Tag Archives: Rotella’s Italian Bakery

The Scent of a Neighborhood

July 31, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Provided

Since 1989, the corner of 108th and Harrison streets has featured an aroma that permeates the air and reminds every passerby that Rotella’s Italian Bakery makes their magic there. 

The bakery originally began in 1850 in Calabria, Italy, with Dominico Rotella selling loaves baked from a small wood-fired oven. His son, Alessandro, immigrated to America in 1909 and eventually settled in Omaha. In 1921, after a strike left him unemployed, he negotiated to buy a small bakery for $25 a month from a local businessman.

Nowadays, the bakery spans four large buildings that occupy most of the block.
It’s no wonder this busy bakery emits the scent of fresh-baked bread to everyone in the vicinity, including the cars driving by.

Paul Schoomaker lives in one of the surrounding neighborhoods and has not yet grown nose-blind to Rotella’s scent. “We’ve lived in the Applewood neighborhood for over 25 years and have greatly enjoyed the wonderful aromas from Rotella’s Bakery over the many years. When there is a soft breeze from the south-southwest early in the morning, the rich smell of fresh-baked bread wafts through the air,” he says. “On many occasions when I would walk the neighborhood in the early morning, the smell of fresh bread was a major motivational factor to be outside. There are few smells like that which create such a comforting feeling.”

Fellow Applewood Heights resident Amy Youngclaus agrees. “Being near Rotella’s is an added perk to our already homey neighborhood. Walking out of the house to the warm scent of bread swirling in the air is like getting a hug from a doting grandma. I feel as though the whiffs of bakery scent add a warm and cozy vibe to our locale.”

Residents of Cimmaron Woods West have similar sentiments about the Rotella’s aroma in the air. “The best smell is when the air is quiet and they are baking garlic or onion bread,” says resident Tom Perkins. “The aroma gets really intense sometimes and is great to smell when you walk outside. The other time I notice it is in the mornings when it just smells like baking bread my grandma used to make.”

Another resident of Cimmaron Woods West, Tom Demory, says the scent from Rotella’s often compels his wife and children to make a trip to the retail store. When asked if the strength of the scent on a particular day has any effect on their desire to go buy bread, he replies, “Without question.” And while he is generally aware of the scent, he says, “I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but I’ve never considered it a negative thing. It’s a pleasant odor.”  

For some residents living near the bakery, the scent of Rotella’s means so much more than merely the baking of bread. Oak Brook Apartments resident Sara Locke explains: “When my longtime partner was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that resulted in a gluten-free lifestyle, I didn’t think twice about swearing off bread myself. For years, I forwent my favorite foods—pastas, pizza, and my strange addiction to buttered toast. The day I left and moved into my new place, I spent the first long sleepless night sitting on my deck, torturing myself over the decision I had made. As the night gave way to the still-dark early morning hours, the smell was so subtle at first. Just a thought really, like a weird flashback that hasn’t yet taken hold. Then the unmistakable aroma grabbed me and reminded me of seven years’ worth of mornings without toast at breakfast. I sat there until the sun was up and walked over to the store for a loaf of bread. That was when I learned that they have gluten-free offerings, but it’s too late now. I may have ended a long relationship, but I’ve returned to my first love… and I still spend my mornings on that deck, but now I do it with toast and coffee in hand.”

Louis Rotella III isn’t surprised by everyone’s reaction to the Rotella’s scent—he still gets excited when he smells cinnamon raisin bread baking. “Sometimes I get hit with a smell that brings back my childhood,” he says. Occasionally he’ll encounter people who remember the 24th Street bakery Rotella’s occupied from 1965 until they moved to the current location in 1989. “They’ll say, ‘We miss the smell!’” he says, adding that they also miss the bread, but the smell is what’s most often brought up. 

Often, people will stop in at the retail shop to load up on bread to take to their out-of-state relatives. While Rotella’s is indeed a national brand, it can be difficult to find in a store outside of Nebraska and the immediate surrounding states. “Sometimes we’ll get people visiting who were instructed by their families to stop at the retail store and ‘load up’ to bring bread home,” Rotella says. 

Rotella’s Italian Bakery isn’t just a place that pumps out pleasant smells for the surrounding neighborhoods—it’s an Omaha mainstay, active in the local community. “We try hard to maintain the family values that brought us to where we are today,” Rotella says. “We recognize and appreciate the community that supports our business.” In that sense, the pleasant scents blanketing the neighborhoods can be seen as a far-reaching thank-you from Rotella’s to the community.  


Visit rotellasbakery.com for more information about the local Omaha bakery. Residential neighborhoods adjacent to the bakery complex include Applewood Heights, Cimarron Woods, and Brookhaven. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

May the Swartz Be With You

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After being offered a third helping of matzo ball soup, Marilyn Monroe once famously quipped, “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?” While the classic Jewish soup may not be everyone’s thing, when it’s done right—like it is at Swartz’s Delicatessen & Bagels in Omaha—it’s hard to turn down. I’d happily eat a bowl of the restaurant’s matzo ball soup any day.

Swartz’s house-made matzo balls (round, bread-like dumplings) have just the right texture: not too dense, not too soft. The broth is just as good. It gets its deep, savory flavor from a whole chicken boiled with carrots, onions, and celery. The mixture is strained, leaving a clear, aromatic broth that’s light yet flavorful. It’s that extra effort, along with quality ingredients and time-honored recipes, that makes the dish a menu highlight.

Swartz’s Delicatessen owner Shervin Ansari calls the soup “Jewish penicillin” for its ability to cure whatever ails you. Since opening in fall 2016, the restaurant has become a popular spot to savor not only soup—in addition to matzo ball, there’s chicken noodle and chicken with rice—but other Jewish deli staples such as pastrami on rye, bagels with cream cheese and lox, potato latkes, knishes, and more.

Ansari grew up in Maryland, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and later owned a deli on the East Coast. He moved to Omaha and spent 15 years working as an executive at Kiewit Corp. After noticing a lack of traditional Jewish deli fare in the city, he opened his own place in Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific streets. Business is strong, and the restaurant is already slated to expand. Ansari plans to open two additional locations in Dundee and Aksarben Village by late 2018/early 2019.

In true Jewish deli fashion, the menu includes heaping sandwiches stuffed with corned beef, pastrami, and other meats prepared in-house. Most are offered in three sizes: JV (small), regular, and piled high. Highlights include corned beef on rye that, when ordered Reubenized, comes grilled with tangy kraut, melted Swiss, and a slathering of sauce. Also good is the pastrami sandwich with chopped liver: a generous stack of lean, thinly sliced pastrami and a rich, smooth spread made with beef and chicken liver.

The deli uses fresh bread from Rotella’s Italian Bakery in Omaha (except the light rye, which is imported from back East). Bagels are shipped from New York and then baked in-house. Deli salads, including egg, tuna, chicken, and whitefish, are made fresh each day. Meat sourced from Nebraska and Iowa farms is cured, smoked, and cooked in-house. “There’s no preservatives, no nitrates,” Ansari says. “It really makes a big difference.”

Avocado burger with side of coleslaw and pickles

Prices are higher than a typical sandwich shop, but portions are generous, and the food is made in small batches using fresh ingredients, Ansari says. Guests order and pay at the counter, and there are a few stools with a view of the kitchen. The dining area is stylish and inviting, with black-and-white flooring, globe light fixtures, subway tile, spacious booths, and tables with French-style bistro chairs.

Like many Jewish delis, Swartz’s isn’t fully kosher but does offer some kosher items. Customers can order kosher sandwiches, which the staff prepare using designated cutting boards and separate knives. The kitchen knows its way around Jewish comfort food classics such as potato latkes and sweet noodle kugel. And there are modern touches, too, including more healthful options, brunch specialties, and online ordering.

The deli case up front is loaded with brisket, lox (cured salmon), potato and spinach knishes, assorted salads, and other specialties. But save room for dessert. A big slice of carrot cake—ultra-moist layers full of warm spices, nuts, and cream cheese frosting—is the perfect sweet finish.

Visit swartzsdeli.com for more information.

Western Omelet (with onions, green peppers, brisket, and tomatoes), with a side of hashbrowns and toast

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.