It is easily noticed that in this last year during the pandemic it was harder than normal to find community. One downtown restaurant in particular worked hard to continue feeding their regulars, along with giving extra to those in need.
Colin and Jessica Duggan opened Kitchen Table in June 2013 with the intention of their restaurant feeling like the community found around the kitchen table. While Colin focused on making his own bread and creating complex sandwich recipes, Jessica identified the importance for the restaurant to be inclusive to all types of eaters, whether meat or vegetarian, furthering the concept of needs found around a kitchen table.
After years of working in a corporate kitchen, as well as a union, Colin wanted to create a kitchen environment where any of their workers could step in to a task and not feel stuck to one role. With most of their ingredients being made in-house, this provided many learning opportunities for their staff.
Outside of their own house-made ingredients, Kitchen Table focused on finding and supporting local farmers and producers. The Duggans had previously lived in San Francisco and realized the importance of the midwestern growing seasons, as well as the freshness of a Nebraskan tomato. Their menu often revolves around these seasonal items, and people will have difficulty finding a better BLT.
The restaurant became successful with pasta nights and a growing list of regular customers. One idea the Duggans had contemplated was creating a convenience store for their customers. “The local convenience store has traditionally not been the high end place to shop, but local food has become this exclusive property of the fine dining world,” Colin explained. “The big concept of our goal was to find what is valuable to use and make it accessible to everyone. Here, everyone is welcome, and we refuse to cut corners to provide the same product to everyone, whether it is a donated meal to someone in need or a quick lunch for someone who doesn’t worry about money.”
In response to the pandemic, the Duggans found their convenience store concept necessary and created their own version of a general store where customers could buy loaves of bread, biscuits, sauces, spice mixes, and family meal kits such as large trays of lasagna to-go. “It was an extension of our pasta on Fridays,” said Jessica. “We could still do what we did before, but safely and in a different way to still see people, but not have them sitting in the restaurant.”
Ordering with the General Store became routine for many of Kitchen Table’s regulars. “Holidays have been big! People become engrained into their routine, picking up their English muffins,” shared Jessica. The Duggans were able to name many of their weekly customers and what orders they expect to fill throughout the week. Colin added, “We have gotten to where we expect to see certain people Friday nights and look forward to connecting with our customers. We want people to feel like they are sitting down at home, comfortable and relaxed, and not have to worry about anything. Family meals have been that for us.”
The Duggans plan on continuing the operation of the General Store even after the pandemic, as it has still shown success through customers coming in for their lunch order and grabbing a loaf of bread to take home.
One other way Kitchen Table worked to give to the community during the pandemic was in raising money to provide meals to people facing food security issues, including the homeless downtown, as well as community outreach programs such as Yellow Door, Omaha Home for Boys, and Youth Emergency Services. A $7.00 donation provided two meals for those in need.
“We always want to do the right thing. If people donated here, we were spending it in the local economy to put back into our local farmers and networks that we buy from. It’s good to keep that momentum going,” Jessica said. “We get help covering food and folks get the food, it’s a positive circle.”