Caterer's move to downtown Omaha warehouse means new jobs, event center

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:00 am

Relocating from central Omaha to a renovated downtown warehouse will give the 12-year-old Catering Creations company 10 times more space.

The move means up to 13 new full-time jobs, a new event center for the city's core and the revitalization of a now-vacant building. It will mean four times more refrigerator room to store Jeff and Jennifer Snow's upscale mac and cheese, butternut squash pasta, salmon piccata and other fun and famed foods.

To top it off, the expanded headquarters means blowing the lid off the catering company's growth cap.

“We've been capped on sales growth for the last two years because of space constrictions,” said Jennifer Snow, who handles operations while co-owner and husband Jeff leads the culinary team. “We're no longer going to have to turn away the business coming through the door.”

After nearly four years of searching, the Snows plan to move by January from 7515 Pacific St. — with less than 3,000 square feet of space — into a nearly 30,000-square-foot property at 1915 Jackson St. The $3.2 million project, which has the green light from Omaha planners, includes $400,000 in tax-increment financing from the city.

City officials say the redevelopment of the building, a piece of which was constructed in the 1920s, should help curb blight and increase commercial activity on the southwestern edge of downtown. Two additions to the structure came in the mid-1940s, and the latest tenant was Fisher Fixture Co.

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“It will bring vibrancy to this section of downtown through business activity, mostly in the evenings,” said a report by Planning Director James Thele.

The catering business will have as its neighbor to the north the Omaha Children's Museum; to the west is Liberty Elementary School; and a few blocks east is the Douglas County Correctional Center.

Also scattered through the area are some residences, a few commercial businesses and several surface parking lots, used mostly during the day by downtown workers.

Compared with the Old Market and north downtown, Thele said, the area has little economic or pedestrian activity.

Planned landscaping and an outdoor courtyard with a water feature should bring new energy, those involved say, to the transitional neighborhood, especially when corporate events or weddings are held.

“Any time you add greenery to any area of town, it's a blessing,” Jennifer Snow said. “It's really going to pop in that area.”

Erin Trofholz of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, which is working on the project, said the design of the outdoor courtyard will direct guests' focus northward to the downtown skyline, connecting the site to the rest of the city's core.

Once the project is completed, visitors will walk into an urban event center that highlights midcentury and industrial styles, Trofholz said. Exposed brick will be sandblasted and cleaned. A modern ballroom will seat 300 guests.

There will be an office and conference space for meetings, a 4,200-square-foot kitchen, about two-thirds larger than the company's current kitchen space, and a tasting room featuring a big window through which guests for tastings will be able to watch the culinary team at work.

The structure will be the third home to Catering Creations, founded in 2002 by the Snows. For the dozen years before that, Jeff had been an executive chef at the French Cafe and Jennifer was a stockbroker with a biology degree.

Jennifer eventually shifted her focus full time to the catering business as Jeff continued to lead the kitchen. About 80 percent of their menus are customized according to the client's wishes. Catering Creations staffers handle events from the setup stage to cleanup.

Off-premise catering will continue after the move, but the larger quarters mean that, for the first time, the Snows also will be able to cater events on site. Jennifer said the Pacific Street suite was so cramped that the company had to lease storage space for some equipment.

“We couldn't even hire another person — there was no room,” she said.

Staff size now is 14 full-timers and 120 part-time, on-call workers. Plans call for the full-time staff to increase by 13, and additional part-timers also will be needed.

Cheryl McCall of ACCESSbank recalls a tasting trip to the company's current site, where she essentially was rubbing against display items, trays and vases. Catering Creations has become ACCESSbank's “go-to” caterer, she said.

Among the caterer's fun spreads: the roaming popcorn wall; the smoking “fire and ice” dessert station; the “salad martini library” positioned on book shelves.

The Snows settled on the Fisher building after checking out a few west Omaha sites, including former car dealerships. Needs included a dock area for an eight-van fleet and accessibility to the Interstates. They liked the new home's proximity to clients such as the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Scoular Ballroom and Durham Museum.

While the old Fisher building needs much work, the Snows said it also offered unique features such as old sliding warehouse doors. In the larger quarters the company expects to at least quadruple the 500 events it staged and catered last year.

As Omaha's economy prospers and the metropolitan area gains population, the couple expect the catering business to further expand.

“It's really a partnership with the city we live in,” Jennifer Snow said. “So the sky's the limit.”

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