No More Empty Cups: Coffee, Culture and Community

No More Empty Cups is a small coffee shop just south of downtown, located on 10th Street in historic Little Italy, Omaha. The coffee shop—which is celebrating their two year anniversary this month—is part of No More Empty Pots, which is a food security non-profit based out of North Omaha.

They work with local growers and students, teaching them how to grow and cook, in an effort to help decrease food deserts in North Omaha and hopefully grow to encompass the whole entire Omaha area.

John Jelinek is the marketing manager of No More Empty Pots and also frequents the coffee shop for a good cup of joe.

“Ah, so No More Empty Cups supports that mission of No More Empty Pots. So any money that we make goes towards supporting the mission of No More Empty Pots,” said Jelinek.

No More Empty Pots has a strong community outreach providing training in commercial kitchens for people interested in entering the food industry. No More Empty Cups is another way for the mission of No More Empty Pots to be introduced to Omaha.

“And we have a community space here for people to use to maybe learn more about cooking and participating in events that we have,” said Jelinek.

They have a walking club as well as a book club that meets at the shop. They also have a local foods meet up where people get to learn more about farm-to-table and sample items made in the area or by Nebraska producers.

“But it’s also a way to learn about, you know, really what our mission is,” said Jelinek. “Just being part of the community, we have a lot of regulars who come in. It’s also neat that all of our employees, all of our baristas, myself—we live in the neighborhood. So, you get to know people who are walking around, you see them in the shop and it’s a good way to just be apart of the community.”

“We’re working with three providers. One is Archetype Coffee, which is the best coffee in Omaha. They provide our coffee for us. Our teas mostly come from The Tea Smith, which is a local organization. And then we’re working with a local urban farm called Benson Bounty and we’re going to be having some of their items for sale. They do a lot of herbal teas, syrups, that type of thing. And then we’re also working to grow the foods that we provide will be made by local producers,” said Jelinek.

No More Empty Cups is more than just a coffee shop. It’s a welcoming and inclusive community engagement space. It’s a place where coffee, culture and community join together.

 

Celebrating Three Years of Yoga at Soul Elevations

Soul Elevations is a yoga studio located on historic 10th Street offering yoga, meditation, breath work classes, Reiki and more.

Before opening her studio, owner Tami Hoffman was always on the go. She was doing readings and Reiki out of her own home, and teaching classes at multiple rented spaces. She’s worked for Hyp-Yoga, taught yoga at elementary schools and after school programs, and volunteered her time instructing yoga at the Lydia House.

She’d also dabbled in corporate events, teaching a couple yoga classes at LinkedIn, some for a law firm, and lunch yoga sessions for an engineering company.

She was constantly traveling all over and decided it was time to give her practice a home. The studio just celebrated its three-year anniversary this March. She’s enjoyed her time since moving downtown in the Little Italy area.

“I think I’ve just been really surprised by the diversity and how warm people are—like they, they want to know—neighbors know each other. And I love the location and how close it is to everything,” said Hoffman.

The studio offers a variety of yoga classes for all learners, both young and old. Whether through her Little Mystics children’s yoga class, guided or crystal bowl meditation classes, gentle yoga, early morning yoga and tea class, or intermediate yoga, each class is small and intimate.

“I love all my classes. Maybe the one that my soul’s drawn to the most would be when I do my breath workshops. It’s integrated breath work and it’s an all day workshop. I think the reason it’s my favorite is because it really gets to the heart of things and it allows me to really get close to people,” said Hoffman.

For the UNO School of Communication, I’m Kaity Jankovich.

 

The Tenth Street Market: Where Little Italy Meets Little Bohemia

The Tenth Street Market is a public market set to open by fall 2018. Located on historic 10th Street, it’s “where Little Italy meets Little Bohemia.”

Laura Hall is a marketing and development specialist at Vic Gutman & Associates, the development company behind the new public market. She’s also the project coordinator for the Tenth Street Market.

The market will be open year-round and offer spaces for local entrepreneurs to grow their food businesses. The community can look forward to a variety of affordable, healthy food options.

“The types of vendors that you can expect to see are things like are bread bakeries and sweet bakeries, small scale butcher, a seafood market, produce. We’ll have vendors that sell herbs and spices, dairy and cheese products, and prepared foods focusing on different kinds of ethnic foods,” said Hall.

Hall said they will also have vendors including coffee roasters, a honey vendor, a florist and other prepared foods such as granola, jerky and popcorn customers can enjoy while perusing the market.

“There’s a local brewery that we’ve been talking with that’s interested in doing their production on site. We would have the opportunity to do tours of their production space. We do plan on having a liquor license throughout the whole building too, so people will be able to get a glass of wine or a beer and kind of walk around and do their shopping,” said Hall.

Hall said not only will this help fill the need for a food market in the area, but will also be a great gathering space and place for meeting new people—benefiting both the community and market entrepreneurs.

For the UNO School of Communication, I’m Kaity Jankovich.

St. Frances Cabrini: From 1857 to Now

St. Frances Cabrini is home to Little Italy on the corner of 10th and Williams Street. Although it isn’t the first Catholic church to build in Omaha, it is the first Catholic parish in Omaha. The church’s history dates all the way back to 1857. It’s a historic site and on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Father Damian Zuerlein is the current priest at St. Frances Cabrini. After his term limit was up at St. Columbkille, he was sent by the archbishop to reinvigorate the parish. It will be Fr. Damian’s two-year anniversary at the parish come this July.

“When the archbishop asked me to help, I snuck in on a Sunday. There were around 30 people at mass, which is not very many,” said Fr. Damian. “Now we probably have around 120-150 people at each mass.”

It has been Fr. Damian’s mission to draw in more families, youth and millennials. He loves the new parish, the area and feels blessed with the job he has.

“I love working with people and the issues they present—their struggles and their joys. Walking with people in the journey of life, I always think, I have a great job,” said Fr. Damian. “I get to be with people, form community, and form relationships. I get to bring people together and engage them in their spiritual journey.”

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St. Frances Cabrini church draws in people from Little Italy, the Old Market, northern downtown Omaha, South Omaha and some “old time” Italians who live all over town who grew up in the area, according to Fr. Damian. Those who committed their time here growing up in the neighborhood continue to come back here and bring their families every Sunday.

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Fr. Damian’s favorite crowd of church-goers attend the 11 a.m. mass. It’s a very diverse bunch.

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At full capacity the church fits about 300 people. Here is a view of the church from above, where the pipe organs are.

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One of the most colorful and intricate stained glass windows faces the front of the church. The organs, some of which are the originals from 1857 (and unfortunately no longer work), are in close proximity to the window.

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Only a few original Tiffany-style stained glass windows from 1857 are left in the church. At the bottom of these dated windows, each said “In memory of…”

6 original alter from 1857

The altar at St. Francis Cabrini is from the original 1857 church. It’s made from black and white marble, imported from Italy.

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A breathtakingly beautiful mural is painted above the altar. The gold cross at the bottom of the image is part of the altar.

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As you enter the church to the right is a glass case. Behind the glass case (from left to right) sits Saint Patrick, Saint Lucia, and Saint Frances of Rome. The church has ties to both Irish and Roman Catholicism.

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Fr. Damian stated how Saint Lucia was one of the world’s first radical feminists. She was a Roman Catholic martyr. She refused to be treated like property and disagreed with arranged marriages. For that, it is said, according to Fr. Damian, her eyes were gouged out, hence why she’s holding a chalice of two eyeballs.

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In the sacristy room (where the priest and altar boys prepare for service), Fr. Damian gets inspiration from the photo of Pope Francis, which hangs to the right of the door. “Yep, that’s my boss,” joked Fr. Damian.

98 Years of Tradition: Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria

Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria first opened their doors to the Little Italy community 98 years ago. It’s one of the last remaining landmarks in the historic area. In 2019 the company will be celebrating their 100-year anniversary. Nearly a century’s worth of memories, the bakery has adapted through many changes including many owners, some family and some friends. One thing has never changed though—the location. The neighborhood staple has remained on the corner of Sixth and Pacific Street.

The founder, Alfonso Orsi, started up the business in 1919, retired in 1949 and passed down the business to his son, Claudio Orsi, who ran the bakery until 1987. After that, Bob Orsi took over. His son, Bob Orsi Jr., continued the legacy and bought the bakery with Jim Hall and their wives in 2006. Four years later Bob Orsi Jr. sold his share of the bakery to Jim Hall. Jim, his wife and team have been running the place ever since.

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An entire wall in the entry of the restaurant is decorated with memorabilia of the restaurant and photos from the neighborhood over the years.

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The company rebuilt the entire bakery from the ground up after a fire burned down the place in 1997. A framed news clipping about the fire hangs on a wall of many photos in the front of the restaurant.

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In between answering phone calls and taking orders even during the slowest part of the day, Jim explained the process of making bread. The day starts early at 4:30 in the morning, when he starts mixing the dough.

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The dough rises in the large proof box for 25-30 minutes, and then they weigh it out and roll each loaf by hand. Fun fact: It’s the same recipe from 1919.

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The rolled dough then goes into a smaller proof box that can fit rows and rows of dough. After closing the box, they place it by the oven to help the dough rise.

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Because in the morning it’s a bit chilly in the bakery, they have to place the second proof box near the oven as the ovens provide the only source of heat. Dough is very tricky to play with depending on the heat and moisture levels in the air.

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After proofing one more time, the dough goes into the oven on one of five rotating shelves. They cook the bread at 425 degrees.

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After cooking, the bread sits and cools on the racks before being sliced and packaged.

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Jim is no rookie to making bread. Since 1967, Jim started coming down to work at the bakery at 8 years old where he’d help wrap up the bread and deliver to local grocers.

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On average, they bake 400 loaves of bread a day. On the weekend they bake 600 loaves of bread a day on average. In the past, they used to bake 3,000 to 4,000 loaves a day when they were still baking for grocery stores.

Little Italy: Through the Eyes of the Community – Kindness and Culture

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Daniel Thompson III and his dog, Bob, resting on Grace University’s campus after a long summertime walk around and game of fetch-the-stick.

“I’ve lived in my current home in Little Italy for the past almost two years,” said Daniel Thompson III. “But I’ve lived in this area pretty much since I moved here from Michigan.”

After Thompson graduated with a degree in Photojournalism from Central Michigan University, he packed his bags and moved to Nebraska to work for his friend’s studio, Make Believe Studios. At first he found an apartment in the central part of Omaha, but it was noisy and didn’t have much culture attached to it.

It didn’t take long before he jumped at the opportunity to move to Little Italy with close friends, which a few have become business partners over the years. In 2011 Thompson moved into the area and hasn’t left since.

“Before the place I’m at now, I lived up the street close to Grace University’s quiet campus with some creative friends who were mainly into music and art,” said Thompson. “And before that house on Pine Street, I lived a few blocks in a row house on Hickory Street.”

Thompson said there’s something about the area that’s kept him here as opposed to other eclectic areas like Dundee or Benson. Part of the reason he’s enjoyed the neighborhood is living so close to his business. Thompson is the Creative Director and co-owner of Make Believe New Media (MBNM). He recently moved the business, but from early 2014 to December of 2016, the MBNM office—what he referred to as his second home—was on historic 10th Street.

“Living within a few minutes from and being able to walk to your work is something everyone probably would appreciate,” said Thompson.

Thompson also enjoyed the flexibility of being able to run home on lunch breaks and spend some quality time outside running around with his dog, Bob. There are many options of taking his dog on a walk whether through Dahlman Park, through Grace University’s campus, down to ConAgra Park or the Old Market.

“Bob loves running through this one open field at the campus. During the summer when the weather is perfect, it’s just what he needs,” said Thompson. “Border Collies need tons of exercise and with Dahlman and the campus so close it helps keep him busy whether he’s chasing squirrels or rabbits.”

Thompson joked that it’s not the dog that he’s walking but the dog that forces Dan to get out and enjoy the scenery.

“The views we have at the place we’re at now are great. If we walk up the street at the top of the hill we’re able to get a perfect view of downtown, the Old Market, and the ConAgra Park water fountain when it’s lit up at night,” said Thompson.

He said during the summer he’s even able to hear the Stir Cove concerts across the river.

“If it’s quiet enough you can hear some of the animals at the zoo early in the morning, too,” said Thompson.

The houses and older apartments down here aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking for stainless steel appliances, brand new flooring and Ikea cabinets look elsewhere, and expect to pay a ton. They’re old, he said, 100 plus years old.

“The place I’m at now is 102 years old,” said Thompson. “From what I’ve heard from the landlord and neighbors who’ve lived here for decades, these houses we live in lined up down the street used to have a tunnel connecting all the way down the street. They used it for bootlegging liquor beneath the streets during prohibition.”

In the basement there is a boarded up part of the wall covering that tunnel entrance. The history attached to the houses, the local shops like Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria and more are a big reason he likes the area. Shop owners and neighbors have become friends—whether hosting neighbor-night bonfires, catching up with the neighborhood “grandma” down the street. The area is only getting better as time goes on. New families and businesses are settling in and it’s nice to see the progress, he shared.

“The places here have got so much character and memories attached to them,” said Thompson. “From neighbors who have given me dog food when I first got Bob as a puppy, or the bakery down the street that gives me an occasional free loaf of bread, I’ve never seen as much kindness anywhere in Omaha as much as I have down here.”

Little Italy: Through the Eyes of the Community – A Hidden Gem

“My last name is spelled P-I-E-R-C-E, just like the street down here,” said Christina Pierce.

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Map of Little Italy, Omaha

Pierce is a licensed massage therapist (LMT) in Little Italy—an Omaha, Nebraska neighborhood she’s spent nearly 30 years of her life growing up in. She’s lived through and witnessed three decades of change in the historic neighborhood and surrounding area.

Running her at-home practice, Omaha Ashiatsu & Bodywork, has its own special connection to the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Little Italy has its unique characteristics and sounds such as the train tracks just down the road.

“The sounds of the trains, even when I’m doing my massage I can hear them sometimes and it blends—to me, it’s like music to my ears—with the [background] music and everything else,” said Pierce. “Little Italy. It’s a hidden gem.”

Her parents moved into their home in Little Italy two years before she was born. At 17 years old, Pierce moved out from her childhood home for six years but didn’t move beyond east of 50th Street. She still stayed connected to the area. As you can imagine, a lot of change can happen in just five years, in ten, or thirty. With additions like Via Farina, the Blue Barn Theater, and soon-to-be Tenth Street Market it’s coming around to be a better area for business. Although the area is a few miles from the Old Market, it’s close enough to walk to and enjoy all the city has to offer but far enough away from the busy downtown hustle and bustle. The area is quiet, quaint, and it’s slowly changing.

“I’m just now seeing change,” said Pierce. “I suppose the biggest moment of change was when they tore down Caniglia’s where I worked as a busser when I was 16.”

The long-standing restaurant closed in 2005. The Caniglia family’s history in Omaha began in the 1910s running a bakery in Little Italy. From the bakery, it became Caniglia’s Pizzaria, then later became a steakhouse called the Original Caniglia’s, located near Seventh and Pierce Streets in 1946, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Some of Pierce’s favorite memories through the years include sledding the snowy hills at Dahlman Park each winter, or visits to Olsen Bake Shop for doughnuts, eating great Italian food at Angie’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge (which closed in 2007), or celebrating special family events at Cascio’s Steakhouse—“a delicious Omaha landmark”. With its bright pink neon sign, Cascio’s Steakhouse is notably busy with packed parking lots every weekend. How does the steakhouse stay so busy?

“There’s no other reason. It’s tradition,” said Pierce.

Tradition has kept a lot of restaurants open and running in the neighborhood, but only few have remained. Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria on the corner of Sixth and Pacific Street is one example. It’s truly one of the last remaining landmarks, founded in 1919. Staple restaurants have come and go, but Pierce believes the current changes and additions to the area are bettering the neighborhood.

“I see younger creative people taking to this area, which is heartwarming for me personally because I think there is such a beauty and a rarity in this part of town that takes a certain type of person to really appreciate,” Pierce said.

Pierce believes when the Tenth Street Market, a year-round indoor farmer’s market, officially opens it’ll shift many things in the neighborhood. For those who live in the downtown Omaha area there aren’t many options for grocery stores nearby. If you build it they will come.

“I see Little Italy becoming a new hot spot. Not like Benson because all the attractions or restaurants here aren’t on one street,” said Pierce. “Maybe like a new Blackstone district. Within the next five years I see this being an even better neighborhood for young families, with good grocers nearby, activities in the arts, and a thriving food industry. It’s still close to the zoo and as far as schools, they’re building an elementary school near Grace University soon.”