Coming from across Omaha on streetcars, in private cars and on foot, students at the early University of Omaha were just like college students everywhere. They had dances, drank liquor, wine and beer at parties, played formal and informal sports, and got involved with all kinds of local shenanigans. One of their hangouts was called the Hash House.
Mrs. DeLima McRoberts, called “Mama Mac” by her patrons, ran her cafe at 3713 North 24th Street for 15 years. Located across the street from the Evangelical Covenant Hospital and North Omaha’s University of Omaha campus at Pratt Street, the name of her business was University Lunch. However, the university students called her business the Hash House.
The Hash House was constantly crammed with students. They’d saddle up to the counter for breakfast, lunch and dinner, eating pie and drinking coffee at all hours. Grouping in the booths, there’d be books and notepaper scattered across tables with pencils writing formulas and eraser dust scattered about. The chorus would call out, “Mama Mac, can I get a refill?” and surely the coffee pot, water pitcher and juice decanter would swing around in seconds.
Mama Mac opened the cafe in 1922 when the university was blooming. Student enrollment was going up, and Mrs. Mac saw an opportunity to make a living not far down the street from where she lived at 2449 Larimore in the Miller Park neighborhood.
That year, she hired a cook named Bing Wallace to be her cook, and rocked her business hard. Students constantly filled the booths and everyone had high regard for her. Bing put together a basketball team called the Hotspots. Soon, the Hash House Hotshots were tearing up the courts and calling out competitors in the local papers.
Bing also cooked a mean hash, along with everything typical in an American cafe in the 1920s and 30s, including eggs, soup, sandwiches (including hamburger sandwiches), french fries, and of course, desserts like cherry pies, apple crisp, and lemon merengue.
McRoberts relied on the University of Omaha and the Evangelical Covenant Hospital for her business. When both of them closed in 1938, her main clientele were gone, and she closed her restaurant. On July 6, 1938 there was an auction at her cafe where all the equipment was sold.
In 1941, she made the news again when the Omaha World-Herald told the story of this near-celebrity becoming the principal hostess for an Army base in Wyoming. Mama Mac died in 1963.
In 1968, the iconic Live Wire Cafe moved into the spot. After almost two decades, they closed in 1986.
With no formal recognition of its past role as a social hub, the building was looked past for its historical relevance for decades. The cafe sat empty for nearly all the next 30 years, until 2019. That’s when George Robinson renovated the century-old building into great condition and opened the Grown Folks Social Club. This new neighborhood hangout is a sophisticated, modern space that will ensure the Hash House lives on in infamy and physical form for another century!
You Might Like…
- A History of North Omaha’s Live Wire Cafe
- A History of the University of Omaha campus in North Omaha
- A History of Hospitals in North Omaha
- A History of North 24th Street in North Omaha
- Grown Folks Social Club official website