Fast food, Italian food, soul food, diners and cafes, BBQs, ice cream stores, caterers, and many, many other types of food fill North Omaha history. These businesses have been run by African Americans, European and Asian immigrants, Hispanic and Latinx people, and white people who moved to the community from across the United States. They have also been run by generations of North Omahans who handed businesses down through generations.
Located on street corners, busy thoroughfares, in business offices, at amusement parks and in other places throughout North Omaha, these food businesses have fed hungry stomachs for generations, and are an important backbone in the community.
Like seemingly every business sector in Omaha, many of these businesses were surely segregated, and some likely posted “White Only” signs in their windows. The historic record has done a poor job of recording which establishments in the community did that, but I am still searching. In the meantime, African Americans in North Omaha created their own businesses to serve other Black people when whites would not. Some of those businesses are noted here.
This is an incomplete history of food businesses in North Omaha. Please share your memories and more in the comments below!
North Omaha BBQs
Barbecuing happens when pork, chicken, and beef are smoked, roasted or grilled. It can happen in ovens, on grills or over open fires. I have found evidence of BBQ being served in North Omaha going back to the 1920s.
In the 1920s and 30s, George East (18??-19??) owned a barbecue stand at 1502 Burt Street. Maybe the most successful barbecue restaurant in Omaha was the “BBQ King” Mr. Slaughter’s (18??-1949) Barbecue Hut at North 24th and Blondo Streets from the 1920s through the 1940s, and Gertrude’s, who inherited the family recipes after Mrs. Slaughter died.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Jeff’s BBQ at North 24th and Nicholas was popular with musicians, and Clara’s was popular, too. Jack Craven’s and the Father Divine’s disciples called “Peace” sold good BBQ, too. Jake Barbecue was at 1829 North 24th between 1948 and 1953.
Victor Metoyer, Sr. (1899-1986) opened a barbecue restaurant at 2311 North 24th Street with Alton Goode (1897-1986) in 1958, then ran it solo for more than 30 years until 1985.
Harold C. Whiteside (1912-1978) opened his BBQ restaurant called Skeet’s in 1956. David Deal (1952-2019) took over in 1978 and ran it until he died in 2019, when the restaurant closed permanently. In 1972, Skeet’s was named the best BBQ in America by Preston Love, Sr. (1921-2004), who traveled the nation as a musician, eating BBQ everywhere he went.
North Omaha Diners and Cafes
There have been countless diners and cafes throughout North Omaha throughout the past 125 years. Often located at major intersections, they are generally meant to serve home cooked food quickly, with table service and average prices. Diners and cafes can serve any kind of food, but in North Omaha they mostly served American food, including eggs and sausage for breakfast, sandwiches and soups for lunch, and meat and potatoes for dinner.
Among the oldest cafes in North Omaha were the Post Cafe and Bell’s Restaurant. The Post Cafe was located at North 30th and Fort Streets in the 1890s through the 1910s and served soldiers at Fort Omaha. Bell’s Restaurant was at 1331 North 24th from 1890 through 1905.
3515 North 24th opened as an ice cream company and parlor called Luzianne’s or Lee’s. When it closed in 1937, the building became a cafe. In the 1960s it became home to Von’s Cafe for 15 years. In the 1930s, Ken’s Cafe was at 2304 North 16th. From 1926 into the 1950s, Mahon’s was next door to the Corby Theater at 16th and Corby. It became the Tut’s Cafe that decade, and was the Corby Cafe in the 1960s.
The Top Notch Cafe was at 1322 North 24th for more than a decade. They had an ad from 1946 that said, “Special table d’hote dinner Sunday. 50 cents. Classy entertainers. If you cannot come, telephone your orders and we will deliver them.” Located nearby was the Sanitary Ice Cream Parlor at 1425 North 24th, which featured a deli and a “full line of groceries” according to a 1917 ad in The Monitor. From the 1940s through 1956, the Blue Arrow Cafe at 2509 North 24th called themselves the “Best in Omaha,” and featured fine food and good coffee.
The Fair Deal Cafe was an iconic Black-owned business on North 24th Street for almost 50 years. Charlie Hall (1930-2009) and his wife Audentria “Denny” (1933-1997) opened it in 1954, running the establishment almost solely until it closed in 2003. The Fair Deal was called Omaha’s “Black City Hall” for all the business, political and social action that happened there.
Opened by Lucy Carter (1901-1983) in 1953, Carter’s Cafe stayed in business until 1983.
Leroy (19??-19??) and Ethel Webb (1924-1991) opened the Live Wire in the late 1950s, moved it up North 24th in 1968, and kept it running until 1986. The Tic Toc Diner was opened by Lillian Oliver (1909-1990) and her sister Clara Leonard (19??-19??) in 1953 and closed permanently in 1997. Each of these was a Black-owned business.
From 1927 to 1946, the King Yuen Cafe was at 2010 1/2 North 24th serving Chinese and American food. Mrs. Mac’s Hash House, aka University Cafe, was located at 3713 North 24th Street for more than 15 years. Her business relied on the University of Omaha and the Covenant Hospital, both located across the street. Lakeside Billiards and Plate Lunch restaurant was at 2823 North 16th from the 1920s into the 1950s.
Irene Washington (1912-1983) opened Irene’s Cafe at 2418 North 24th in 1958, and ran it until she died. Irene’s was one of North Omaha’s most popular Black-owned soul food restaurants. When she passed away, the Omaha Star reported that Irene was “a great host” who fed many mothers, paid others’ rent and shared and cared for a lot of people.
Other restaurants in North Omaha have included Harold’s Diner in Florence, the Nite Hawkes Cafe, Beal’s Diner, and King Tut’s Cafe. Bob’s Cafe was at 1837 North 24th Street in the 1960s and 1970s. The Moss Cafe was at the same address for a decade before that.
There were other places to eat, too, like at the soda fountain in Lane’s Drug at 24th and Ames and the Lakeside Billiards at North 16th and Locust Streets. There was a restaurant at the Carter Lake Pleasure Pier and Kiddieland in the 1950s, as well as at Florence Lake before the 20th century.
For more than a decade, Big Mama’s has been a staple among North Omaha eateries and caterers. Starting next to the old Carver Bank on Lake Street, the business developed a following and then moved to the former Nebraska School for the Deaf. In 2020, it moved to Highlander. Big Mama’s offers a variety of spectacular food and is already a community institution.
North Omaha Restaurants
In this article, restaurants are meant as sit-down establishments that serve specific menus to the pleasure of diners. They have table service, higher prices and consistent service. Restaurants can serve any type of food, and in North Omaha that includes soul food, Italian food, American food, pizza, Mexican food, a variety of Asian foods, and more.
Mr. C’s was open at North 30th and Fort Streets for almost 50 years. Opened by Sebastiano “Yano” and Mary Caniglia as Caniglia’s Royal Boy Drive-In in the 1950s, the restaurant became Mister C’s in 1971, and closed in 2007. It featured Italian foods, steak and seafood, and offered banquet seating, a bar and more.
A new restaurant opened in the place of the original Fair Deal that was called The Fair Deal Cafe, and it closed after a few years. Now, the delicious Emery’s Cafe is open at the same location, 2118 North 24th Street. The storefront on the building was made from the restored original bricks at Fair Deal and provides spectacular food.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Rabe’s Buffet was a popular restaurant at 2425 North 24th.
After operating locations at Union Station and the Eppley Airfield in the 1950s and 1960s, David Hayden opened the Hayden House restaurant in the former Birchwood Club in the Minne Lusa neighborhood in the late 1960s, and opened to the public in 1972. However, it closed in 1975. A popular restaurant near Florence in the 1960s was Red and Ted’s Minne Lusa Restaurant at North 30th and Martin Avenue for more than a decade. Ramona’s was a nearby restaurant at North 30th and Redick. For more than 25 years, they provided delicious Mexican food.
The A-Ri-Rang Club was opened on Oakridge Drive in the Ponca Hills in 1949. It stayed opened through the 1980s, and the building burned down in 2010. Located nearby is a 120-year-old icon called Junior’s Forgot Store Bar and Grill, which began as an end-of-the-road general store at the turn of the 20th century. The Alpine Inn is a rustic and down-to-earth modern landmark in the Ponca Hills at 10405 Calhoun Road. The original location burnt down in 1942, and was reopened in 1945 at its present site. It’s notorious for the view of wild cats fighting it out with raccoons to eat dinner scraps thrown out for them.
The Surfside Club is located at 14445 North River Drive near the Washington County border. Open for decades, it offers spectacular views of the Missouri River with fish dinners and more.
The Mouth of the South was a successful restaurant in Florence for several years, serving mouthwatering Southern dishes in a cozy environment. After a fire closed that facility, the business moved to North 70th and Ames Avenue, but closed again in December 2019.
North Omaha Catering
There have been several successful caterers in Omaha. Over the years, they have included small scale entrepreneurs operating from their home and large scale companies with commercial kitchens and more.
Alfred Jones was a popular caterer in North Omaha who operated his catering business from from the 1890s to 1936. For more than 20 years, he and his wife Elenora Brooks Jones ran the catering business from their mansion called Hillcrest.
The husband and wife team of T. P. and Helen Mahammitt ran a catering business from 1905 to 1950, and Mrs. Mahammitt also ran a cooking school in North Omaha and wrote a book.
Hill’s Chicken in a Box, a Near North Side institution, offered a variety of other services including catering, employment, rentals and real estate at 2324 North 24th Street.
The Hayden House detailed above also provided catering throughout the city in the 1950s and 1960s.
North Omaha Drive-Ins and Fast Food
A drive-in was a restaurant where customers would pull up in their cars, order to a waitress, and later into a wired call box, and someone would come to their car to take money and deliver food. Fast food restaurants are quick order, quick serve facilities featuring mass pre-manufactured foods and lower prices.
Preema’s Drive-In was at 3002 North 16th Street from the early 1950s, and became Joe’s Drive-In around 1963. It was the Big Steer Drive-In by the late 1960s, and recently, it was home to LaVada’s Place and J&D’s Down Home Cooking.
In the 1910s, the Jackson Lunch Room at 2122 North 24th served short orders and 6pm dinner with special home cooking. Nearby, Creacy’s Chicken Hut was at 2210 North 24th in the 1940s, along with the Club House Cafe at 2310 North 24th, which served short orders and home cooking. There was an A&W opened at 16th and Binney in 1941. Another A&W opened in the 1950s on Ames Avenue, along with a Dairy Queen nearby. Dairy Queens were also opened on North 30th, North 24th and North 16th.
Jerry’s and Johnny’s Drive-In was on North 30th Street for a few years, and Caniglia’s Royal Boy Drive-In was part of the “American Graffiti”-type car scene on North 30th Street, along with the original Bronco’s Drive-In. They were both at 30th and Fort.
One of the oldest restaurants in Omaha is Time-Out Foods at 3518 North 30th Street. Opened in 1969, it was first opened by the Swanson Corporation and promoted by Bob Gibson (b.1935) and Bob Boozer (1937-2012), professional sports stars from North Omaha. At the beginning of this partnership, the owners announced the business offer 100 franchises nationwide only to people of color, since traditional franchises excluded African Americans, Hispanic people, Native Americans and others. In 1972, it became family-owned and operated, and it continues today in its original location.
Today, North Omaha has many fast food restaurants. The Kentucky Fried Chicken at North 30th and Forest Lawn Drive was the first to open in Omaha. Today, there are McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeye’s and several other fast food places throughout the community.
North Omaha Ice Cream
The Alamo Ice Cream Company was at North 24th and Grant. It was a rare business that catered to African Americans when Omaha was de facto segregated, and also featured music, entertainment, dancing and more. Alamo stayed open from the 1916 to 1924.
Borden’s Ice Cream Shop was located at 2415 Ames, serving malted milk, ice cream flavors, and sundaes. It was open from at least the 1930s through the 1950s.
Albert Tibbs owned a Diary Queen franchise at North 24th and Blondo streets from 1955 to 1963. From the 1930s through the 1950s, there were dozens of Reed’s Ice Cream stands throughout North Omaha, along with the main plant on North 24th Street.
Zesto’s is an iconic Florence neighborhood institution on North 30th Street. Opened in the 1950s, they remain in the same building and serve the same ice cream, food and other treats as they did 70 years ago!
North Omaha Bakeries and Desserts
There have been countless bakeries located in North Omaha over the last 150 years. There was a time when every neighborhood had one or more to provide baked goods of all types, including bread, pies and other desserts. Dessert shops were called confectionaries. Starting as small scale, family-owned businesses, some of these bakeries grew to become industrial scale operations, while others were bought by large conglomerates, and others simply closed like normal businesses do.
A local bakery chain was called Kuenne’s Bakery, and after starting south of downtown in the 1910s opened a new store at 4106 North 24th in the 1950s. In 1961, they opened a shop in the new Ames Plaza, and closed by the 1970s. Another local shop was the Kenwood Pastry Bakery at 30th and Ames for several decades, offering desserts and other baked goods for almost 40 years. In 1903, George Frithgof Wilberg opened a bakery at 1829 North 24th. It closed in 1917. Thomas Francis Mulligan (1851-1920) was a popular baker at North 24th and Parker for more than two decades. The Home Bakery started on North 16th in the 1880s, moved to North 24th and by 1911 was located at 2505 North 31st until the 1930s.
The Dazell Confectionary Company sold desserts at 1824 Cuming Street. Peter Pan Bread, a famous brand of bread sold across the Midwest, was invented in North Omaha. In 1890, the P. F. Petersen Bakery was started by 24th and Cuming. Around 1910, the bakery was merged with three others to form the Union Pacific Steam Baking Company, which built a factory at North 30th and Wirt. In 1930, the company changed its name back to the Petersen Baking Company and started selling Peter Pan Bread. From 1926 to 1964, the Peterson’s Bakery served the neighborhood around North 24th and Lake.
The Jay Burns Baking Company built the building at 2015 Cuming Street in 1906. The company also ran a pie factory at North 24th and Grant for a decade until 1913. The Continental Baking Company acquired Burns’ company in the 1930s, and started manufacturing Wonder Bread and eventually Hostess Products there. They moved in the 1980s, and the building has been used as storage since.
Of course, the largest bakery in North Omaha was built by the Iten-Bartmettler Biscuit Company at 4301 North 30th. The industrial scale production facility changed hands several times, housing the Merchants Biscuit Company and the US Mills, until becoming an Omaha Public Schools facility unassociated with food production.
Another one of the largest bakeries ever located north of Dodge Street and east of 72nd Street was called the Omar Bakery. Located at North 45th and Hamilton Streets, their plant notably sprawled across several blocks. Their advertisements and deliverymen were iconic, remaining burned in the memories of many several decades after they closed.
North Omaha Coffee
Coffee shops have existed in North Omaha since the 1920s, if not earlier. Some restaurants were called coffee shops, like the Coffee House System, located at 4515 North 30th. However, in more recent times, traditional coffee shops have opened in the community.
Early in 2019, Julian and Brittany Young became the first African American owners of a Scooter’s coffee franchise. Their shop at 30th and Ames has been popular since opening. There is another Scooter’s coffee on McKinley Drive in Florence.
The (drips) coffee shop at 2205 North 24th Street is my favorite place in North Omaha today. On any given day, you can go there and find cultural activities, socializing, food, and much more. (drips) is providing a real service that will leave a real mark on the history of North Omaha.
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