Tag Archives: staff

The Rise of the Contract Worker

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s slogan is “We Don’t Coast,” but we do…at least in one respect.

Employees in Midwestern cities like Omaha are less likely to work side gigs than are their counterparts elsewhere in the United States, and they’re among the least likely in the country to have changed jobs in the last two years.

Still, 15 percent of Midwestern employees surveyed in late 2017 for an NPR/Marist poll indicated that they identify as contract workers—those hired guns brought on to complete a specific project, or for a specific period of time.

While lower than the rate of 21-23 percent of workers who identified as such in other regions and the 20 percent figure nationally, that number is changing how employers hire, what they offer prospective employees in the way of benefits, and, some local experts say, how or if they can grow their businesses.

Erin Isenhart enjoys working as a contract employee. The sole proprietor of Yellow House Creative has spent the last five years bouncing from one contract to the next. 

She says one client, Joe Pittman of Omaha-based Creative Association Management, has asked “many times” about coming to work for his organization, which works with various industry associations. But Isenhart says she prefers the flexibility of building on her existing relationship with Pittman and his clients, for which she manages projects like social media marketing, website maintenance and creation, and event planning. She also says her decision to stay independent is a form of mitigating the risk of something like an unexpected layoff—a fate she’s experienced too many times already.

“I could just work full-time for him, but as a contractor, you don’t want all your eggs in one basket,” Isenhart says.

Contractual work may also be a plus for many companies. In late March, Virginia Kiviranta of My Staff said she could hardly believe the volume of contractors in the Omaha office of a 300-employee government services client.

“They had 50 contractors on site and that’s the most I’ve ever seen them have,” said Kiviranta, who is a partner with Brad Jones at the Omaha-based staffing company. “I don’t know where they’re putting everyone. I didn’t think they have that much space.”

Government contracting by nature is project-driven, but step back and consider the tight labor market in general: Midwestern companies, on average, took nearly 32 days to fill an opening in January, according to the latest data from New York-based DHI Group Inc. The company uses data from its careers website combined with federal jobs data to derive a picture of about how long it takes to fill a job opening. Its time-to-hire index in January was more than double the duration of the same period in January 2009, when the recession was ravaging the economy and employers were slashing workforces.

A press release from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution states that, “Many vacancy postings for skill-intensive jobs draw few applicants, in line with employer claims that talent is scarce. Yet the typical jobseeker competes with many, many rivals for desired jobs. The upshot is that labor markets are both tight (for employers) and slack (for workers) at the same time.”

In other words, that means current conditions are indicative of a job-hunter’s market—especially for one with desirable skills. And that can pose a problem for a company trying to hire top talent.

“A lot of small businesses just don’t have a huge office, they don’t have a place to put everybody, and that’s costly,” says Isenhart. “Then when it comes to paying for insurance and any of the different benefits, it’s just not in their budget.”

Todd Murphy, CEO of Universal Information Services, takes a different view.

“The gig economy, and its related employees, is great in that it allows employers to use a flexible work force,” Murphy says. “The downside is that if you need ongoing support from someone, they may be busy on another project. I’ve also seen a person go from working gigs to being a full-time employee. This can have the same outcome in that they become unavailable for continued support or development.”

So, with a tight labor market for employers, local staffing professionals say a combination of contractors and temp-to-hire employees may be a good approach for staffing solutions.

“For the temp employees we put out to our clients, if there is a longer-term need than just a short three-to-six-month project, those [temp] individuals are the frontrunners to take those positions,” says Josh Boesch, shareholder at Lutz Talent, which specializes in finding employees for the accounting and finance industries. “The temporary employees oftentimes are performing working interviews, whereas a typical applicant or candidate for a job may only get an hour or a half hour to attempt to impress the hiring manager.”

Brian Smith spent almost a decade in retail banking before focusing on marketing; now, he works on a contract basis with political candidates and corporate clients as a consultant. Unlike Isenhart or other industry-specific contractors, he says he’s on a more fluid course and is currently angling to work with municipalities on urban innovation initiatives.

And with the right combination of contract work and flexibility, he may well reach his goal.


This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Erin Isenhart

Professional Pets

May 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some of the names spoken about at the marketing firm Envoy might seem unorthodox: Adam, Steve, Stella … and Butter? These names don’t belong to people, but to a pair of Devon rex cats, a French bulldog/pug, and a mini goldendoodle. Dentists have kept tropical aquariums in their waiting rooms for generations, but expanding a workplace’s pet-tential is far more common than that.

Penny Hatchell and Kathy Broniecki have owned Envoy for 13 years, producing materials for clients as varied as Hiland Dairy, Boys Town, and Max I. Walker Cleaners. The decision to allow pets in the office came from the desire to create a flexible and welcoming work environment: “We love to come to work, and we want our employees to come to work,” Broniecki explains. The decision seems to be working for them: “There’s a much greater overall wellness to the office—our quality and productivity has improved, and it keeps things light.”

Kathy Broniecki’s French bulldog/pug, Stella, comes to the office daily.

The animals are great for keeping employees happy, or helping employees who have a bad day cheer up.

“This has been studied and we can see that animals have value in emotional therapy, or to be assistant animals in places like nursing homes,” says Teresa T. Freeman, a therapist in Omaha. “They have noticed a positive effect in studies pets have on people in isolated situations to help boost their mood, wellness, and even improve physiology—things like heart rate, blood pressure, and other stress responses.”

The cats were rescued and considered part of Envoy, while the dogs and a hedgehog are others’ personal pets.

Broniecki says the company is reasonable about how having pets around can affect productivity, too: “It’s natural to get distracted at work, and focusing too hard can just make things worse. Getting by distracted by the pets is a much more positive outlet than other options,” Broniecki says.

Perhaps the greatest boon to Envoy has been the camaraderie the animals’ presence has built. “One stormy day,” Broniecki says, “Adam the cat went missing. It became an all-hands-on- deck situation in that moment trying to find him.” Everyone keeps treats on their desks for them, and when the dogs arrive in the morning, they make sure to greet every employee first thing, desk by desk. Hatchell, who takes the cats home with her when the day is over, adds: “even over the holidays, I’ll get texts asking how they’re doing, and even requesting pics.”

That camaraderie is a common bond between employees and furry friends, and can be a way to connect with shyer clients or new staff members.

“It breaks down barriers,” Freeman says. “People may not be comfortable with where they’re at emotionally, or isolated.”

Envoy’s office cat Adam, is a rescue cat.

Envoy is not alone in enjoying the pet perks. At J.A. McCoy CPA (located off 90th and Maple streets) Julie McCoy, in partnership with her rescue dog JoJo, tackles that lightning rod of stressful situations—taxes. McCoy has kept a dog at work since day one of starting her firm. “We work a lot of long hours, and dealing with taxes and estates is often not a fun experience. But with JoJo here, people look forward to coming in,” she says. Like at Envoy, McCoy has seen the same positive influence in her office: “Clients love it–we get a lot of business by word of mouth because of JoJo.” And of course, employees are encouraged to have play time. “We’re doing stuff that requires a lot of concentration, so it’s good to have a break.”

Pam Wiese, V.P. of public relations for the Nebraska Humane Society, also believes that having pets in the office can do wonders to reduce stress. “Focusing on something that isn’t another person, like the nurturing qualities of animals, can help calm people down.” Pets, she says, provide an element of levity that certainly has value in defusing tense work scenarios. She brings her own dog to work every day, but cats, fish, and even critters can all contribute. “We once had a bearded dragon here in the office. He’d sit out on his rock and sunbathe while people came to visit him over their lunches,” Wiese says. Though the NHS has not made any concerted push to get animals into offices, they have had their share of interested parties looking to adopt. “We’re happy to work with people to find an animal for them,” she says, “as long as it’s an appropriate situation.”

There are certainly many factors to weigh before introducing a pet into your own office. “Animals need to be comfortable,” Weise says. If the conditions aren’t safe or comforting for the pet, that opens up the opportunity for additional problems, like becoming loud or aggressive. If you’re going to have a pet, they will need to have their own private space and occasionally training to cope with many active people surrounding them. There’s also the human factor to consider: not everyone is an animal lover. “You’ll need to be considerate of the phobias, allergies, and even prejudices of the people passing through your workplace.”

McCoy, Broniecki, and Hatchell were all able to speak to experiences with clients that turned sour because of their furry compatriots, but also noted that they were few and far between. “Only one client of ours didn’t want to come to the office because we had cats,” Hatchell explains. Similarly, McCoy shared that she did have clients with phobias: “We always try to be upfront and communicate ahead we’re a pet-friendly office. When a client comes in that has trouble with that, we make sure JoJo stays in her ‘office’ [and she does have an office, nameplate and all].”

Regardless, they were each in confident agreement: their pawed pals have been a big plus for their businesses.

Nora belongs to Amy Goldyn.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

W. Dale Clark Library: A Reflection of Omaha

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why  are  libraries  relevant? For Rem Koolhaas, international architect and designer of one of America’s premier libraries in Seattle, “in an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that makes the library vital.”

This compelling principle of curation—a thoughtful way of organizing and presenting content—is how the Omaha Public Library’s W. Dale Clark branch promotes free public access to multimedia information, programming, and assets inside and outside the four walls of  215 S. 15th St. The library’s architecture, in turn, is both a container for, and reflection of, the community of Omaha at large.
Omaha’s first permanent public library opened in 1877 at 18th and Harney streets. Designed by Thomas Kimball, it was Omaha’s first building dedicated solely to a public library. However, with a capacity of 46,000 books and drastically out of sync with modern needs, the library outgrew this historic building after World War II. Often referred to as “the worst library in America” and “the horror on Harney Street,” city and library officials began contemplating a new building and the role a new central library would have in defining the cultural core of Omaha in the late 1950s.

While some branches of the Omaha Public Library system are named after locations, others are named after prominent city leaders and/or major funders. The central library branch is named after W. Dale Clark, a long-time banker, civic leader, and Omaha World-Herald board member. It is no coincidence then that during the development of this new central branch, the Omaha World-Herald was often a soapbox for the library’s necessity as a cultural anchor. A June 9, 1957, article explained, “a library should offer the opportunity for enlightened citizenship and the continuing education and cultural advancement necessary to a working democracy.” This sentiment held true for W. Dale Clark as well.

Although Clark did not live to see the completion of his library branch, which began construction in 1975, the 124,500-square-foot Bedford limestone monolith opened on March 9, 1977. Architects John Latenser & Sons of Omaha designed the $7 million open-plan building to accommodate 350 patrons and 400,000 volumes (the current collection is 500,000+ volumes). The Omaha World-Herald defined the opening as “the greatest event in Omaha’s history.”

Little has changed architecturally to the branch since 1977, although its surroundings continue to take shape—the neighborhood is part of a six-block $15 million revitalization plan.

The striated five-story W. Dale Clark Library opens laterally east and west and features a 110-foot bridge on the west entrance that spans a parking moat below for 48 cars, special facilities for audio-visual materials, a large open atrium, contemporary art gallery, and significant art collection including Catherine Ferguson’s sculpture Totem and an Olga de Amaral tapestry. The central library maintains practical roles to store government documents, house the ever-growing genealogy department, and to be a repository for community history.

In a building nearly 40 years old, how has the Omaha Public Library advanced into the digital age—an age where traditional media is seen as almost cliché? The answer is quite simple: curated in-person programing.

The facilitators for this community-driven programing are the 78 library staff at the W. Dale Clark branch. With a web of knowledge and resources, Emily Getzschman, the marketing manager for OPL acknowledges, “the staff are our greatest asset.” They fulfill the library’s tagline “open your world” by connecting dots—many of which are obvious (GED training, citizenship assistance, computer training, and literacy classes) and others that seem more disparate (STD screening, a toy lending library, speed dating, a culinary conference, and facilitated conversations around contemporary topics) all under a major OPL tenet of non-discrimination. As Amy Mather, adult services manager, says, “the library allows a smooth transition where a barrier may be to connect people with ideas.” In many instances, the library is filling voids in the public domain with this free niche programming—all of which is community driven.

Since its beginning, some have questioned the role and need for the Omaha Public Library—a story that continues to play out today. These opposing views undermine the very role of the public library as a space to define, beyond hierarchies, the community of Omaha.

It is a privilege and right to use the Omaha Public Library, which is free and open to all of the public. Everyone and anyone has access to its curated network of resources. The potency of programming, outreach, and staff reverberates beyond its architecture and stated mission placing OPL at the frontier of relevancy. As Mather says, “this is your library.”
omahapubliclibrary.org/w-dale-clark-library 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Sentimental Plantings

June 20, 2013 by

We select many plants and trees for our yards purely for their aesthetics—beautiful color or shape, heavenly scent, or because they pair well with other plants. But sometimes, we choose for sentimental reasons—because they simply remind us a special person in our lives, a fond memory, or a particular place dear to our hearts. We asked Omaha Magazine staff what some of their favorite yard plantings are and what makes them special.

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“My favorite plant would have to be an apple tree. When I was a kid, my family lived in Nebraska City, Neb., home of Arbor Day. Naturally, there were trees everywhere, but we had two apple trees in our yard. Every fall, my dad would bring out the ladder and let my younger sister and I help pick apples. We kept quite a few bags for ourselves, but we also gave some away to family, friends, and neighbors.” – Bailey Hemphill, Assistant Editor & Web Content Editor

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“Growing up on a farm in Iowa, we had those big, beautiful peony bushes…seemed like we had hundreds, many as big as me. There were different shades of pink, and white ones with pink on them. Their smell reminds me so much of my childhood home and running around, barefoot and carefree. Just this last week, my fiancé and I were doing a major landscaping project at our home, and I thought it would be neat to plant a few of those peony bushes. However, before I got a chance to buy them (and not knowing my fondness for them), he said, ‘I hate those peony bushes. They always have ants crawling all over them.’ I had to chuckle to myself. Guess I’ll just have my wonderful memories and admire them in other people’s yards!” – Sandy Matson, Omaha Home Contributing Editor

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“I’m not much of a flower girl, though I do love growing food. This year, I actually planned out my garden and have nice rows with labels. One thing I’ve had for the last three years is rhubarb. It’s made the journey from my grandma’s garden, to my parents, and now I have some of it. It’s loving the rain and growing like crazy. I have been going through the family cookbook and have found many yummy-sounding desserts to try this summer, and I might even throw some into a smoothie for a little extra kick. The leaves can also be used to make walking stones for a pathway. Gotta love all the uses of rhubarb.” – Katie Anderson, Senior Graphic Designer

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“Our second home–the one in which we saw our kids grow from babies to grade schoolers–had a mature Linden tree in the backyard. Our sheepdog mix, Maxie, loved this full-bodied, dense tree for the wonderful shade it offered. Our beloved Maxie has since passed away, and so our family planted a Linden tree in the backyard of our new home in remembrance of her. The kids and I call it the Maxie Tree.” – Linda Persigehl, Managing Editor

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“I have fond memories from my childhood of playing with snapdragons at my aunt and uncle’s house in Glenwood, Iowa. When my wife and I planted our first flowerbed at our new home this spring, we included a row of purple snapdragons—making them snap brings back the kid in me.” – John Gawley, Creative Director

From Lightbulb Sales to Magazine Tales

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Todd Lemke discovered the art of the deal as an eight-year-old growing up in Papillion. One day, his father, Raymond—who believed that allowances should be earned, not given—drove the family station wagon to the old Skaggs store and loaded up on dozens of discounted lightbulbs. When he got home, he got out a map of Papillion, divided it into three sectors (one for each of his children), and told his boys to fan out and sell the lightbulbs. Young Todd dutifully knocked on doors. The exchange with the homeowner would go something like this:

“Are you with the Boy Scouts?”

“No.”

“Are you with a church group?”

“No.”

“Well, who are you with?”

“Just myself.”

(Pause)

“Okay, show me what you have.”

More times than not, he sold a lightbulb.

In many ways, the bulbs shined a light on the path Lemke would take in the future. The youngster with a natural gift for sales became an adult with a knack for creative promotion. Just two years out of college, Lemke combined his skills and launched what would become Omaha Magazine.

Now celebrating its 30th year, Omaha Magazine remains at the top of its game, boasting 36,000 subscriptions—remarkable for a city this size. It’s sold at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. Additionally, a copy of the publication can be found in every hotel room in the metropolitan area, reaching a half-million visitors to the Midlands per month.

Like many success stories, Omaha Magazine started humbly and underwent several transformations. Lemke, the owner and publisher, guided every stage.

“If you want to know what makes Omaha tick, then you have to know its people. And we do a better job talking about people than any other medium in town. It’s people, people, people, and then food. This town loves food.” – Todd Lemke, publisher

“I graduated from UNL in 1981 with a degree in journalism. I weighed my options and decided to sell homes,” Lemke deadpans, knowing his career choice came out of left field. He explains, “My mother and father sold real estate when I was growing up, and I got my real estate license in 1977 when I was still in high school.”

Lemke may have opted for sales, but he believed in the power of promotion. He advertised the custom-built homes in a weekly alternative newspaper called City Slicker and lured first-time homebuyers to view the models using a P.T. Barnum approach. Newlyweds Greg and Terese Bruns checked out Lemke’s block party one weekend.

“We went out there, and here is Todd dressed up in a clown suit,” says Bruns. “He had bands playing. He was handing out candy and balloons and pop. It was a carnival. And the next thing you know, we’re signing papers for a new house. That’s how we met.”

One day, the owners of City Slicker offered to sell the paper to Lemke. Flush with cash from his real estate deals, Lemke took them up on their offer. It was 1983.

“The first thing I did was turn City Slicker into a glossy, four-color magazine. I did that for three years,” says Lemke. But he discovered that the ad-buying community wanted a readership that was “past the party age.” So he literally dumped City Slicker one day and started another magazine the next day called Omaha Today, distributed free around town.

Seeking to stabilize his investment, Lemke went to a competitor who owned a monthly publication, Our City. It listed all the local shopping, eating, and entertainment hot spots. Lemke thought it would be a good merger “because he had a magazine that was in all the hotels.” The marriage went through in 1987. But there was still a missing piece to the puzzle.

“The name [Our City] didn’t do much for me,” says Bruns, who by this time was working with Lemke selling ads. “I mean, I’d call a business and say, ‘Hi, this is Greg Bruns from Our City,’ and they’d go, ‘Huh? Never heard of it.’ I said to Todd, ‘Why can’t we change this?’”

In 1989, Our City and Omaha Today became Omaha Magazine.

Magazines pulled from Omaha Publications' archives.

Magazines pulled from Omaha Publications’ archives.

“The name carried so much more meaning with people,” says Bruns, who soon became the vice president and Lemke’s business partner. “People became more willing to talk with me.”

As the ads increased, so did the content of the magazine. In addition to a thorough restaurant and entertainment guide, Omaha Magazine upped its profiles of people who make this community work.

“Over the course of 30 years, we have done thousands and thousands of great, positive people stories,” Lemke points out with pride. “If you want to know what makes Omaha tick, then you have to know its people. And we do a better job talking about people than any other medium in town. It’s people, people, people, and then food. This town loves food.”

The look of the magazine also sets it apart: thick, glossy, and beautifully photographed. An innovation that really put Omaha Magazine on the map is its annual “Best of Omaha™” edition.

“We started that in 1992,” says Bruns. “It’s absolutely huge and gets bigger every year.”

Lemke, an optimist by nature, says he wakes up every morning with ideas that he can’t wait to bounce off his editors, photographer, graphic designers, and sales staff. His business sense, however, has kept the ship afloat. He expanded his publishing business to include B2B Omaha, a business quarterly; The Encounter, a magazine focusesd on downtown; HerLiving, with articles devoted to women; Family Spectrum, featuring helpful stories on kids, education, and family; and the Old Market Directory, a guide to business and events in the historic district. Equally important, Lemke doesn’t shy away from innovation.

“Print publications have to embrace social media and the internet,” he says. “You can read all our magazines online, and we link everything.”

Lemke never forgets the lessons from long ago, when he sold lightbulbs door-to-door. He learned to look a customer in the eye. He learned to listen to what they had to say. For 30 years now, he’s been listening to what Omaha wants and needs—and chronicling it.

“I’m fortunate. I picked an occupation that I can do for a long time.”

Happy anniversary.

Malara’s

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Two elderly gentlemen are just getting up from the table. “We don’t work here,” the one in the knit sweater says gallantly, “but we could probably seat you.”

They probably could at that, if they’re some of the regulars who have been gracing Malara’s Italian Restaurant since it opened on 22nd and Pierce streets in 1984. Caterina Malara, an American by way of Argentina by way of Italy, first put her name to a small carryout shop as a way of providing for her young family. “There weren’t any tables or anything,” says her daughter, Maria Szablowski. “We mostly served sandwiches then.”

Decades later, Malara’s has expanded in both size and menu, and Szablowski is now the restaurant’s manager. “We make pretty much everything ourselves,” she says. Her favorite is the fried cheese ravioli, though her niece, Ashley Gomez, is torn between her grandmother’s lasagna and the Italian cheesecake.20130204_bs_5079 copy

Malara’s serves strictly Italian comfort food, and the food is prepared accordingly. “We’re casual, you know, spaghetti and meatballs,” Szablowski says. Recipes are vague, if there are any at all. “It’s a pinch of this, a pinch of that.” Gomez adds that when Malara teaches her kitchen a new recipe, she’ll say, “No cups! You judge yourself.” With such a home-style method, dishes are surprisingly consistent.

Szablowski says that if Malara had her way, the menu would be constantly filled with new items. For the sake of the staff, they introduce one or two new dishes every so often while keeping on staples like the homemade cheesesticks, chicken parmesan, and ricotta cannoli.

Still, the matriarch is very much present in her restaurant. “She’s here everyday,” Szablowski says. “We can’t keep her away.” Malara still cooks a bit, but is less hands-on. “She watches you like a hawk,” Gomez says with a laugh, but adds that Malara is very patient, especially with her great-grandchildren, a few of whom work in the kitchen.

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The fact that the restaurant is family-run is inescapable, from the daughter waitressing on weekends to the photos of great-grandkids on the wall. Even if staff members aren’t family strictly speaking, they may as well be. Szablowski and Gomez compare notes on which employees have been with them the longest: “Maki, the bartender, has been here for 22 years. Then there’s Marilyn, the cashier, she’s been here for 20. And Amy and Kathy and…”

If all you need to enjoy the cozy ambience is a dessert and a drink, consider having a sour crème puff under the original tin ceiling at the bar. Though Malara’s serves a full bar, wines and beers carry the day. Especially for Malara herself. “Mom loves her glass of Lambrusco every night,” Szablowski says with a smile.

Malara’s Italian Kitchen
2123 Pierce St.
402-346-8001

 

Localmotive

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Localmotive has been serving up made-from-scratch sandwiches and sourdough rounders on the corner of 12th and Jackson since March 2012, meanwhile building a loyal clientele. And the local food truck isn’t afraid of a little competition—in fact, they want other food trucks to follow their lead into Downtown Omaha. “We’re not crowding trucks in,” says Patrick Favara, one of Localmotive’s three owners. “There’s totally room for more.”

Favara credited their truck’s successful first year in the Old Market to extensive research. “There’s very little here to look at,” he says, adding that food trucks are still a new concept to the Midwest. “And there’s not much in Nebraska’s books yet. If there’s a model to look at, it’s Kogi.” The five-truck fleet in Los Angeles communicates multiple times daily through Twitter, Facebook, and its own well-maintained website so that customers never have to wonder when or where a truck will be out.

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

The Localmotive crew tries to do the same thing. “Communication is essential,” Favara said. “It determines your following.” Even though the truck can be found next to Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven nights a week, a schedule is always available on localmotivefoodtruck.com. Localmotive also has an office manager who stays on top of the truck’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. “We make that a priority,” Favara says. “We get back to the people who talk to us.”

You mean, it’s more than just Favara and David Burr in the truck and David Scott, sourdough king, in the kitchen? “You get a staff,” Burr says with emphasis. “You don’t do it all on your own.” Even with a peak staff of 18 employees during the summer, Burr recalls weeks at the beginning of their debut that included 120 hours of work. “Consistently,” he says, laughing. “…for months.”

The large staff is necessary, Favara explains, because unlike employees of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, truck workers can’t duck back to the kitchen to help with prep during slow times. “We staff as many people as a brick-and-mortar,” Favara says, “because they can’t do double-duty.”20121130_bs_6302 copy

Burr adds that while the upfront cost of a food truck is lower than opening a storefront, running a mobile restaurant has its own set of challenges with licensing, permissions, and maintenance. “It’s demanding work,” he says, “and not cheap. We’re a fellow restaurant…[just] in a different facility.”

After hitting many of their first-year goals (i.e., be a staple of late-night downtown; serve at the Farmers Market; be a source of good food for restaurant staff coming off the clock late), Burr, Favara, and Scott are focusing on their second year. Their 2013 goals include expanding their garden (even with the tough 2012 summer, they still used most of the produce they planted), have a regular beef supplier (“You’d think it would be easy to find local beef in Nebraska,” Burr says), and be more available to the young entrepreneurs of Omaha. “We love that crowd,” Favara says. The truck supplied a meal last May to attendees of Big Omaha, a convention produced by Silicon Prairie News.

And years down the road? They’ve thought of a quick-service restaurant, just a little kitchen with a walk-up window. More trucks one day, like Kogi, and maybe a trailer for festivals. “We’re not limiting ourselves,” Favara says with a smile. “We’re not the first food truck in Omaha, but I think we’re setting the standard.”

Find Localmotive’s location schedule at localmotivefoodtruck.com.

Restaurant Review: Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On the corner of Bob Boozer Drive and West Center Road, you will find one of West Omaha’s favorite breakfast and lunch hot spots.This would be the family-owned Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe, which has been serving the happy masses since 1996. I recently rediscovered this busy, little cafe and thought I would share my thoughts on it with you.

Vidlak’s sits in a corner endcap of a strip mall with limited parking, but that does not seem to deter guests from circling around the parking lot until they can find a spot and going in to wait for a table. Inside, it’s obvious that Vidlak’s will not be the recipients of any design or decor awards; but the restaurant is well-maintained, clean, and brightly lit. One thing that I really like about the layout of Vidlak’s is that the tables are not too crammed together, and there’s room to spread out, as well as enough light to read your Sunday newspaper.20121129_bs_5813 copy

The weekend staff at Vidlak’s is mostly young and inexperienced, which can present some issues at times. What the young staff lacks in experience they make up for in friendliness, and they never seem fazed no matter how ‘deep in the weeds’ they may actually be. Every time I have eaten at Vidlak’s, I have waited for at least 15-25 minutes for the food to come. It’s hard to tell if this is a slow service issue, slow kitchen issue, or just bad luck on my part. My hunch is that it’s probably a little of each. That being said, the regulars do not seem to mind the delay and must just chalk it up to the cost of a good, fresh-cooked breakfast after church.

The food is the reason this restaurant is so popular. The breakfast and lunch dishes are cooked fresh to order and are quite good. The menu is fairly expansive and has pretty much everything you could want in a breakfast/lunch café, as well as several signature dishes that are actually quite creative. I should also note that the portions are generous and prices are on the inexpensive side, which are both good things in my book. On a recent visit, I tried the Omaha Omelette ($7.99). This fresh-cooked 3-egg omelette has diced chicken, diced tomatoes, and broccoli topped with melted mozzarella cheese. The omelette was made the proper way, using a pan instead of a flat grill, cooked perfectly, not greasy, and was very enjoyable. The accompanying hash browns were also delicious. My dining partner had the Eggs Benedict ($7.99). Anyone who regularly orders this dish at restaurants can tell you that it’s an easy one to screw up. Not at Vidlak’s, though, as it was executed perfectly and also recommended.20121129_bs_5819 copy

Lunch at Vidlak’s is very good as well. In the past, I have tried their burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and every time the food was excellent. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive, family-friendly, fresh breakfast or lunch, and you’re not in too much of a hurry, then Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe is a place that you really must try.

Cheers!

Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe
15668 W. Center Rd.
402-330-0914
vidlaksbrooksidecafe.com

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ***
Service: *1/2
Ambiance: **1/2
Price: Inexpensive
Overall: **1/2