Tag Archives: prime rib

La Famiglia di Firma

August 8, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

Like a good book title, the names of the Firmature brothers’ bars and restaurants could almost paint a picture of what awaited customers.

At The Gas Lamp, you could savor a prime rib and listen to a live ragtime band from your marble-top table (provided you wore a suit or a nice dress during its early years of operation). A Sidewalk Cafe offered diners a chance to people-watch at Regency while they ate a crab salad. The Ticker Tape Lounge gave downtowners a brief respite from work and prominently featured an antique stock market ticker tape. And if you really had a rough day, you could always drop by Brothers Lounge, get a cocktail, and flop down on a couch or a rocking chair.

With the exception of Brothers Lounge at 38th and Farnam streets, none of these places exist anymore. When Robert Firmature turned Brothers Lounge over to current owners Trey and Lallaya Lalley in 1998, it ended nearly 70 years where the Firmature family had a major presence in the Omaha restaurant community.

In the early 1930s, Helen and Sam Firmature opened Trentino’s, an Italian restaurant, at 10th and Pacific streets (which would later become Angie’s Restaurant). The restaurateur family also consisted of Sam’s brother, Joseph, and his wife, Barbara, along with their three sons: Robert “Bob,” Jay, and Ernest “Ernie.”

Ernie cut his teeth bartending at Trentino’s and at a motor inn (The Prom Town House, which was destroyed in the 1975 tornado) before he opened The Gas Lamp in 1961. He also briefly managed a club called the 64 Club in Council Bluffs.

Located in the predominantly middle-class neighborhood of 30th and Leavenworth streets, The Gas Lamp was a destination spot for anniversaries, promotions, and proposals. Flocked wallpaper, antique lamps, and Victorian velvet furniture was the décor. Live ragtime was the music. Prime rib and duck à l’orange were the specialties. In an era where female roles in restaurants were still primarily as waitresses and hostesses, The Gas Lamp had two women with head chef-style status. Katie Gamble oversaw the kitchen. And Ernie and Betty’s son, Steve Firmature, and daughter, Jaye, were routinely corralled to help with clean-up—the cost of living in a restaurant family.

The Italian family name was originally “Firmaturi.” A popular account of the spelling change involves a bygone relative trying to make their name more “Americanized.” After researching family history, Steve suspects the name changed as a result of a documentation error—a mistaken “e” in place of the final vowel. Steve says those style of errors were common back then (due to errors in ship manifests or as depicted in a scene from the movie The Godfather: Part II).

Before she was even a teenager, Jaye Firmature McCoy was tasked with cleaning the chandeliers and booths. While cleaning, she would occasionally dig inside booths for any money that may have accidentally been left by a customer. At 10, she was promoted to hat check girl. At 14, she was the hostess. Steve did everything from bus tables to help in the kitchen.

“Back in those days, we didn’t have titles for people that cooked. Today, I think we’d call them a sous chef and a chef. We had two cooks,” Steve says with a laugh.

In the early ’60s, Ernie enforced a dress code for customers.

“When we first started, a gentleman couldn’t come in without a coat and tie. A woman couldn’t come in wearing pants [dresses only],” Jaye says.

The dress code (which eased in the late ’60s) may have been formal, but the restaurant retained a friendly atmosphere where some patrons returned weekly.

William and Martha Ellis were regulars. Speaking with Omaha Magazine over the phone from their home in Scottsdale, Arizona, they recalled going to The Gas Lamp almost every weekend. They became good friends with Ernie, to the point where all three of their children eventually worked for the Firmature brothers (mainly at A Sidewalk Cafe).

“Ernie wanted you to think he was this sort of tough Italian mobster, but he was really sort of amusing,” Martha says.

The Gas Lamp came to an abrupt end in 1980 when a fire destroyed the restaurant. It was ruled as arson, but a suspect was never caught. Instead of rebuilding, the family decided to “transfer” some of the signature dishes of The Gas Lamp to A Sidewalk Cafe. The Firmature brothers had purchased the restaurant from Willy Theisen in 1977.

Along with the three brothers, another Firmature, Jim (Helen and Sam’s son), was also a partner in owning A Sidewalk Cafe. Bob spent much of his time managing Brothers Lounge. Ernie managed A Sidewalk Cafe until he retired. Jim and Jay also helped manage the place. Jay (who is the only surviving member of the three) primarily worked in the business area. He was brought in by Ernie from Mutual of Omaha.

“He always said, ‘I should have stayed at Mutual,’” Steve says with a laugh.

Though not as formal as The Gas Lamp, A Sidewalk Cafe was still a destination spot. Located in the heart of the Regency neighborhood, the cafe aimed to pull in people who may have assumed Regency was out of their price range. Still, the cafe maintained an upper-end dining experience. DJ Dave Wingert, who now hosts a morning show on Boomer Radio, would routinely take radio guests to the Sidewalk Cafe in the ’80s. One guest was comedian and co-host of the NBC pre-reality show hit Real People—the late Skip Stephenson.

“I remember the booth we were sitting in, and telling him about being shot at Club 89,” Wingert says.

Since A Sidewalk Cafe closed its doors in the late ’90s, Omaha’s food scene has only grown in regard to available dining options and national recognition. Wingert says A Sidewalk Cafe would fit with today’s culinary landscape. Jaye agrees.

“It was probably the one [restaurant] that was the most survivable, I think,” she says.

Jaye has left the restaurant business. She is now owner and president of FirstLight Home Care, an in-home health care business. Though the industries are vastly different, Jaye says much of her experience with the restaurants has carried over to health care.

“Restaurants and bars are something that get into your blood,” she says. “It’s about the people and taking care of people.”

Find the last remnant of the Firmature family bar and restaurant empire at @brothersloungeomaha on Facebook.

From left: Ernie, Robert “Bobby”, and Jay Firmature

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

Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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