Tag Archives: Molly Skold

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

Retail Centers

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Malone & Co.

For some of the Omaha area’s newest and most cutting-edge retail developments, 2012 was a successful year during a time when the national economic climate was still uncertain, and 2013 is so far looking good, say representatives.

“Both shopping centers had solid sales performances overall for 2012 and the 2012 holiday season, and of course, some retailers reported considerable sales increases compared to last year,” says Kim Jones, marketing director for both Shadow Lake Towne Center, located at 72nd Street and Highway 370 in Papillion, and Village Pointe, located at 168th Street and West Dodge Road in Omaha. The two developments are managed and leased by RED Development, based in Phoenix, Ariz.

“Both centers welcomed new tenants in 2012. And we will be making announcements for both properties soon. There’s a great interest in both shopping centers and that just means that retail is certainly coming back after we’ve had some leaner years during the recession.”

“If we look at year-over-year sales development-wide, we saw retail sales up 12 percent. I think our retailers will tell you, they’re happy and cautiously optimistic about the future, given the trend lines,” says Molly Skold, marketing director for Midtown Crossing in the Turner Park area near 33rd and Farnam streets. “Our anchor tenants are also doing well. Wohlner’s (Grocery and Deli) was up 31 percent in March, year-over-year, and Element, Marcus, and Prairie Life have all seen double-digit growth.

“Our condo sales are doing extremely well also. From January to April 2013, we have had 18 new contracts; that’s a 63 percent increase, year-over-year, from 2012.”

Regarding plans for 2013, Skold adds: “We currently have two letters of intent from potential retail tenants. Tenants looking at our development are service-type tenants and specialty stores. And we have an olive oil concept store, Chef Squared, opening in June.”

The 2012 retail year wasn’t without its challenges. One retail sector that has struggled somewhat is apparel, Skold reports, and its performance has slightly modified the outlook for Midtown Crossing’s development.

“The apparel industry nationwide has performed lower than expectations. In 2012, we actually saw one of our apparel stores close its doors, a national chain,” she says. “The apparel industry is opening fewer and fewer stores nationwide. We would have thought that, at this point, we’d have more boutiques or apparel stores.”

“Having community ties is very important to us because we want to make sure that our community knows that we’re invested and that we want to serve them beyond just providing great retail.” – Kim Jones, marketing director with Shadow Lake Towne Center and Village Pointe

However, the apparel sector may be gaining some steam in 2013, Skold says. “Currently, we have five apparel retailers interested in specific spaces—doing drawings, looking at plans, expansions, etc. We are encouraged by the activity.”

Another ongoing concern in the retail industry is that online shopping, which continues to grow, may funnel away sales from its tangible counterpart—shopping centers and freestanding stores. Jones says, however, that there is plenty of room for both channels. “While online sales are certainly not going away, you can continue to see lots of brick-and-mortar and online retailing in concert together, so it’s really just giving the shopper more of an advantage,” she says.

Both Skold and Jones say some of the success of their respective developments lies in how they are structured to reach beyond merely retail services to support a lifestyle and serve as neighborhoods in and of themselves.

“The lifestyle center is currently predominant, but you’ll see it evolve in what kind of tenants it brings in. In some cases, it will hybridize. For example, Shadow Lake is a hybrid with the power center, which is on the perimeter with the big boxes, while the lifestyle center is on the main street,” Jones explains. “So together they offer a different kind of shopping center for Papillion and the community beyond.”

Skold says Midtown Crossing’s growth and development centered around four anchors, with restaurants and retailers developing out next, and service providers coming onboard more recently to round out the development as it passes 90 percent occupancy.

“Those last 10 percent of types of retailers we’ll be looking for are those service-type of stores that really will be providing services and products to our guests and visitors and residents alike,” Skold says, adding that 2012 events and activities, including the new holiday celebration Miracle on Farnam and the summer Architects of Air exhibit, add to Midtown Crossing’s ambiance and image. “I think we have moved from development to a neighborhood,” she says. “I think we have met our goal of Midtown becoming a destination rather than a pass-through.”

Midtown Crossing will also open The Pavilion at Turner Park, which will provide a permanent stage and infrastructure to the center, ideal to host many entertainment and shopping events on the grounds and predicted to draw many new shoppers. “The Pavilion is a stunning addition to Omaha’s Turner Park,” Skold says. “Omahans are in for truly amazing treat!” The structure is scheduled to be complete by the first Jazz on the Green concert July 11th.

Creating community spirit is also an important part of Village Pointe’s and Shadow Lake Towne Center’s identities, Jones says.

“Having community ties is very important to us because we want to make sure that our community knows that we’re invested and that we want to serve them beyond just providing great retail,” Jones explains. “We want to be a place where they come even if they’re not going to shop. It may be to enjoy one of the concerts during one of our concert series or an event that’s going on like a charity walk or something of that nature, or various attractions we have throughout the year. So while they’re retail centers, we also like to consider them community centers.”