Tag Archives: tea

Mary Joseph’s Series of Fortunate Events

June 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ask Mary Joseph, owner of Tasty Pizza (formerly Tasty Pastry), how she wound up running a restaurant in Omaha, and be prepared for a story of fortunate coincidences. She has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Costa Rica, Joseph attended college in Massachusetts to study pre-med and international relations before moving back to Costa Rica to finish her degree. After a chance conversation struck up with a fellow passenger on a plane trip in 1997, she would eventually marry that fellow passenger—a man who just so happened to be from Omaha.

After moving to Nebraska, she attended a neighborhood party and met Dario Schicke and his wife Amy. The two women became friends. In a conversation about hobbies, Joseph mentioned she liked to bake and eventually baked a chocolate cake for the Schickes. When Dario later opened his restaurant—Dario’s Brasserie in Dundee—he asked Joseph to bring in her chocolate cakes for his customers.

Thus began her foray into cooking and baking as an occupation. “Dario was a huge inspiration—both him and his wife, Amy,” Joseph says.

Tasty Pizza, located at 5423 Leavenworth St., has been open for “about four years off and on,” Joseph says. It didn’t take her long to realize a pastry shop just wasn’t her cup of tea. “I knew the very first day,” she says, explaining that soup was quickly brought into the mix because being open lunch hours meant customers typically wanted lunch. “Soup was a hit,” she says, “but cooking good soup isn’t just about following recipes. It’s about food technology.” Soup proved too frantic a menu item to feature, with intricate preparation and last-minute adjustments making things stressful.

Not afraid of trying new things, Joseph and her staff played around with a few different ideas for a new focus. Once pizza appeared on the menu, Joseph was sold on the idea.

She liked the predictability and organization of running a pizza line. Patrons enjoyed the ability to customize their toppings or choose from artisanal pizzas that the staff created. Hence, Tasty Pastry evolved into Tasty Pizza.

Joseph attributes some of her success to other local restaurants near her that are willing to work as a community and share knowledge and advice. She also cites her staff as helpful and inspirational. “I’m lucky, I have to say,” she admits.

“I love to cook,” Joseph says, adding “I love Omaha.” Tasty Pizza, which she opened as something to do while her kids were at school, continues to thrive. She won’t predict what the future will hold, as she prefers to live in the moment.

Joseph is doing what she loves (in a place she loves) while enjoying the reciprocal love her customers give Tasty Pizza. It’s a story many years—and twists of fate—in the making.

Visit tastypizzaomaha.com for more information.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Tea Smith

May 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Down on Howard Street, in between the many bars and restaurants that pepper the Old Market, the bright-green leaf decorated on the window of The Tea Smith can be easy to miss. But this deceptively simple store hosts the most impressive collection of tea in Omaha, and owner Tim Smith has received national and even international recognition for his treasured tea.

Now if this storefront had existed 20 or so years ago, Smith might have walked past it without batting an eye.  “At that time I thought that tea was not much more than brown water and a bag, so I didn’t pay much attention to it,” says Smith. But a Valentine’s Day business trip changed his mind, after he picked up some loose leaf tea for his wife.

“When I got home, she [my wife] made me try it, and I said “oh this is good, this has got some character to it,’” says Smith. Some internet research led Smith to some a surprising fact about tea: that at the time, tea was the most consumed beverage in the world, but in the United States it was ranked sixth or seventh.

Smith began to see a possibility to expand the specialty tea market.  If more of the high-quality loose leaf teas that he and his wife both loved were more widely available, tea might start to grow in popularity in the United States. While there weren’t many other established tea businesses to model themselves after, Smith decided to take a leap of faith, and opened The Tea Smith in December of 2004.

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Smith’s concept behind The Tea Smith is “comfortable contemporary”—he wants anyone to be able to come into The Tea Smith and spend an hour or two relaxing with a nice cup of tea. This includes making the concept of tea more approachable to the average person, who might not know all about the complexities of tea.

Smith laughs when he recalls the early days of The Tea Smith, when “we’d tell someone we’d opened a tea store and they thought maybe t-shirts or something like that.” Now The Tea Smith plans a variety of educational programs, such as a “Tea 101 class” for beginners. Smith himself says that he is still always learning about tea—with over 10,000 different styles of tea that supposedly come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, Smith hasn’t even come close to tasting them all.

This learning process has taken Smith to the source of his tea, to China, Japan, and Taiwan, and to tea expos all over the world. One of Smith’s highest recognitions came at the 2012 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, when he was named “Top Tea Infusionist” after winning the expo’s Tea Infusionist Challenge.  Smith, along with five other tea experts, was given six teas and had to prepare them on stage for a panel of judges. Participants were judged on their skill and handling of the tea, their ability to discuss the tea, and their success in implementing their desired flavors into their cup of tea.

It’s events like these that allow Smith and his staff to hone their teaching skills when it comes to the intricacies of different kinds of tea. The Tea Smith carries over 150 different kinds of tea, and it’s up to Smith and his employees—the “Tea Smithies”—to taste all of them and help customers find ones that will fit their palette.

Say a customer comes in and is completely new to tea. Smith and his employees will ask the customer what types of flavors he or she likes to help them find a tea that has those kinds of flavors in it. Smith will usually direct first-time tea consumers to something that’s not overly sweet or bitter, like a green tea. Looking for something a little bit more daring? Smith might direct you to one of their most popular drinks called South of the Border, a black tea with chocolate and chili pepper.
Nathan Watson was also looking for something a little different when he stumbled upon the Tea Smith a year and a half ago. Born in the South, Watson’s been a tea drinker his whole life. But even he was blown away by all of the seemingly crazy tea concoctions The Tea Smith has.

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“I can get Chai Tea at Scooter’s or I can get tea from Starbucks. They have two or three different kinds. Tea Smith has like 100,” says Watson.

Watson, a chief sales officer for Contemporary Analysis, has now become a regular at The Tea Smith. It’s his go-to place to meet with clients—he recalls with a laugh how he even hosted six or seven meetings back-to-back at The Tea Smith one day. Despite refilling his same teapot a dozen times throughout the day, Watson uncovered new flavors with each sip of tea. The robust flavors that came with the first brewing of his tea disappeared after the first couple of brewings, and were replaced by some of the subtle flavors that were originally unrecognizable.

“Tim taught me that trick. The second brewing,  the third brewing, the fourth brewing all taste different,” says Watson.

It’s this combination of unmatchable knowledge about tea and wacky offerings that have made The Tea Smith such a hit. Out-of-town customers would often make the shop a regular spot on return trips to Omaha, and as many customers would buy bulk orders of a certain tea to take back home, Smith thought that he might be on to something. He decided to alter his original business plan to add a wholesale aspect to the mix. Now the  store ships tea to customers all over the country, and even helps create tea menus for local restaurants such as Blue Sushi, The Grey Plume, Aroma’s, and Scooter’s Coffeehouse.

“As we got popular and we got the experience, we found that we were really able to help people that were starting into teas or help them improve the quality of the products that they’re offering,” says Smith.

It always comes back to this educational experience for Smith. With each new customer that comes into the store comes a new opportunity to expose another person to the beverage that he loves so much, and he hopes to continue to spread loose leaf tea around the country. Smith has plans to open more stores in the future outside of their Old Market and Tower Plaza locations, though he remains coy about them.

For now, Smith just remains excited about continuing to expand his knowledge of tea, pay it forward to his customers, and to expel misconceptions about the drink that he now considers
“more than just a beverage.”

“It [tea] is a part of culture, it’s a part of economics, it’s a part of history, as well as a part of health, so it’s absolutely fascinating,” says Smith, “and there’s always a lot to learn.”