DIGITAL IMAGERY SPECIALIST
“But at least we have a lot of restaurants here!” is my usual refrain to people who complain that there is nothing to do in Omaha.
The restaurant scene in Omaha has seen something of a renaissance over the past few years. Restaurants have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere. Even the New York Times’ Sam Sifton sang its praises during a recent visit. But when COVID-19 came to Omaha, that renaissance sputtered to a halt. Local industries, especially the food industry, have been so impacted that local food photographer Josh Foo and videographer Lauren Abell teamed up to document the human side of the impact in their “Right Here, Right Now” project.
The restaurants that could remain open, turned to take-out as a lifeline. Big Mama’s, which had just recently relocated to The Highlander, started offering “Take and Bake Meals” for carry-out. Restaurants joined delivery services like UberEats and Door Dash. Nebraska ranked 2nd in the nation for highest levels of takeout and delivery according to geotagged Twitter data. La Buvette, a French grocery and restaurant downtown, sold tee shirts and gift cards to raise funds. The local favorite was open for limited hours for those who wanted to get their hands on French bread and delicacies, but then closed their doors for the time being.
Recently, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced new health measures for restaurants, allowing them to re-open for diners under a strict set of guidelines. The announcement has some UNO students looking forward to the openings, and some terrified. Kylie Keisling, a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, is “excited but cautious” and is looking forward to dining-in but adds, “I’m not sure that we’ll be out right when they open. I look forward to it though!”
Others are hesitant to celebrate. Sarah Hawkinson, a senior studying Women’s and Gender Studies, is “scared shitless.” She’s worried that the rules Ricketts has set forth are “impossible to enforce.” Hawkinson is also concerned about how many people would come into contact with each other.
In New York City, antibody testing showed that 1 in 5 New Yorkers tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, a sign that the infection rate of the disease was much higher than previously thought. Joseph Saaid, a senior studying Business Administration, is worried that the reopening will coincide with a peak in COVID-19 cases.
Jeff Turner, a senior studying Screenwriting in the Writer’s Workshop, has concerns that insurance for small businesses won’t be returned and that “employees either have to come back or get fired.” Turner is also concerned about the lack of a national testing strategy.
“If we are to re-open, we need widespread testing – that testing needs to be free – and hospitals need a game plan from Washington,” Turner said. “Trump has to stand up and lead right now and we all would have benefited if he had done that. But he didn’t – and so here we are.”
With anxieties still running high for some, many are still relying on takeout services which some see as a way to support the local economy and their favorite restaurants (along with buying gift cards and merchandise). We asked UNO students what their favorite go-to’s were for takeout.
Kylie Keisling: “Hoppy Taco!”
Sarah Hawkinson: “Rice Bowl on Saddle Creek”
Joseph Saaid: “Dinker’s Bar and Grill”
Jeff Turner: Ika Ramen, of which he’s “happy to sing their praises any day of the week”
Bri Full, Senior, Public Health: “Oscar’s Pizza and Wings”
Sarah Fixmer, Senior, Journalism & Media Communications: “Report In Pub”
Mady Hubbard, Fourth Year, Theatre: “Hoppy Taco or The Union Bar and Grill”
Ryan LaHood (Fourth Year, Business Entrepreneurship), Sierra Dawn (UNO graduate, BA in Spanish Language and Literature), and Nathan Johnson (Senior, Political Science and Sociology) all give El Basha Grill as their go-to.
Jenna Hynek (Senior, Journalism): “Crescent Moon”