The Omaha Restaurant Association (ORA) was established in 1944 as a nonprofit organization to promote the highest standard of quality in the Omaha hospitality industry through leadership, scholarship, philanthropy and advocacy. Jennie Warren, Executive Director of the ORA, summed the purpose up succinctly, sharing that the “ORA exists for hospitality, scholarship and feeding the hungry.”
Year 77 for the ORA saw unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic overtook nearly every aspect of American life. Restaurants and the hospitality industry were one of the hardest hit, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t reasons to commemorate the 2020 season.
In an effort to stay safe, the annual ORA awards banquet was held virtually on January 31, 2021. Fittingly, this year’s theme was “Out of the Box,” a nod to both the creative pivots members have embraced in the past 12 months, as well as the five course meal served out of a box. This year, over a hundred attendees were invited to pick up said meal from Stokes West an hour before the ceremony, then tune in to the zoom event while they dug in to the multi-course and multi-source feast. Chefs from around the area collaborated to create an interactive experience for guests. The appetizer came from Jimmy Masters with Best Bison who made Bison Meatballs and Crostini. Spencer’s Glenn Wheeler provided the salad course, his expert take on mid-winter greens. V. Mertz’s Jake Newton crafted Vietnamese Pho soup, while the Short Ribs entrée came from Victor Cabriales at Stokes. The dessert was the cherry on top of a delicious meal: opera cakes from Paul Kulik of Le Bouillon.
ORA Board President and General Manager of V. Mertz, Matt Brown, emceed the awards ceremony, which also inducted the new Board of Directors for the organization.
About the evening, Warren said, “It’s way more fun to celebrate in person and be around our peers, but we are grateful for any reason to celebrate our industry leaders who thought out of the box and went the extra mile to come out on top.”
Numerous awards were bestowed as part of the festivities, like Restaurateur of the Year, Purveyor of the Year, and the Harold Norman Excellence Award. Mitch Tempus from Fernando’s, who has owned the business since 2017, was celebrated as Restaurateur of the Year. “Mitch is a great supporter of the ORA and he is memorable for his chips and dips, which can be enjoyed at the restaurant or found at area Hy-Vees,” Warren said.
Purveyor of the Year was TriMark Hockenbergs, operated by the Schrack family and team. In his introduction, Brown said, “For over 100 years, they have served as a trusted partner for successful foodservice operations – procuring product, installing equipment, designing kitchen spaces and supporting efforts in efficiency, sustainability and waste reduction.”
The newest award of the bunch is the Harold Norman Excellence Award, which Warren shared is “for the unsung hero” and is less than a decade old. Zac Triemert from Brickway Brewery & Distillery was honored for his community first approach to producing gallons upon gallons of hand sanitizer when everywhere was experiencing a shortage of this safety item; notably, Triemert didn’t charge for the sanitizer.
Summing up the event, Warren added, “We look forward to a prosperous year and getting together in person at next year’s awards.”