Tag Archives: repurpose

Soap Dreams

December 7, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Cook was working at Dundee’s Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob when a crowded kabob machine fat trap got him thinking ruefully about the sheer magnitude of the goop that went to waste. So, naturally, he decided to make it into soap.

Perhaps a slight leap of reason, but Cook and Benson Soap Mill co-owner, Tim Maides, quickly realized they were onto something special—creating eco-friendly, handcrafted soap from local, recycled ingredients.

Cook says their foremost commitment is to a global-friendly, sustainable business.

“That’s our ethos,” he says. “It’s about how we can access local, unused resources to create something valuable.”

“We both have culinary backgrounds,” says Maides, “so that’s a prevalent theme. You always want to use everything you have and can get your hands on. Even our labels are recycled paper bags that we stamp and repurpose.”

Cook pushed beyond his original fat-spiration, studying the chemistry of soap-making and exploring superior fat sources from which to render tallow for soap.

“We started collecting from restaurants doing in-house butchering,” says Cook. “Talking to chefs, we realized how much fresh, high-quality, unprocessed, excess fat is just literally being thrown in the trash. It’s dozens of pounds per hog per restaurant, everywhere.”

“Bryce (Coulton) from French Bulldog really got us started,” says Maides. Cook concurs, calling Coulton a “very encouraging mentor.”

The duo practiced rendering high-quality, fresh tallow, while also exploring regional nut and seed oils. By summer 2013, Benson Soap Mill sold its first bars, fittingly, at Benson Days.

Early on, batches were made in one huge block then cut into bars with wire or a samurai sword. While a decidedly hilarious tool for the job, the sword produced inconsistent bars, so Maides suggested moving to 4-ounce silicone molds, guaranteeing a uniform size and shape.

“Our soap is a unique, Midwestern soap,” says Maides, “because we’re using our own formula and not importing the same oils everyone else uses.”

Cook believes the positive feedback on their soap is due to quality materials, plus the absence of chemicals, detergents, and unnatural ingredients. Reading the ingredients of commercial soaps is enough to make one stop gleefully singing in the shower and start pursuing an advanced chemistry degree to decipher the contents. Counter to that, Benson Soap Mill’s Coffee Soap, for example, includes Blue Line Coffee grounds, sweet almond oil, and purified tallow. Period.

Other varieties include a red clay-colored Benson Bar and a black-flecked, navy blue Charcoal Soap, made with Nebraskan hardwood charcoal. There’s also Peppermint, Citrus-Ginger, Tea Tree, and more. Each variety has no more than five (totally comprehensible) ingredients and is made in small, patiently cured batches.

“[In the future] we want to forage and distill naturally growing wild plants in Western Nebraska and create own our own scent patterns, unique to the region,” says Maides.

Cook envisions expanding that template nationwide, using each area’s local fats, nut and seed oils, herbs, spices, mosses, and flowers.

“We’re always learning, getting better and more efficient,” says Cook, “which will ultimately allow us to broaden our comprehensive, sustainable concept.”

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Repurpose

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, The Salvation Army, and Nebraska Humane Society

A good location often draws businesses to established neighborhoods. Repurposing an existing building can also revitalize a neighborhood, a lofty goal that could bring tax benefits to a business that qualifies for the City of Omaha’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for property in certain areas. (Read the guidelines about qualifying for TIF and also see if a property falls within the community redevelopment area at cityofomaha.org/planning.)

The advantages of repurposing commercial properties are plentiful. Here are a few examples of repurposed buildings that have paid dividends across the board.

A Landmark Preserved—The Residence Inn by Marriott Omaha Downtown 

An example of TIF financing sits at 106 S. 15th St. The Residence Inn, scheduled for a September opening, in an Art Deco building that has housed many federal agencies since 1934. The last occupant, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, moved out in July 2008.

Location was a key factor in the building’s choice. “The location was a prime position for the type of hotel we wanted to develop—an extended-stay hotel for a mixture of business and leisure guests,” says General Manager Kyle Highberg. The estimated $24 million renovation presented unique challenges. “Our architects and developers spent countless months designing each room, each space, and each feature.”

The Federal Building is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. “We worked in conjunction with them to make sure we were maintaining the historical integrity of the building,” he says. If a building can be preserved, it should, Highberg adds. “I think it presents a certain social responsibility to do so when we can.”

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Dingman’s Collision Center is now housed in the space formerly occupied by Cougar Lanes Bowling Alley.

It Takes Vision—Dingman’s Collision Center

Boyd Dingman believes that vision is the secret to successfully repurposing a building. A water bottling plant on Saddle Creek Road became his first Dingman’s Collision Center in 1996. In 2005, he bought his second location near 120th and Maple streets that started life as a mechanical shop.

Renovating his third location three years ago presented special challenges. But Dingman liked the site. The building near 144th and West Center streets was formerly Cougar Lanes Bowling Alley.

Renovation was not easy. The 25 bowling lanes were removed and lowered. Walls were torn out. The roof, parking lot, sewers, and concrete were repaired. The $1 million renovation of the structure that was built in 1968 took four months.

Dingman is now making plans for a fourth repurposed building for his business, which he runs with help from his two sons and daughter.

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Nebraska Humane Society’s building was formerly a Food4Less supermarket.

Location, Location, Location—Nebraska Humane Society 

When the Nebraska Humane Society was ready to move, President and CEO Judy Varner looked at property farther west and also considered new construction. But instead the shelter simply moved next door to a 63,000-square-foot building at 8929 Fort St. that sat empty—a former
Food4Less supermarket.

“We do a lot of business at the courthouse and downtown, so moving west would have been a problem,” she says. “Due to the proximity of this building to our old home, we were able to involve the staff in the design of the new space, which was great for team building.”

Major renovations included plumbing, acoustical, and HVAC.

The Nebraska Humane Society now has four repurposed buildings on its campus. The spay/neuter clinic used to be a bank, and the education building once was a strip mall. The former shelter is now used for animal control offices, overflow for rescue efforts, boarding, daycare, and grooming.

A History of Repurposing—The Salvation Army 

The Salvation Army has twice repurposed buildings. In 1991, the former Methodist Hospital at 36th and Cuming streets became the Renaissance Center, home to Western Division headquarters and social service programs.

After programs grew from seven to 20, The Salvation Army bought two former FBI buildings in the Old Mill area for $2.4 million and moved the divisional headquarters from the Renaissance Center in 2012 to make room for the new programs.

But after learning that bringing the Renaissance Center up to code would cost $35 million and a new structure would cost only $17 million, including demolition, The Salvation Army decided the building’s life was over after 107 years. A capital campaign to raise funds for a new social services building is underway.

Repurposing a Neighborhood—The Kroc Center 

The Wilson Packing Plant in South Omaha became dilapidated after closing in 1976. Repurposing the century-old building was out of the question. But revitalizing the neighborhood was not. The Salvation Army bought the land, equivalent to six city blocks, to build a new community center with funds donated by philanthropist Joan Kroc.

“It had been nothing but an eyesore,” says Madeline Moyer, business services director for the Omaha Kroc Center. “Police will tell you that the only thing you saw in two nearby city parks were gang initiations.”

The Kroc Center opened in January 2010 and changed the neighborhood. “Now you see people playing in the park,” says Moyer. “One resident said we were a beacon of hope for this community.”