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Weekly Market Report – June 2, 2022
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Restaurant & Retail Updates
Bawarchi Indian Cuisine, an Indian restaurant chain with 50 locations, will open this month at 17903 Pierce Plaza (180th & Pacific Street) in the former Sea Thai space. Bawarchi means “The Chef” in Hindi. The restaurant will serve first-class, authentic dum Biryanis, curries, appetizers, Tandoori sizzlers, fresh bread, Indian breakfast items, and desserts. The closest existing Bawarchi locations are in Kansas City and Des Moines, Iowa. The Omaha franchisee also owns Astoria Biryani House near 108th & Q Street.
CTRL Coffee & Cereal Bar is now open downtown on 10th Street just north of Pacific.
The Village Inn at 138th & West Maple Road has been closed for some time. The casual-dining restaurant plans to reopen soon with a new feature: a mimosa bar.
Restaurant Closings – Several restaurants have closed permanently: Hunger Block in Rockbrook Village; Angus Burgers and Shakes in Gretna; and Spudnutz, a doughnut shop in Elkhorn.
Wood framing is in place for the future Little King restaurant under construction at 86th & West Dodge Road.
Central Skate Shop has opened at the northeast corner of 59th & Maple Street in downtown Benson. The store sells skateboarding products and apparel.
Dragon Wok’s new Nebraska Crossing location is scheduled to open late this month. On June 25th, the Grow Omaha show will broadcast live from the new location. The original Dragon Wok is located near 144th & Fort Street.
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Grow Omaha Eats with
Sarah Baker Hansen
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At Koji, small skewers of meat are pushing Omaha’s dining scene forward
Omaha’s food scene, and Omahans, have had a tough two years. We’ve lost restaurants. We’ve done our damndest to keep our local chefs and favorite spots in business. We’ve ordered a hell of a lot of takeout.
Which is one reason it felt like such a gift when Koji, chef David Utterback’s adventurous new spot in Countryside Village, opened in May. Here, at long last, a talented chef is trying something different. He’s introducing a whole new category of cuisine – in Koji’s case, Japanese skewered and barbecued meats and seafood – to a city that’s never seen it before.
Utterback has already leveled up our city’s game once with his sushi spot in Benson, Yoshitomo. Now, in 2022, he’s pushing us forward again. That, I think, deserves some special attention.
Omaha, meet yakitori.
“For me, yakitori is like, one of my absolute favorite foods,” Utterback told me after my two recent visits to Koji, 8718 Pacific St. “Whenever I travel, the first thing I do is look and see if the city has a yakitori joint I can go to. Nine times out of ten, it does not.”
Partially for selfish reasons, Utterback wanted to change that in Omaha.
Koji’s yakitori program — yakitori translates from Japanese as “grilled bird” — focuses mostly on the traditional meat, chicken. Featured are chicken thigh, wing and breast done several different ways, including as meatballs and with curry. There are also more obscure cuts, like chicken heart, skin, oysters and belly.
There’s also skewered seafood, including tiny, dark red whole octopus, and other rare, unusual items that are all included on a weekly “mazurashi” limited menu. Sometimes there’s only one or two skewers of each available during a typical night of service.
For the sushi lovers, Koji offers a sort of “greatest hits” list from Yoshitomo, including most of the rolls, a selection of nigiri sushi and several new items: larger, made-to-order temaki handrolls and new hot and cold plates sized for sharing.
During our visits, my dining partner and husband, Matthew, and I tried the entire regular yakitori menu and several of the rare cuts, depending on what was available.
Our lineup of favorites included a juicy chicken breast coated in a flavorful green curry; a smoky, crisp chicken meatball with a tender center and crispy exterior served with an unusual cold egg yolk-based sauce; and the chicken belly, off the limited menu.
I’d never heard of chicken belly, and Utterback told me later it takes six of the chickens butchered in-house to make just one order. The belly has the juiciness and flavor of a chicken thigh, but with a touch more chew and a whole lot of char, thanks to the kitchen’s Japanese barbecue setup (more on that shortly.)
I also fell for some of the more unusual cuts: a skewer of chicken hearts is an intense, savory experience. The organ meat is dense and rich. (Matthew wouldn’t know, as he chickened out on chicken heart.)
The tiny, dark red whole octopus on the kitchen’s only seafood skewer bursts with flavor (and juice) when you bite into one. And though I never did get my hand on the chicken oysters, which Utterback said sell out almost instantly every night, I know I want an order at some point. They’re one of the juiciest, tenderest cuts on the whole bird.
Chef Dylan Espinoza runs the yakitori grill at Koji, which is called a konro, and runs off specific, low-smoke Japanese charcoal called binchotan. Every night you’ll see Espinoza carefully fanning those coals with a hand-held fan, flipping them gently and moving them around the grill. It’s a fun process to watch from a seat at the bar.
Utterback said the barbecue runs exceptionally hot, but creates smoke only when chicken fat drips on the binchotan.
“The chicken is bathed in its own chicken fat smoke,” he said. “It creates a really intense chicken flavor.”
It sure does. Each skewer, though created from the same bird, has its own texture and its own distinct flavor profile. Utterback said as the kitchen gets better at butchering chickens, it will have access to even more obscure cuts of meat, which equate to even more yakitori options. That is something to look forward to.
The only hiccup we ran into was near the end of the second visit, when we ordered two sushi rolls we hadn’t had before, both torched. While the flavors of both the Maru roll and the Osaka roll are good, and the ingredients are clearly quality, the execution was the issue.
Both rolls were sloppily plated (this surprised me, if I’m honest), and almost immediately fell apart when we tried to eat them. Utterback told me later that the majority of his sushi staff at Koji is new to the job, and that some have only a few weeks of experience at most.
Utterback is a playful, creative chef, and the menu at Koji proves this yet again. Three dishes in particular, I think, get there: the first is the salad, where he bathes regular old mixed greens in a Caesar-inspired egg yolk dressing, then absolutely assaults the bowl with finely shredded Parmesan cheese and a scattering of super crispy fried garlic.
The Rosella, on the hot plate list, is an interesting study in texture: hot, crispy rice meets cool chunks of tomatillo, all of it bathed in an egg yolk sauce. The spices here are bordering on Mexican fusion, but in the best possible way. It’s got the right contrast.
Another fun work-in-progress is the kon-cheese, a take on a Korean cheese and corn bar snack that arrived bubbling hot in a cast iron skillet. Ever impatient, I burned my mouth on the first few bites and didn’t stop from there.
Utterback confirmed my suspicion that this dish was still evolving; it needed some type of carbohydrate or otherwise bready dipping tool, and he’s working on that, with plans to morph the dish into a flatbread in the coming weeks. He’s also changed the name, from Kon-Cheese to “Korn.”
Espinoza, the yakitori chef, has a background in pizza — he ran a pizza restaurant in Seattle — which explains the glorious pepperoni pizza vibe both Matthew and I got from the skillet of corn, molten mozzarella, chili and tajin. It’s one of the more interesting dishes we’ve tried in Omaha in a minute. It was good, and I suspect it will soon be great.
Another new menu item are the large-sized, made to order hand rolls, a dish Utterback said many Omahans haven’t properly experienced. One, the kani miso, a crab fat, crab meat and roe concoction that Utterback has been working on for years, appears here in all its juicy, warm glory inside a crisp piece of seaweed. You will make an absolute crab fat mess of your napkin, but it is worth it.
Also worth trying is the scallop hand roll, spiked with black sesame and XO sauce, cool and delicious but with a lip-tingling kick of spice. Yoshitomo helped me fall in love with scallop sushi, called hotate, and I highly suggest you try either (or both) during your next visit.
Utterback said hand rolls are named as such because the chef is meant to hand them to the customer, and that happens at Koji. I haven’t experienced that kind of service anywhere but Yoshitomo. If you sit at the sushi bar, it’s likely that chef Paul Rimell will be the one handing you each dish.
Inside, Koji is dark and moody, with a warm wood and mostly black interior design, and a long wood sushi bar with an open kitchen. The dining room can get noisy when it’s full. Sit at the sushi bar for a more all around intimate, and quieter, experience.
Utterback said Koji is settling in nicely in Countryside Village, and finding a whole new audience of diners, including many who haven’t yet tried Yoshitomo.
“A lot of people think (Koji) is a sushi restaurant, and that’s completely ok,” he said. “That’s maybe part of what makes the whole thing work. And that may be how I get new foods into the city.”
Utterback is savvy enough to understand that the way one introduces diners to new foods is by wrapping those more unfamiliar experiences inside what’s already comfortable. He’s doing that heavy lifting with the menu at Koji.
I, for one, am grateful. More than ever, this is what our city’s food scene needs.
The Big Story
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Video Highlights Major Construction Projects
Grow Omaha contributor Brad Williams just released his latest Construction Update video. Here are details about some of the projects you’ll see this month…
Gene Leahy Mall – The first of the three Riverfront parks opens July 1st. The park is now officially known as “Gene Leahy Mall at The Riverfront. The grand opening celebration will commence with four days of free events. Numerous program partners will fill the park with recreation and activities, culminating each night with a headlining show at the newly created Gene Leahy Mall Performance Pavilion.
The renovated park retains some of its original elements such as the beloved playground slides. Much of the formerly sunken park has been raised to street level, but the eastern side of the park is still sunken near the Greenhouse apartment building east of 10th Street.
C.L. Werner Health Sciences Building – Much of the structural steel skeleton is now in place for this $75 million, 5-story academic building on the southeast corner of the North Freeway and Cuming Street. This is one of several construction projects on the CU campus. Others include a residence for Jesuit priests and a new freshman residence hall.
Demolition – That’s the name of the game at the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus in Midtown these days. We have previously reported on the billions of dollars in construction coming to the Med Center. Well, you can’t start building until you remove what’s currently in the way. Workers are almost done removing a former Jiffy Lube building at Saddle Creek Road & Leavenworth Street. That’s on the southern tip of the future innovation campus. Just a few blocks north, preparations are underway to demolish the former Munroe-Meyer building and former J.P. Lord School building.
Blackstone Building – Barricades and construction fencing have gone up around a surface parking lot immediately west of the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel in the Blackstone District. The parking lot and one, 3-story house are being demolished. That will make way for a 9-story mixed building (see Alley Poyner Macchietto’s rendering above). The building will have 161 apartments, ground-floor retail and 4 stories of structured parking.
Watch Brad Williams’ entire construction update video HERE.
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Grow Omaha Snippets
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The Nebraska MultiSport Complex is now scheduled to open this fall in La Vista’s Southport East development with all-turf, lighted fields. Phase 1 of the project includes 12 fields that will be home to several sports, which include soccer, baseball, fast-pitch softball, lacrosse, flag football, and rugby. Additional phases are planned for the future.
The complex is projected to have a $9.9 million annual economic impact by drawing more than 32,000 overnight visitors plus more than 39,000 local athletes.
Shamrock Development plans to renovate the historic Keeline Building at 319 South 17th Street, immediately east of the Douglas County Courthouse. The $6.8 million project would refurbish and update the 111-year-old, 7-story, 61,000 sq. ft. building. Plans call for the Keeline to continue being used by office tenants. It is located catty-corner from the soon-to-open Juvenile Justice Center and along the future streetcar line.
The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s cat complex has been demolished. The building was a state-of-the-art zoo facility when it opened in the 1970s. It had 11 indoor and 10 outdoor enclosures and had capacity for up to 100 big cats. The building was famous for its successful cat breeding programs, but it fell out of favor and was closed in 2019. The zoo has moved away from grouping animals by species, preferring to display them with other animals from the same native region of the world.
JEH Enterprises plans to build a 66,000 sq. ft. industrial building on a 4-acre site near 13th & Fort Street. The building will have 14 bays. Completion is planned for June of 2023.
Warhorse Casino plans to break ground this summer for its 67,000 sq. ft. casino facility to be built at Horseman’s Park at 63rd & Q Street. Opening is planned for next spring.
A major redevelopment is planned on the site of the former Wolfson Used Cars lot at North Saddle Creek Road and Northwest Radial Highway. Plans call for a 5-story, 160-unit apartment building plus 7,100 sq. ft. of retail space. It’s part of a broader plan to convert the surrounding area into a walkable, mixed-use district.
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Local Business News Sponsored by FranNet of The Heartland:
Real Estate News from CoStar – The store fleet that’s part of Sears’ parent company is shrinking further, with at least 90 Sears Hometown sites across the nation holding liquidation sales and soon closing up shop.
Dozens of the appliance and hardware stores in nearly 40 states that are part of the chain are closing of their locations. Texas has the most Sears Hometown closings, with at least 16. Arkansas, Michigan and Wisconsin each have roughly a half-dozen.
The Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa Economic Development Authority to complete a Laborshed employment study for the Council Bluffs area. This study will geographically define which communities contribute to Council Bluffs’ workforce, regardless of political boundaries. This defined area is called a Laborshed area and is based upon commuting patterns.
The purpose of this Laborshed study is to measure the availability and characteristics of Council Bluffs area workers. The Laborshed boundary is based on the place of residence of individuals commuting into the Council Bluffs area for employment.
The Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions Index, a leading economic indicator for the nine-state region stretching from Minnesota to Arkansas, rose above growth neutral for the 24th straight month. The index, which ranges between 0 and 100 with 50.0 representing growth neutral, sank to a still-solid 60.0 from April’s 65.9.
Valmont Industries, Inc. has announced the closing of its previously-announced agreement to acquire a majority interest in ConcealFab, an industry leader in 5G infrastructure and passive intermodulation (PIM) mitigation solutions. Ericsson, a global leader in 5G technology, has also reinvested their ConcealFab equity and holds a minority position in ConcealFab. The acquisition advances Omaha-based Valmont’s Telecom strategy by incorporating innovative 5G infrastructure and PIM mitigation solutions into its advanced infrastructure portfolio.
In an attempt to mitigate the effects of inflation, Omaha-based Hawkins Construction announced this week that it will give $2,000 to each of its 350 hourly employees, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The company said it will disburse the payments out of its newly created inflation protection fund for employees. The company made the $2,000 calculation based on an estimate that basic household expenses have been increasing by about $2,000 over the past year.
The median compensation package for S&P 500 CEOs last year jumped 17.1 percent, according to AP News, while workers’ compensation rose 4.4 percent. It would take the average worker 186 years to earn what their CEO made in 2021. Soaring stock values last year played a significant role in CEO compensation growth.
This section is sponsored by FranNet of The Heartland, the local, trusted franchise experts. They are “in the business of helping you get into business!”
Grow Omaha University
Leadership & Sales Insights for Ambitious People
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Compiled by Grow Omaha co-founJeff Bealsder and sales trainer
Leadership & Management
When you employ an ultra-talented, hardworking individual, don’t try to hide them or prevent them from moving up just because you don’t want to lose them. Great talent rises to the top. Let the exceptional person move up. In the long run, it will benefit you as they will remember and appreciate the role you played in boosting their career. A former employee who makes it big can become a huge ally for you in the future.
Face-to-face, or field sales teams, make up 71.2 percent of the total sales force, according to Spotio.
According to SalesForce, 79 percent of sales executives say a leading driver of hitting new targets is improving the productivity of existing sales reps.
You simply can’t will yourself more confidence, according to sales guru Jeff Shore. Confidence is a result of combining belief and mastery. Start with belief. “Make sure you believe in yourself, in the value that you bring, and in the reasons you’re doing this in the first place. When your belief is strong, then you can move on to mastery.”
We need to be better at taking care of clients. Fifty-eight percent of buyers report that sales reps are unable to answer their questions effectively, according to Spotio.
“True leadership lies in guiding others to success – in ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well” – Bill Owens
“Those who respect the elderly pave their own road toward success.” – African proverb
Grow Omaha University is sponsored by MyStaff Inc, a locally owned staffing firm whose purpose is helping Nebraska companies recruit for corporate office positions.
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People in the News
Sponsored by Baird Holm Attorneys at Law
Lutz, an Omaha-based business solutions firm, recently transitioned Clint Hofeldt to a data analyst position in its Lutz Tech division. Hofeldt has more than two years of experience in technology, previously interning with Lutz Tech in 2020 and working as a service desk engineer from 2021 to 2022. He graduated from Bellevue University with a Bachelor’s degree in systems and network administration.
Koley Jessen recently announced shareholders Daniel McMahon and David Winkler as co-chairs of the firm’s Venture Capital and Growth Equity practice. The group focuses on a wide range of financing transactions. From angel to late-stage equity financings to bridge instruments, venture debt, and other alternative financing structures, the team has experience from coast to coast and understands the market terms and approach to venture capital and growth equity transactions.
Charles R. Driffill Jr. has been promoted to senior vice president & national sales manager at WoodmenLife. Driffill has held multiple sales positions with WoodmenLife, most recently Vice President, Sales supporting WoodmenLife Regional Directors.
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