Nosh Restaurant & Bar – commissioned article for Food & Spirits Magazine
Omaha is a city with more than its share of bars and dining establishments. There’s something to accommodate every taste and every personality. Lately, it seems that a new restaurant rises up on every corner from the ashes of another. For Lila Anderson, owner and operator of Nosh Restaurant and Wine Lounge, making it work long-term is a combination of sumptuous food, excellent wines and a stylish, relaxing atmosphere. More than just a wine bar, Nosh offers a full menu, monthly wine tastings, a wine club and public parties.
Lila’s background is an unexpected one for a woman who now runs one of the most popular high-class bars in Omaha. “This is my first attempt at a restaurant business,” she explains. After having worked as a director at TD Ameritrade in Texas for over a decade, Lila decided to move her family back to Omaha. “Before leaving my corporate job, I really never would have thought too much about the restaurant business. After coming back to Omaha, though, I asked myself, ‘do I want to do something different?’”
The idea for Nosh came when Lila spent an evening with friends. “We went out one day to one of my favorite bars for happy hour and that’s what gave me the idea – I thought, ‘I want a bar like this!’” Her friends encouraged her to follow her impromptu dream, she says, “and that planted the seed.” She opened Nosh in February of 2011 and the business has been growing steadily, both in what they offer and in popularity.
Lila’s role at Nosh is that of both manager and helper. “I pretty much do it all; when we started I had to step into a variety of roles,” she remembers. “When I didn’t know something, I was fortunately able to bring in people that did. Now I run the operation but let my staff do all the details.” It works to the restaurant’s advantage, though, if she knows “all of what’s going on; I’ve been able to learn that these past four years.” Some afternoons, before the bartender and evening staff arrive, you can find Lila chatting with clients, pouring drinks and waiting tables. Aided by her general manager, she also does the party planning, as well as handling some of the ordering and retail end of the business. Lila’s head chef, Jeff Taege, says that, “a lot of hours and hard work” contribute to the success of Nosh.
At first, Nosh started out as a wine bar with a limited menu. Because they are located in the Capitol district at 10th and Dodge, however, the restaurant began to attract attention from concert-goers, attendees of special events, downtown residents and hotel guests. From the demands of this traffic grew a full menu and the need for added kitchen staff. “One of the main challenges is getting the right staff in here,” reflects Lila, “getting in people who know what they’re doing. There are a lot of restaurants in Omaha; you need to find people that are committed to you.”
Jordan Gallner, general manager of Nosh, has something in common with Lila – this is his first foray into the restaurant business. Previously, he owned and operated a lawn care service. “I had to learn very quickly!” he laughs. “I’ve always been very interested in the restaurant and hospitality industries. “It was something I knew I wanted to do, but I’d just never gotten my foot in the door.” One night, Jordan was sitting at the bar and a friend working behind the bar asked him to function as a bar back. Within six months of his spur-of-the-moment hiring he was bar manager; within a year and a half he became general manager.
Nosh is a big step away from both of their backgrounds, “but it works, and it works well,” says Lila. “Our staff likes the flexibility and the opportunity for creativity I give them in the kitchen.” Lila oversees the menu, but is happy to let her staff come up with new dishes and ideas.
“I think Nosh is a great concept,” enthuses Jordan, “and I’d love to see it expand.” The dedication of the staff at Nosh is helping that dream come true. Hard work and a devotion to the clientele are key. While recovering from a serious motorcycle accident, Jordan, in a wheelchair, slipped behind the busy bar and began making cocktails for thirsty patrons. Jeff, who received his culinary education at the Art Institute of California, works 70 hours a week and brings to Nosh his broad experience with cookery from all regions of the world.
Décor is an essential part of the atmosphere at Nosh. Lila wanted it to be “comforting, relaxing and a little bit upscale. I think people are tired of bars in Omaha that just throw a bunch of furniture in there and open their doors. They don’t seem to take time for any other details. I wanted to create an environment where people could feel comfortable relaxing and staying a long time.” In fact, she says, she’s had people come in for lunch and stay until six in the evening. Jordan says “We strive to be customer friendly, make sure everyone’s having a great time. We also want to know if there’s something we could be doing better. In my book, there’s no bad criticism.”
Providing consistent excellent service to clients who wish to relax for a few hours is paying off for Nosh. Comfortable plush and leather chairs and sofas compliment stylish tables and elegant light fixtures. The lighting is subtle and soothing and the well-stocked bar is lined with stools. “Our clientele is really a mix,” says Lila. “We do late-night happy hour on Friday and Saturday nights, which brings in a younger crowd. Often, our demographic during the week is older; thirtysomethings and up. I used to think that it would be more women, but we get a lot of men coming in wanting a quiet evening and a nice glass of wine with a good dinner.” Adds Jordan, “Meeting new people and talking to new people is my favorite aspect of Nosh. We get people from all over the world in here. It’s all about being a people person. We strive to be customer-friendly and to make sure everyone’s having a good time. We also want to know if there’s something we could be doing better. In my book, there’s no bad criticism.”
Chef Jeff, who started in mid-January, agrees. “The customer is always right. If it wasn’t right for them, it wasn’t right, no matter what I think. If I cook a dinner for a hundred people and 99 loved it, the one customer that didn’t is the one I’m going to wonder about – how could I have done better?”
Special events are another thing that gives Nosh an edge over other Omaha restaurants and bars. Lila organizes public party events with tasty appetizer buffets and drink specials, as well as monthly wine tastings, which are free to members of the wine club. (The wine club is an exclusive deal, open to the public, which includes two bottles of wine each month, discounts to other Nosh-sponsored events and a complimentary glass of wine on your birthday.) The restaurant also supports local artists; Nosh switches out the artwork in the restaurant monthly and organizes an open house for each newly-featured artist. Nosh is a popular destination for private events. There are at least two a month, says Lila, and the space can accommodate 50 – 100 people. It’s an ideal spot for work functions, bridal dinners and birthday parties.
A recent special event that received rave reviews from all dinner guests was Nosh’s quarterly wine dinner. The evening began with relaxed chatting and a fizzy citrus cocktail. Lila, Jeff and Jordan made the rounds, organizing, planning and stopping to welcome and talk with the diners. The dinner was French-themed and Jeff, who has worked in numerous French restaurants, was in his element. “If you go to France, you’re going to see these dishes.” He described the meal as “very, very close” to traditional French cuisine, with light adjustments for the American palate. He also noted that, “In California, it’s more about the flair, but Midwesterners are more concerned with the food than flowers on the plate.” He did not disappoint; while each dish was attractively arranged and served, it was also just filling enough and perfectly paired with a carefully selected wine. Nosh is sensitive to the dietary needs of diners, as well; two delicious dishes were quickly made kosher and vegetarian without the slightest disruption in service.
Nosh Wine Lounge is rapidly establishing itself, thanks to the drink selection, service and delectable food menu, as Omaha’s premier wine bar. It’s a chill-out spot with class; it’s a place to relax at lunch or after a tiring work day. At Nosh Wine Lounge, you can be sure of friendly service, a comfortable and attractive atmosphere and a dining experience that will keep you coming back for more.
Nosh Restaurant and Wine Lounge, 1006 Dodge Street. 402-614-2121. Open at 11 a.m. daily.