Tag Archives: Omaha Steaks

It’s In the Family

November 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Bob Bezousek, Omaha Steaks is a family affair. Bezousek can boast having worked for Omaha Steaks for an impressive 47 years. During that time, Bezousek’s two brothers, sister, and brother-in-law have all worked for Omaha Steaks, as well as a few nieces, nephews, and his son, B.J. Bezousek recalls, when he first started dating his now-wife, having to interrupt a date to stop by the plant. “Our children and grandchildren have all been born during my time here—it’s been a great ride,“ Bezousek says.

Bezousek began working part time at Omaha Steaks in 1969 as a utility worker. Today, he is the vice president of production and oversees three plants, two in Omaha and one in Snyder, Nebraska. He directs close to 500 employees who manufacture products that yield an amazing $450 million in annual sales.

Today the name Omaha Steaks is known around the country and the world, yet when Bezousek began working there, it was still a relatively small family-owned business. Bezousek remembers when Alan Simon, fourth-generation family owner and current chairman of the board, used to help him with his accounting homework after Bezousek would finish his shift at the plant. “He is an amazing mentor,“ Bezousek says.

Between the years of 1995 and 2005, the Bezouseks witnessed the company double in size. “We were experiencing double-digit growth during this time period, so it necessitated being more creative in our production methods. We were adding departments that we had never imagined needing before,“ Bezousek says. B.J., who began working for Omaha Steaks in 1994, contributes much of the company’s growth during this time to their web-based marketing, which began in 1995. Omaha Steaks had been selling products by mail order since the 1950s, however, going online helped to broaden their reach significantly and attract new customers.

B.J. didn’t realize the full scope of the company’s growth until he was asked to provide and cook steaks for George W. Bush and the people aboard Air Force One while he was working the Omaha Steaks booth at the College World Series in 2001. “It was at this time that I found out the Bush family loves Omaha Steaks products and really loved the beef jerky,“ B.J. says. “I will say this, though, it is a new kind of pressure having the Secret Service monitoring you while you prepare food on short notice for the president of the United States.“

What keeps someone working at the same place for almost 50 years? Supplying the nation with delicious steaks, apparently. “I have had life changing moments ever since I started here, such as meeting James Beard, Julia Child, and many other renowned chefs,“ Bezousek says. Other highlights over the past 50 years include the opportunity to meet thousands of wonderful people and working in a challenging yet rewarding environment. “Overall, I’m proud of the fact that my dad and brothers worked in the meat business and that my son and I have continued that tradition—it’s now a family affair,“ Bezousek says.

From left: B.J. and Bob Bezousek

 

Omaha Steaks’ Sizzling Centennial

The Bezousek family has become a legacy in an Omaha business legacy.

Omaha Steaks cuts the meat, ages it, freezes and packages it, then sends it straight to customers’ front doors. This may sound like an odd business model, but is one that continues to yields almost $350 million in annual sales for Omaha Steaks. Mail order meals have become trendy recently, yet Omaha Steaks began their direct meal-to-consumer business in the 1950s.

Omaha Steaks opened in August 1917 as Table Supply Meat Co. after Latvian immigrant J.J. Simon bought an old table supply store to begin his butcher shop. It was named as such because it was more affordable to simply insert the word “Meat” into the building’s original sign than to have a new sign created. They began garnering nationwide attention in the 1940s when Union Pacific Railroad started serving the steaks on their passenger trains from Omaha to the West Coast. In the late 1980s Omaha Steaks products traveled around the world, served for meals on flights and cruise ships. Despite their success, until the 1990s Omaha Steaks remained a family-run business. Between 1995 and 2005 the company grew to four times its size. “We woke up one day and realized we had a really important national brand,” says vice president Todd Simon, “That was when we started thinking big about the business.”

Since then, Omaha Steaks has become a household name around the nation for its novelty, convenience, and deliciousness. “People come together around the dinner table to enjoy their friends and family,” Simon says. “We are very proud of the 100 years in which we have been a part of that important ritual of bringing people together.”

Visit omahasteaks.com for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

Bringing it Home

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hordes of the nation’s top triathletes will descend on Carter Lake this summer. They will compete for a national title at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on Aug. 13-14.

Top finishers in the two-day event’s Olympic-Distance National Championship (Aug. 13) and the Sprint National Championship (Aug. 14) will be invited to join Team USA at the 2017 world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Although the running, biking, and swimming events will revolve around Carter Lake, Omaha was the force behind the successful bid to host the event for 2016 and 2017. Triathletes will be reminded of Omaha’s national sports hub status as the running course turns around inside TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

Coordination and collaboration of services among the Mayor’s Office; Fire, Police, and Public Works Departments; and other city infrastructure players were vital in landing this event—USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running national championships event—as well as other major sporting events throughout the past decade.

This triathlon is expected to bring roughly 10,000 people and an estimated $10-12 million in hotel and food sales to metro Omaha during the weekend.

Triathlon1Race Omaha, which pitched Omaha as a future host site more than two years ago (when the event was celebrating year two of its three years in Milwaukee), has been the major coordinating force behind Omaha’s bid since the beginning.

Because of past and current events, USA Triathlon—which sponsors the championship—knew the metro area could more than support an event of this caliber. Those events include the College World Series, Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA basketball, NCAA volleyball, and the U.S. Figure
Skating Championships.

“Because we’ve successfully brought in and held big events in the past, there was no doubt we could handle an event like U.S. Age Group National Championships,” says former Race Omaha Race Director Kurt Beisch. “We have this event this year and next year, and then USA Triathlon will decide where to take it next. We just want everyone coming to town for this event to have a great experience and learn what a great community we have here.”

The cooperation of city services was only one of many incentives that lured the triathlon and other events to the metro over the past decade (or in the case of the College World Series, since 1950).

According to USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico, there were multiple factors that went into choosing Omaha over several other cities: geographic location, accommodations, and the history of hosting successful national sporting events.

But in his and USA Triathlon’s expert opinions, there is one intangible that drew them to Omaha: the people.

“We love Omaha’s central location in the United States, which makes it easily accessible from both coasts as well as the entire country,” D’Amico says. “We love that Carter Lake (site of the event headquarters and venue for the swimming leg of the triathlon) is so close to the airport, and the city has worked so hard to welcome us.

“But what we really noticed during our site visit was how friendly and welcoming everyone in Omaha is. We love how supportive the community has always been of the College World Series, Swim Trials, and other events. They really enjoy having visitors in town, and they go out of their way to make them feel welcome. That’s something you can’t measure or control, so it’s a definite advantage.”

The two-day event is divided into two race distances—Olympic on Saturday and sprint on Sunday. These distances both feature the traditional legs of a triathlon: a swim (at Carter Lake), followed by biking, and finally, a run through Omaha’s city streets, culminating with a turn at TD Ameritrade Park before returning to Carter Lake.

The Olympic portion features a 1,500-meter open water swim, followed by a 40K bike ride with a 10K run. Sunday’s sprint version is half the distance of all three legs.

Race Omaha founder Alan Kohll says whether you have attended or participated in previous triathlons, many things will help keep spectators and fans engaged—including an expo near the event headquarters.

As a perk, Oriental Trading Co. will hand out cowbells and thunder sticks to spectators who will motivate the athletes as they traverse through the course by water, bike, and foot. There will also be 5k and 1k runs on Friday night for everyone not participating in the triathlons.

Kohll says the triathlon events will definitely carry an Omaha flavor.

“We’re not attempting to mimic what’s been done in Milwaukee or past cities that hosted this event,” Kohll says. He and Beisch are both competitive triathletes.

“We want people from other parts of the country to leave Omaha having learned more about what makes the community special—the zoo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Omaha Steaks, among many others. These are some things Omaha is known for, and we want to emphasize them.”

Visit raceomaha.com for more information.

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.

Millard Roadhouse

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If homemade comfort food is what you crave—think golden fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and pork tenderloin—look no further than a historic eatery in southwest Omaha. Grab a friend or two (or more, there’s plenty of seating) and head to the Millard Roadhouse.

Just a stone’s throw from 132nd and L streets, the Millard Roadhouse has been serving up stick-to-your-ribs lunches, dinners, and Sunday brunches since its owner, Mark J. Kitson, opened the restaurant in 1997.

Mark Kitson, owner.

Mark Kitson, owner.

With more than 20 years experience working in the dining industry, Kitson says the Millard Roadhouse personally provides him with the perfect professional balance: great food with the opportunity to continually meet new people and routinely see familiar faces.

On a steamy Friday afternoon in early summer, Kitson chatted with a handful of regulars who have found a home at the Millard Roadhouse. The menu, along with the relaxed atmosphere, keep patrons coming back each week, Kitson says.

A spacious restaurant with room to hold upward of 350 guests (children eat free on Monday nights), the Millard Roadhouse’s signature red-checkered tablecloths and Americana décor can make any party, large or small, feel right at home. Its signature Husker Room is a popular pick for larger parties, especially during football season.

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Kitson adds that the Millard Roadhouse often hosts pre-nuptial dinners and other family celebrations. The reason?

“We are very accommodating,” he says. “We see family dinners of 20, 30 people. Sports teams, too. We can make our layout work, hosting parties of up to 70 people. When a big group arrives, we make it work—even if they don’t have reservations.”

And while the space provides a relaxed and casual dining atmosphere, it’s the food that keeps Millard Roadhouse fans hungry for more, meal after tasty meal. A quick scan of the menu will leave anyone with taste buds salivating for what’s sure to be a memorable meal.

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“Everything here is homemade,” Kitson says. “It’s all from scratch…our homestyle breading, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. We even have fresh-baked cookies.”

The onion rings are a popular appetizer, fried perfectly golden and served piping hot. During the summer months, fresh-baked pies are a signature dessert; apple and strawberry rhubarb are among the most-often ordered. Another decadent favorite is a dense (and delicious) chocolate and peanut butter pie, served atop thin ribbons of caramel with a pretty strawberry garnish.

Although the Millard Roadhouse’s broasted chicken dinner is a fan favorite, Kitson says his variety of steaks are always ordered, too: roasted prime rib, New York strips, and T-bones by Omaha Steaks, to name a few.

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The lunch buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday; and the popular Sunday brunch menu (featuring both breakfast and lunch favorites) is also served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tradition is a big part of the Millard Roadhouse history. Kitson says that today’s regular customers started dining at the restaurant as children with their parents. Today, the children are all grown up, bringing in their own children for lunch and dinner. They stop by, too, for happy hour during the workweek, ordering up a variety of cocktail specials.

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The building itself is historic, as well. At more than 100 years old, the Millard Roadhouse space is actually a combination of three adjoining buildings. At various points during the past 100 years, the buildings housed a number of local businesses: a post office, another restaurant, a barber shop, café, even a hotel and speakeasy. And part of Millard’s surrounding brick streets remain intact, giving the neighborhood a small town feel.

“We are Millard,” Kitson says of his restaurant. “We’re in the hub of Millard. I love that we support our heritage and our roots here in Omaha.”

Millard Roadhouse
13325 Millard Ave.
402-891-9292
millardroadhouse.com