Tag Archives: Mark Leichtle

Oil and Vinegar
 Boom in Omaha

December 18, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Move over cupcakes, there’s a new specialty food trend in Omaha: oil and vinegar stores.

Filled with stainless steel vats brimming with exotic flavors such as green apple balsamic vinegar or rosemary olive oils, these stores look to provide customers with high-end 
kitchen staples.

But with four oil and vinegar specialty stores opening in the Omaha area within less than a year of each other, how much luxury in the kitchen is too much?

“When we found out all these other stores were opening, I’m like, oh my gosh, we’re the next cupcake place,” jokes Tish Rasmussen, co-owner of Vine + Branch.

Many of the owners and managers of these stores tell a similar tale: After enjoying high-quality oils and vinegars elsewhere, they were unable to find comparable products in Omaha. After months of preparation, all were excited to jump into what they thought was an untapped industry in Omaha.

Mother and daughter pair Linda Cummings and Rasmussen were the first to dip their toes into the oil and vinegar market in the spring of 2012. After visiting stores up and down the West Coast, Cummings and Rasmussen introduced their own line of bottled oils and vinegars into Hy-Vee and several Nebraska wineries. Encouraged by their success, they decided to open their own storefront, Vine + Branch.

But before Rasmussen and Cummings could break ground on Vine + Branch, one store already opened its doors. Mark Leichtle, along with his wife Jan, launched the first retail oil and vinegar store in Omaha, Old World Oil and Vinegar, in November 2012.

Suddenly, there was a different kind of oil boom in Omaha. Vine + Branch officially opened the first week of May, while two more stores, Chef2 (Chef Squared) and Oliverde, popped up on June 15 and August 17, respectively.

These store owners admitted they were in for a bit of a surprise when they found out about their competition, but none of them seemed 
too shocked.

“A city as large as Omaha certainly has competition,” says Rob Baker, manager of 
Oliverde Omaha.

Chef2 co-owner Michael Combs

Chef2 co-owner Michael Combs

Leichtle echoed Baker’s belief that this is a naturally occurring trend in a large market.

“All of these stores are opening, but maybe that means that it was time for that market to expand in Omaha,” says Leichtle.

Entering into a new market in Omaha can be daunting, but the owners of these four stores all had previous experience in the food and 
business industry.

Leichtle previously owned a restaurant in Oshkosh, Wis., and Rasmussen ran an Omaha coffee shop for several years. Oliverde is actually the third in a chain of stores from Colorado-based couple Kathy and Terry Kulsea. Baker helped the couple open both their Lincoln location in November 2012, as well as the 
Omaha Oliverde.

Meanwhile, the owners of Chef2 have used their personal backgrounds to try to set themselves apart from the crowd. Co-owners Michael Combs and Jim Trebbien are both professional chefs and have used their experience to merge their culinary knowledge with the convenience of retail in their store.

“When you go to Chef2, hopefully you get an experience, like, ‘wow, I’ve never tried that before, I’ve never done that, I didn’t know you could do this,’ or whatever,” says Combs.

The tasting experience is something that oil and vinegar stores rely heavily on, since not many customers have been exposed to the wide spectrum of sweet and savory that each product can fall under. All of these stores offer bread to use for tasting, sample recipes, cooking demonstrations, and other events to educate customers on using real olive oils and vinegars.

Leichtle admits he actually didn’t know much about oils and vinegars when he first started, but over time, he learned that they were easy to use. He describes balsamic vinegars as “upscale ketchup,” to convince customers that yes, these products really are simple.

When discussing how his competitors have affected his business, Leichtle says, “We’ve actually seemed to benefit from any kind of advertising our competitors do. There’s an increased awareness of the product now.”

He also feels that all four stores are spread out far enough geographically that they don’t draw from the same customer base: Old World Oil and Vinegar is located in Rockbrook Village, Vine + Branch in the Old Market, Chef2 in Midtown Crossing, and Oliverde in Village Pointe 
Shopping Center.

“They’ve all found their own little niches,” says Leichtle.

Rasmussen and Cummings had to alter their store vision of selling primarily oils and vinegars when they found a growing customer demand for wine tastings. Ten days after they opened their store, they decided to capitalize on that and immediately contacted a wine distributor.

As far as running her business, Rasmussen says, “I would say I fell back a lot on what I know about building a business and customer service, and building relationships and 
retaining customers.”

Baker emphasizes that Oliverde also prides itself on customer service, using its larger size and proven marketing techniques from two previous stores to its advantage. He will find a way to host cooking classes, private events, cater weddings, and pretty much any event a customer wants, to keep getting Oliverde’s name out.

“You’ve got to go right out to the customer,” says Baker. “We’ve got to give folks when they come in a reason to spend their money.”

For Combs’ store, smaller is better. He wants Chef2 to focus on maintaining a high-quality product line and stick to its original purpose: educating customers on fresh products, particularly oils and vinegars.

“We just believe that everyone should be able to taste what they want, and that fresh products and education are really big with us,” 
says Combs.

While the products may be fresh, the idea of oil and vinegar stores is becoming less unique, at least in Omaha. Of the four storeowners and one manager interviewed, only one thought that Omaha could support another specialty oil and vinegar store.

However all say they are happy with where their stores are right now, and all believe that they can survive even with competition. At least for the moment, don’t look for Oil & Vinegar Wars to be hitting The Food Network just yet.

The Reinvention of Retirement

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the past, many people began to contemplate retirement as they approached age 60. However, today’s Boomer generation is taking much the same approach to retirement as they did toward life and career choices in their 20s: They sought out jobs that would make them happy, fruitful, and independent.

And since today’s Baby Boomers are now in their 60s, as well as being 78 million strong, they have over a quarter of their lives yet to live. They are living life with the very same passion that they had in their 20s. Carbon copies of former retiring generations they are not. Instead, they are reinventing their lives and changing what we used to call retirement. Many are branching out into second careers with zest and highly anticipated enthusiasm. Personal choice, freedom, and individuality mark the Boomer generation in 2013.

One such person is Pastor Larry Peterson, 65, who was the executive pastor at Bellevue Christian Center from 2004 to 2011. He then stepped down to pastor the 250-300 seniors in his church community. He also presides over the faculty and business aspects of the church and center. Formerly, he had successful military and business careers that allowed him to travel to many places.


Larry Peterson, former pastor

“Despite my life experiences, I felt that there was a void that I just couldn’t explain nor fulfill,” says Peterson. After settling in Bellevue, his soul and faith in humankind deepened as a result of everything that he had previously learned in his earlier careers. It was that enlightenment that became the vessel that would lead him onto his next journey.

Now in his third career path, he has truly found his calling in life.

Photography is also a passion of Peterson’s. That’s just one more path that he travels. Peterson keeps active by playing softball on a team for seniors called “Midwest Express.” His team recently placed fifth in the nation.

Another boomer who decided to follow her dreams and to transform her life is Dr. Kathy DeFord, 60, who now has her own dental practice in Papillion, DeFord Family Dental.

Her first career started out as a stay-at-home mom to four children. “When our children were all in school, I got a part-time job working in a dental office doing light office work. Occasionally, the dentist would have me help him with a patient when his dental assistant was busy. I loved those times. I asked him if he would train me in dental assisting and he agreed.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

“One evening when my husband, David, and I were sitting at the dinner table chatting about the days’ events, I mentioned casually that if I could have any job, I would work as a dentist.

“At that moment, I had a silent but strong impression that this was something that I should pursue. I had not been in school for over 20 years. I enrolled in Houston Community College to brush up and eventually was accepted into the Honors’ College at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. I graduated from Creighton School of Dentistry in 2001; the same year two of our sons graduated from college and our youngest son graduated from high school. I spent several years with a group dental practice, Dundee Family Dental, before opening DeFord Family Dental in Papillion. I really enjoy my work,” DeFord says with a smile. “This is my heartfelt destiny.”

Having her own dental practice has been extremely rewarding, DeFord shares, “I have always loved working with my hands and helping people.”

DeFord spends her spare time keeping active visiting her four children that are spread out all over the country. Every three years she plans a family reunion at a different destination. A quiet retirement at home for her…no way!

Many potential retirees are pursuing new businesses ventures late in life as well. Mark Leichtle, 61, has gone from firm administrator in a large Omaha law firm to becoming the proprietor of the Old World Oil and Vinegar store in Rockbrock Village shopping center.

Leichtle has dozens upon dozens of mouth-watering flavored vinegars and oils to delight your palette and expand your cooking and eating pleasure. He also has many varieties of dried exotic mushrooms and special sea salts from all over the world.

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers.” – Mark Leichtle, owner of Old World Oil & Vinegar

When asked how he decided to go into this type of business after a long and fruitful career, Leichtle says that several things in his life had led him to what he’s now doing (and loving it!).

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers,” says Leichtle. “I enjoyed it so much and never forgot the wonderful experience of making food so delicious.”

Leichtle and his wife have a daughter in Minneapolis who showed them many stores that carried fine olive oils and aromatic vinegars. This awakened his love for cooking and using those special vinegars and fine oils that he once used in his earlier years. It was then that he began a quest for finding more specialty food stores all over the country and learning more about the newest and most delectable oils, vinegars, mushrooms, and sea salts available. Thus, came the inspiration for his store.

As you have read above, Omaha’s boomers are truly forever young and fervent about recreating and reinventing their retirement years. They have new career paths, vitality, enjoyment, and most of all, time to seek out passions and fall in love again with life.