When Omaha restaurateur Willy Theisen comes up with a new idea, he sells the old idea.
And his new idea is across the street from Dundee's Pitch Pizzeria, which he opened in 2009, Theisen said Thursday at a breakfast meeting for the Association for Corporate Growth, a networking group for attorneys, bankers and other mergers and acquisitions dealmakers.
“I build them, I fine-tune them and I sell to someone else. That's what I do. Maybe I get bored,” he said.
Theisen told the group he has sold his controlling interest in Pitch Pizzeria and has plans to open a breakfast and lunch restaurant across the street in the former Grandpa's C Mart and deli, a space that he leased in 2012. The menu is finished and renderings have been drawn for the new concept, which will feature a rotisserie and some Mexican dishes.
Theisen declined to elaborate on the plan after the meeting, saying it was premature.
During his speech, he said part of the plan would be a three-story building — two floors of parking, plus 100 parking spaces, condominiums and one-bedroom apartments on the third floor — located on a parking lot between the former Grandpa's C Mart and KFAB's studio. That may be a few years out, Theisen said, because of long-term leases in the area.
“It's a big idea. We're going to do it right, as the city deserves,” Theisen said.
And more Pitch locations are coming, Theisen said, again declining to comment further.
Theisen shared snippets of his 50-year restaurant career Thursday, including successes, advice he received along the way, his love of mentoring young people and even one failure — a Famous Dave's barbecue restaurant in Kansas City that foundered as the recession took hold.
Theisen started Godfather's Pizza in Omaha in 1973, eventually growing the business to 900 locations and selling it in 1983.
In 1992, he transitioned from pizza to burritos and purchased the controlling interest in GB Foods Corp., an operator and franchisor of a Mexican food restaurant chain called Green Burrito located in Southern California. He sold the business in 1997, then opened franchised Famous Dave's restaurants.
“In this town, we didn't need another pizza joint, but I wanted to go full circle,” Theisen said. He referenced one of his mantras: Only cook the food you love.
From the music to the bathrooms, it all plays a part in a three-legged stool of ambience, food and service that he said keeps a restaurant going.
Theisen's arrival in Omaha was not by design, he said. As a young 20-something, he planned to drive to California from his hometown of Clinton, Iowa. On the way, his car broke down in Omaha. He said he'd stay just long enough to get on his feet, but he stayed much longer than that.
“I didn't make it to the Pacific, but I made it to the Missouri River,” he said. “Omaha is my base. This is where all of my success and my comfort level is.”