Tag Archives: 11-Worth Cafe

Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

January 9, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Pairing chili and cinnamon rolls is a Midwest point of pride that may perplex visitors from less-centered states. When the cold weather hits, warm chili and gooey cinnamon rolls are a familiar combination that comforts Midwestern bellies.

“The Midwest is about comfort foods,” says Brent Ganey, co-owner of Garden Café in Rockbrook Village. “Warm, hearty chili topped off with a sweet sticky roll is just what we need to get through the winter.”

Garden Café has a chili and cinnamon roll recipe that originated from school lunch ladies in Dow City, Iowa. Garden Café founder Ron Popp had an aunt who worked in the kitchen and wanted to share her recipe with the world.

“I love a big bowl of chili on a cold, wintry day, wrapped in a blanket with my family on the couch, a good football game on the set, and the good old feeling of love,” says Ganey, who had his first experience of chili and cinnamon rolls when his grandmother took him to Garden Café as a child.

The origins of this unique meal are unknown, but Mix 97-3, a Sioux Falls radio station, speculated that it began in logging camps of the Great Lakes region, where cooks poured leftover chili on top of cinnamon rolls. The heartiness of the meat in the chili and the sugar in the frosting supposedly gave loggers the boost they needed to complete their workday. Other accounts suggest that cinnamon—a common ingredient in chili—led to this delicious discovery.

People are eating chili and cinnamon rolls all over the Midwest, and each cook says theirs is the best—even at fast-food franchises. Chili and cinnamon rolls appear on the menus of Runza restaurants every winter, making the Lincoln-headquartered company a power player when it comes to public perception.

The Midwestern fast-food restaurant began selling chili and cinnamon rolls in 2007 after the success of their partnership with Miller & Paine, who provided cinnamon rolls at Runza’s fast casual concept Braeda Fresh Express Café, says Donald Everett Jr., the president of Runza. 

Everett has worked at Runza since he was 12. His grandmother started the restaurant in 1940, and his father expanded the family food empire with additional locations.

Runza has served chili for over 40 years, and Everett says the recipe has remained the same: “Until you’ve really dipped a chunk of cinnamon roll in that chili, you have no idea. It’s kind of like chocolate and peanut butter. Once you’ve tried it, it’s actually pretty tasty.”

Everett says his elementary school, Ruth Hill Elementary, served the combo when he was a kid. He often hears from fellow Nebraskans who first tasted the gooey-sweet combo in their own school cafeterias.

“It’s a common combination here, and that’s why we don’t think it’s weird,” he says. “But it’s like our state slogan: It’s not for everyone.”

Many Omaha-area restaurants offer chili and cinnamon rolls separately on their menu, which can be ordered together.

Wheatfields Eatery & Bakery is also acclaimed for their cinnamon rolls. If they seem familiar, it is probably because the recipe comes from founder Ron Popp’s hometown of  Dow City, Iowa. (Yes, the same Popp who founded Garden Café.)

“I love chili and cinnamon rolls together. It’s one of my top-10 meals,” Popp says.

As with speculation on the origin of chili and cinnamon rolls, there is not a clear consensus on how to eat them. Some prefer dipping the roll into chili, others prefer eating them separately, and a particular few scoop the chili directly on top of the roll. This is what makes the dish so special—everyone can pick their own way to dig in.

“I think chili was a staple item in the days of people being a lot less available to cook, either because of availability or expense,” Popp says. “Our rolls are soft and pillowy and large. And chili is reasonable cost-wise, and everyone could be a little creative with how they make it.”

Local varieties of chili abound, though not every restaurant offers cinnamon rolls.

“Cinnamon rolls are a nod to hearty school lunches. The sweet frosting makes a perfect complement to the savory soup.” says Molly Skold, a marketing executive at Mutual of Omaha who helped organize the Midtown Chili Crawl & Cookoff on Nov. 4.

The cookoff showcased eight of Omaha’s top chili chefs representing area restaurants. Vendors competed for the vote of Best Chili in Town. Culprit Cafe and Bakery, which offers chili and cinnamon rolls at their restaurant, offered discounted cinnamon rolls at their booth to add to the experience.

Chili and cinnamon roll pairings also can be at found Vidlak’s Brookside Café, Panera Bread, 11-Worth Cafe, LeadBelly, and other locations around town.


This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Chili in yellow bowl on red plate, cinnamon roll on side

Hugo Novelo’s Apartment

April 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The socio-economic fabric of Omaha makes a complicated tapestry of diverse skeins intertwining in various degrees of organic, from architectural masterpieces to working-class family neighborhoods converging around art from the street to the Bemis. Southwest of the 11-Worth Cafe is an apartment that’s not just a home for one man and his toddler, but also to a healthy cross-section of Omaha artists.

Hugo Novelo is an Omaha art lover. For two years, he’s been turning his apartment into a gallery of ever-increasing legitimacy. It began as a barter on the cusp where street artists live. 

HugoNovelo2

“I started collecting art about eight years ago,” Novelo says from his perch in the kitchen where art is made as often as food. “An artist friend got kicked out of his place after a break-up and asked me to help him move. I gathered up all his stuff, but there was no way I could mail all his art. It would have cost a fortune. So I gave him 70 bucks for about five pieces and we called it even. That’s how my collection started. Now, I meet a new artist every week and I’ve got about 325 pieces of local, Omaha artwork.”

Novelo says he began feeling guilty for keeping so much art to himself and decided, in true Omaha style, to collaborate. With the help of his salon full of experienced artists, he began selling a few pieces a week through a Facebook store, lending out art and doing the occasional pop-up. Meanwhile, he encourages young artists, buying supplies in exchange for finished art or part of the profit. It all happened organically. Now when the neighborhood skate kids stop by to look at the art, they meet a weird artist or two, and think about creating.

HugoNovelo3

Depending on mood and occasion, 50 to 60 artists live on Novelo’s walls. The majority of works are stored in the basement, which is why Novelo does not advertise the address. One has to know Hugo, contact him through social media or be delivered by a mutual friend to see what he has in the kitchen and around the enormous mural by artists Stephen Kavanaugh as well as norm4eva and Andy Garlock, the muralists responsible for the makeover of Leo’s Diner. Other noted Omaha talents represented are Randi Hunter, Très Johnson, and Anthony Brown.

Novelo’s face lights up talking about art because for him it’s not just about commerce or a pretty picture. Hugo’s pieces are vibrant, personal and plentiful, but they are—more often than not—made by his friends.

Bart Vargas, respected painter and UNO art educator, reviewed Novelo’s collection recently and, after touring the vaunted basement, says: “Novelo is a passionate and active local art collector snatching up works from many of the areas, unknown, outsider, and up-and-coming street artists,” Vargas says. “I was surprised to find early gems from regional artists Stephen Kavanaugh, Reginald LeFlore, OaKley, Joel Elia Damon, and Gerard Pefung. I predict it will be interesting to watch this collection develop, as these artist’s careers evolve and develop. Who exactly knows what hidden gems Hugo has in his collection?”

HugoNovelo1

First Monday of the Month


December 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are really two different shifts for breakfast, Jeff Slobotski explains. Some show up at the 11-Worth Cafe at 7 a.m., and others don’t roll in until 8:30. But that’s okay, because the First Monday of the Month Breakfast Club of Champions isn’t 
about structure.

The idea for a monthly breakfast of professionals from all disciplines is one of those brainwaves you can’t assign to one person. Slobotski, co-founder of Silicon Prairie News, says he had a conversation with Omaha friends about getting people together around a meal. “It was that conversation and a San Francisco friend who said she was doing this first Monday of the month thing that made me think, this is a thing that should happen,” Slobotski says.

He put an open invitation on Facebook last June, inviting over 200 people to show up the following Monday at the 11-Worth Cafe on 24th and Leavenworth. “Basically we all show up for breakfast and just take over the place,” the event page reads. “We hang out, drink coffee, and get jazzed to start the day/week & month off right. Let’s do this thing. Go!”

“Honestly it wasn’t until the third time that I actually talked with Tony,” Slobotski admits. That’s Tony Caniglia, the owner of 11-Worth Cafe. Slobotski figured it would be nice to give the establishment a heads-up that things might get a little crazy for a few hours on certain Monday mornings. “We didn’t want their servers quitting after a Monday shift,” he says.

So 40-70 people show up for a chatty breakfast at a local diner. What’s the end goal here?

20130909_bs_0638

“There’s this resurgence, this energy, in the city,” Slobotski says. “People want to be involved, and I think that shows a general passion for the city. Let’s all take our labels off and just come together as people. You don’t come to this wearing a name tag with a stack of business cards.”

“We’ve seen changes in the way business networking takes place,” says Mike Battershell, vice president of Bergman Incentives and a core First Monday breakfaster. “You’re looking for opportunities to get your name out there, but you’re also just looking for ways to make your community better.”

Slobotski describes Battershell as an instigator. “Mike’s the kind of guy who won’t just post to Facebook saying something needs to happen,” he says. “He’ll give you a phone number and a name. He’s an informed instigator.”

For Battershell, the breakfasts are about spreading that information. “You’re probably going to sit next to someone you wouldn’t otherwise sit with. Say you’re a programmer, and you’re sitting next to an artist who’s sitting across from an elected official,” he says. “That’s a catalyst for business opportunities and community improvement projects.”

Diverse backgrounds are key, both agree. “I’m very passionate about not creating another insular group,” Slobotski says. “How can we continue to be open? Be proactive? Be inviting to folks from different geographies and industries, different spheres within the city?”

The welcoming nature of the 11-Worth itself doesn’t hurt. “The wait staff at 11-Worth is great,” Battershell says. “If you get up and move, they’ll remember that you had the corned beef and hash.” In fact, he says he bounces from seat to seat about four times in the morning.

Oh yes, that’s allowed. “If there’s a break in conversation, it’s totally appropriate to jump up and move on,” Slobotski assures. After all: no structure, no special recognition, no food chain.

And no judgment.

Slobotski laughingly admits he orders the same breakfast every time. “The number 11. Two eggs sunny side up, two pieces of white toast, grape jam, massive side of hash browns. The place is underground-famous for its 
hash browns.”