Executive Chef and General Manager Brian Reilly began working at Spezia in Omaha in 2003. He took the culinary knowledge he began in a high school work study program, and later culinary education, to eventually lead multiple business locations. He returned to the 72nd Street establishment where he leads today.
“I want to put out the best thing I can,” Reilly said. “If you get a filet here, I want it to be the best filet that I know how to make. The grade that we do is top-tier of choice so when you pair it with our wood-fired grill, the results are outstanding. I feel like we’ve met a lot of standards and raised the bar.”
Spezia offers customers traditional Italian cuisine, from steak to fresh seafood, salmon, scallops, chicken, pasta, libations, and a timeless ambience. Service expectations are high. Wait staff learns the food and drink menus, provides wine-to-food pairings, and is mindful of a prime experience.
The restaurant serves a variety of customers. “If you want to come in and have a bowl of soup and a spaghetti dinner that’s great,” Reilly said. “And if you want to spend $100 on a bottle of wine and a $50 filet, you can do that, too. It’s what you want to make it.”
The location can accommodate various patrons and groups, from business professionals, to travelers passing through Omaha, to groups celebrating special occasion experiences (like Reilly’s own rehearsal dinner). There is even a “romance booth” that can be made private with a close of its curtains.
The menu has stayed generally the same for decades, with the exception of seasonal menus that are run as features.
Reilly pays close attention to patrons’ food allergies and what people are returning for, like his weekly regulars. Servers know their order and table of choice by heart.
Recognizing that people are looking for a different dining experience than they were two years ago, Spezia offers meals to-go with advice on bringing the technique home.
“A lot of stuff we have travels really well,” Reilly said. “Risotto, pasta, and noodle dishes hold up. What surprises me is how many steaks go out in boxes. If you usually order medium go medium rare and by the time you get home it will be right where you want it. We like to lower our lights a little bit and light a few candles. It sets a little ambience. Replate at home. You don’t have to eat it out of the box.”
The restaurant faced hardship in 2020, closing for two months. Reilly spent a lot of time hoping for the reopening and educating himself and staff on safe practices, ensuring guests’ safety, and remaining classic.
He cared for, and still does care for, his staff and his community. When the first wave of the pandemic hit, he sent his workers and neighbors to the restaurant to clear out food that would spoil without being used.
Reilly understands the importance of staying organized and values consistency as he leads the operations amidst distribution obstacles, an example being lengthy delivery windows.
Today, Reilly welcomes the idea of new staff additions, encouraging high school students seeking a part time job to apply. He also prides his team on having a mix of professional servers who work and will work in the industry as their career of choice.
Reilly is setting an example of adjusting to market changes. “We’re paying a little bit more to our workers and for our products and we’re definitely working harder and producing a lot more products.”
Reilly and the team at Spezia face challenges every day and continue to serve patrons through what is the most business they’ve seen in a long time. He reminds people, “We have to adapt. We’re doing the best we can with everything that’s been thrown at us. Be kind to your service people.”