninger designed in Bemis Park. The neighborhood was a prestigious one when the home’s original owners resided there. It boasted the city’s finest Victorian-era homes and proximity to the Cuming Street streetcar line. Bemis Park remains quietly impressive, with a location that allows Pittack and Gradowski to walk to dinner and Pittack to bike to work. He co-owns Ted and Wally’s, with locations in the Old Market and Benson. 

The home has more than a century’s worth of stories. Pittack says they started looking into them only after they moved in. There are funny ones, tragic ones, and even the odd tale about a religious sect.

The 6,000-square-foot home was built for a well-loved restaurateur named Tolf Hanson and his wife, Jennie. 

Tolf was a Swedish immigrant who got his start selling sandwiches on the streets of New York before moving to Omaha and opening a popular restaurant, Calumet Café, in 1893. He went on to open Hanson’s Café Beautiful on 16th Street in 1906. It was supposed to be the “finest restaurant west of Chicago,” but failed in its first year and sent the Hansons deep into debt. Tolf Hanson went to New York to regain financial footing, but he ultimately committed suicide there.

Pittack says he knows that, tragically, another of the home’s former occupants also committed suicide. John Bryant was the new president of a farm implements and machinery business when he bought the home in 1912 from Louis Nash, an officer of the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Co. Bryant had some trouble at work and, following disagreements with the company’s board of directors, drowned himself in a cistern in the backyard in 1913. That same year, the Easter Sunday tornado severely damaged the home, ripping the roof from the house.

It’s the home’s lighter stories, though, that Pittack shares more animatedly when he gives people tours. He shares one from the Gerken family, who moved in in 1954. The story involves one mischievous Gerken boy convincing his siblings to send him down the laundry chute. He got stuck midway and had to be rescued. 

Other owners came and went through the decades. There was the saloon owner Henry Keating and his socialite wife, Helen; the attorney Lysle Abbott and his wife, Mary; and the real estate developer George H. Payne. But not many homes have had a New Age religious monastic order as one-time occupants. The Holy Order of MANS moved into the home in 1975, converting it into their new “brother house.” Pittack believes religious services were held in one of the basement rooms. When the national monastic order dissolved in 1984, the Holy Order of MANS moved out.

In 2017, Pittack and Gradowski moved in and began a yearlong renovation. They installed a new boiler and water system and painted some interior rooms. When a hailstorm struck, the roof needed to be replaced and the exterior repainted. They’ve repurposed areas of the home while leaving the structure untouched. An old indoor phone booth is now a coat closet, the butler’s area is a food pantry, and one bedroom with an original coal fireplace is now a yoga studio. Furniture from Pittack’s grandmother’s home, which was nearby, is part of the décor now. 

By making this home their own, the couple adds their personal story while keeping hints of past inhabitants intact. 

This home is one of 10 Bemis Park residences included in Restoration Exchange Omaha’s 13th annual neighborhood tour on Oct. 13-14. Visit restorationexchange.org for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Chloe Kehm

October 11, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

With her bobbed blond hair, flowered orange dress, and a jean jacket covered in pins (mostly cats in some form or another), artist Chloe Kehm looks like she could have stepped out of one of her favorite anime shows. But while her art may often depict that culture, her interests and influences are far more diverse.

“I listen to podcasts a lot,” Kehm says. “I’ve just been listening to this one podcast and hammering out stuff.” 

Kehm is describing a part of her creative process. One of her favorite podcasts is Saw Bones, a medical history program. “It’s about all the stupid things we’ve done medically in the past…they talk about the Victorians a lot. They did a lot of weird things,” she says with a laugh.

Also, she adds, “If my room’s a mess, I can’t do anything. Which is unfortunate, because I’m not the cleanest person.” Regardless, she manages to get a substantial amount of creating done, including an entire comic book for her BFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It’s something she’d been putting off because she says she wasn’t confident in her skills. But after many life-drawing classes, she finally thought, “Let’s just do it now.” 

Having grown up watching animated shows such as Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon, it’s not surprising she became interested in drawing what she calls “fandom things,” such as characters from video games, comics, and television series. But what she really enjoys is making her own, original work, and a big part of that is telling a story. Besides working with digital mediums, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints, and experimenting with ink and marker drawings, she also creates short, four-panel comic strips. “I love writing,” she says. “I took a couple of creative writing classes before and I’m always writing comic strips.”

While pop culture clearly influences a lot of her current work, she does have an appreciation for the classics, such as Van Gogh. Her favorite work of his is “Almond Blossoms.” “His colors are gorgeous and I like to think I could pull some of those into my own work.”

Her pieces are definitely more contemporary, though. “A lot of the artists I really love right now are currently living,” she says with a smile, “and they are young female artists in the comic book industry.” She lists Babs Tarr, Fiona Staples, and Leslie Hung as her top three, but adds that there are countless others. “It’s just really inspiring.”

It’s unsurprising that Kehm admires these artists. She says that, while she didn’t really start considering herself a feminist until college, she has always believed equality is important, “across the board.” She credits those animated shows she grew up on with helping her develop that ideal. “A lot of animated shows directed at young girls [are] showing them in positions of power and being strong and independent. I think that just kind of sat in there…and it inspires a lot of what I want to do with my storytelling and my animation,” she says, before wryly adding, “And I’m a woman. I should care about that stuff, right?”

Kehm says she likes her creations to be fun, but also to have a message. “I like depicting different people in different ways. I like to show the vastness of the human race.” She pauses, then breaks into laughter. “Which sounds…a little lofty.”

She says she believes art in general has a hand in almost everything we do as a society. “You don’t realize how much art plays into everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Like your shoes. Someone designed that, someone drew that.” She gestures around the coffee shop as she speaks. “The layout of the building you’re in, the house you live in—an architect did that. They have artistry skills, and I think it gets overlooked a lot. But I think art is pretty integral to everything that we do. Be it political or day-to-day life.” 

While she hopes her message of equality comes through in her work, Kehm says she’ll be happy if it just makes people smile. “That’s ultimately what I want to come out of it.”

etsy.com/shop/KuroesCreations   | instagram.com/kuroedraws

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Foxes at Play

October 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Charlie Fox spent years on the road working for rock bands as a tour manager, front-of-house sound engineer, and production manager.

For much of his career, all that time away from home wasn’t a problem. He was single and could go wherever, whenever.

Fox was already used to changing his location.

“I was a military brat, so we moved around a bunch when I was a kid,” he says. His father, a native of O’Neill, Nebraska, was in the Air Force and had long worked toward getting back to his home state.

“When I was a junior in high school [in 2001], he got stationed at Offutt, ” Fox says.

Teenaged Charlie was a drummer in a couple of bands that played the Ranch Bowl and a Papillion venue called The Rock. “Nothing that ever really went anywhere outside of Omaha, or really even drew a whole lot of people to the Ranch Bowl,” he says.

Yet the experience helped spark his interest in recording and sound production.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for a year before transferring to UNL.

Though neither school had a live sound program, his time in Lincoln proved beneficial. It was there that he began working at Midwest Sound & Lighting Inc., where a co-worker who owned the public-address system at Duffy’s Tavern gave him opportunities to run the sound board there.

“It was a great place to start really honing my skills,” Fox says. “That was my first live sound gig.”

The experience led him to a career working for rock bands including Cage the Elephant, Needtobreathe, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade, and The Used.

For more than a decade, from 2005-2017, he was on the road for six to nine months out of the year.

“Even though technically my residence was Omaha, I was rarely in town,” he says.

Time went on, and, on his 28th birthday (Aug. 11, 2013) he met Beth, now his wife of three years. Beth spent several weekends on the road with Fox.

“We had a rule that we didn’t go more than three weeks without seeing each other,” Fox says. “So either I would go home or she would fly out to see me.”

Bothersome though the distance may have been, Beth enjoyed the perks of being part of roadie’s life.

“She had only been in four or five states prior to meeting me,” Fox says. “She’s now doubled, or tripled, that.”

Fox also enjoyed the side benefits of being in rock ’n’ roll. The couple state one or their favorite experiences was spending a week at a resort in Hawaii, courtesy of singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, for whom Fox was then working.

“We still talk about that trip, how much fun and relaxation we had that week,” Fox says.

Another of Beth’s favorite trips was going to New York City when Fox was working for Yellowcard. She had never been to the Big Apple before, and Fox wiggled a day off into his schedule to take her sightseeing.

As time went on, being away for weeks at a time became increasingly bothersome, and by 2015, Fox knew the gig was about up.

“When I got married, we had already started talking about what was going to happen with our future,” he says. “Was I going to stay on the road? Would I eventually get off the road? Would we move out of Omaha? In the line of work that I was in with touring, I wasn’t sure that there was going to be a possibility of staying in the music industry and in Omaha.”

At the time, Fox didn’t see a lot of Omaha-area openings.

“I just kind of assumed I would have to move to Nashville, or L.A., or New York,” he says.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.

In May 2017, opportunity knocked when Omaha Performing Arts had an opening for a booking manager.  

“I had relationships with agents and promoters from all across the country from my touring days, but really hadn’t done a whole lot of booking,” he says.

Yet Fox wasn’t without booking experience. Earlier in his career, he had booked empty calendar spots at The Rock with local bands.

At Omaha Performing Arts, he is booking at a national level.

“I’m reaching out to agents for these national bands and trying to bring them in myself,” Fox says. “We do work with outside promoters as well on occasion, so I am still using those relationships with regional and national promoters to try and bring the highest quality of artists that we can into our venues.”

He says his focus has been to expand what Omaha Performing Arts offers.

“One of the first shows that I booked here when I came on was St. Vincent (Annie Clark), which I think probably shocked a lot of people when Annie was playing here as opposed to a traditional rock club. But that’s what the agent was looking for, and I think that as St. Vincent had grown, that was where her career was going to. She needed a larger venue.”

He says Omaha Performing Arts venues—the Holland Performing Arts Center and Orpheum Theater—occupy a particular market niche for a mid-level space. One of his goals is to maximize the use of Omaha Performing Arts venues by artists who might not otherwise play Omaha as their popularity increases.

“A lot of artists, they play the small clubs, and then they kind of disappear from Omaha for a few years for a lack of venue space,” he says. “Maybe they play in Kansas City or Des Moines or Chicago. My goal is to try and get those artists to keep coming here so people can see them and not have to wait until they’re big enough to be playing in the arenas.”

In addition to career satisfaction, Fox’s work gives him an opportunity to come home each night to his wife and Theodore, the couple’s nearly 2-year-old son. Beth, now a stay-at-home mom, is expecting the couple’s second child.

“Working with Omaha Performing Arts has been an amazing experience,” he says. “Being able to come home every day at the end of the day and see my family, to sleep in my own bed, to have dinner with my wife and son every night…that wasn’t possible in my old career.”

Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information about Charlie and the artists he is booking for OPA.

This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Clockwise from top: Charlie, 
Beth, and Theodore Fox

Byron Anway

Photography by Keith Binder

When Byron Anway talks about his art, he doesn’t say he “paints.” He says he “makes a painting.” As an artist, educator, and musician, this emphasis on making—on investing in the process—colors all aspects of his life.

A military kid growing up, Anway is familiar with the practice of starting to build a life and develop relationships, only to be uprooted from them in a couple of years. After getting his bachelor’s degree in studio art, with a teaching certificate in K-12 art education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, he packed up again, transplanting to teaching jobs in Brussels, Casablanca, and Minneapolis. Within a few years, the artist/educator/musician was ready to put down roots and invest in something different.

He asked himself one question when choosing his next move: “If I could win the lottery for jobs, what’s the job?” The answer led him to graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a career as a college art instructor.

After a lifetime of exploring different scenes, Anway has a refreshing take on building a life as an artist. “There’s a lot of different art worlds. Finding your place has to start with doing the work, and figuring out what it looks like to do the work over time.”

His professional experience reflects this search for his place in art, with shows at galleries scattered all across the Midwest and his work featured in an extensive list of publications. In Omaha alone, he has participated in solo and two-person shows at The Union for Contemporary Art, Fred Simon Gallery, and Project Project as well as group shows at Joslyn Art Museum, Modern Arts Midtown, and Hot Shops Arts Center.

Now married and enjoying the stability of a studio and a full-time teaching job at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anway is focused on cultivating his career. “I have made a conscious effort to sort of try and live a little more instead of feeling like it’s one foot in, one foot out all the time,” he says. There is no quick fix for the type of sustainable artistic life he wants to continue nurturing.

The payoff of this kind of intentional focus is clear in Anway’s paintings. His most recent works feature expansive crowds of people, with hundreds of meticulously detailed individuals carefully arranged in vibrant color to form sometimes overwhelming scenes. “I think that large gatherings of people represent something about our time right now,” Anway says. Whether it’s a crowd gathering in protest or in celebration, he wants his art to spark conversations. “I want it to be re-evaluating what it means to come together.”

This sense of togetherness goes beyond Anway’s visual arts practice, extending into his musical career as well. When he isn’t teaching or creating art, he can be found bringing high-energy vocals to stages across the country as lead singer of the rock band Red Cities. Through “active effort at cross-pollination,” the music fuels the art. And vice versa. Research about global issues for songwriting percolates into thematic elements of paintings, and performance skills push the boundaries of teaching and art.

His upcoming 2019 show at Project Project will build on a collaboration with bandmate Josh Leeker and will continue to re-evaluate togetherness and separation. “The show is going to sort of focus on experiences of mine where I’ve looked for, or found, middle ground between different groups.” 

As he continues to stay active in the art, education, and music scenes in the area, Anway hopes to inspire people to focus less on the search for easy answers and more on discovering what the questions are.

For more information, visit byronanwayart.com

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

The Genetics of Speed

October 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.

Visit mclaren.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.