UNO alum becomes icon of local coffee shop

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Molly Ashford
CONTRIBUTOR 

Photo courtesy of Molly Ashford.

On the west wall of the 300 square-foot coffeehouse off 50th and Dodge streets hangs a sign, almost hidden amongst the abundance of artwork. It reads: “JIM PARKING ONLY. VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED.”

Under the sign, Jim Kurtz is parked in a green armchair. Hot breve with seven sugars in hand, he watches people walk in and out the doors of the busy shop. He gives each dog that enters an extra-large milk bone, of which he keeps stashes both in his pockets and in his car.

The coffeehouse is Dundee Double Shot, a drive-thru coffee hut with a small indoor lobby and outdoor patio. Despite numerous changes in ownership and staff, Kurtz has been a near-daily patron of the shop for upwards of 10 years.

Kurtz’ role in the Double Shot ecosystem is complex and varied. He is a helping hand to the employees, taking out the trash and vacuuming at closing time while also leaving a substantial tip with each purchase. He pays it forward by treating at least one customer to a free drink on nearly every afternoon. He is an observer of the commotion, occasionally interjecting to learn more about a new visitor.

Kurtz is a trivia whiz, quizzing anyone who will listen about what he likes to call ‘UBIs’— or useless bits of information. If you spend an hour in the shop, you will likely walk away with an obscure piece of Omaha history.

“Everybody has a predilection—not necessarily a talent,” Kurtz said. “I know people who can quote every movie that they’ve ever seen, but when I see a movie I forget about it in two hours. Whereas I like trivia, other people like history, growing flowers, restoring antique tractors or whatever.”

Kurtz is quick to pass himself off as an unremarkable man. A Bellevue native, he graduated from Bellevue High School before pursuing a degree in biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). After obtaining both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology at UNO, he moved to Arizona to complete a Ph.D. program. He ended up returning to Nebraska one year later.

Following his return, Kurtz had a variety of temporary jobs including a teaching gig at UNO for general biology and botany. He eventually settled at Roberts’ Dairy – now Hiland – which he refers to as “the dairy.” He worked in the factory as a biologist for 29 years.

“I met some of my best friends at the dairy, and I liked working there,” Kurtz said. “But it was also very monotonous. The same thing every day at the same time.”

The rigid schedule set by his time at the dairy followed Kurtz to retirement. Every weekday, he dog-sits two foster dogs that belong to his friend from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. He does it as a favor for a friend and as a source of enjoyment for himself. After he is relieved of his duties, he makes the drive from Bellevue to Dundee to sit under his sign until closing time.

Though quick to consider himself antisocial, Kurtz is a magnet for dogs, children and other restless souls who stumble into the shop looking for conversation and friendship. Despite being a self-described nihilist, for many of the afternoon baristas, Kurtz’ presence, kindness and conversation is the best part of the job.

“He’s a gardener,” said Connie Lang, Dundee Double Shot owner. “He’s constantly cultivating conversation. He stimulates and cultivates the minds of our family here.”

Barista Wilhelmina Dodenhof said that Kurtz’ presence makes the coffee shop “feel like home.”

To most regular customers and employees, Kurtz is an essential part of the Double Shot experience. But even with a base of devoted fans, he sees himself as an observer and not a fixture.

“I see myself as just sitting in my little area and watching the world go by,” he said. “I find it peculiar that people would notice me. It’s just not how I perceive myself.”

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