Omaha’s iconic steakhouse turns 100

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In 1922, at the start of the Prohibition era, South Omaha was teeming with new business, and Polish immigrant Frank Kawa opened his restaurant, Johnny’s Cafe, near Omaha’s stockyards. L, with only five to eight tables,” Johnny’s co-owner Kari Kawa said. “His name was Frank, but the story goes that the name painted on the building was ‘Johnny’ and he didn’t have enough money to change paint. So that became her nickname.” One hundred years later, Kawa’s granddaughter, Kari shares the business with her sister, Sally. “We think it’s an honor to be a part of it,” said said Kawa. The couple took over the business from their father and uncle in the 1990s to keep the historic steakhouse alive. “Beef has always been our heart,” Kawa said. “The prime rib and steak are what put us on the map.” At the heart of Johnny’s Cafe are old-school dishes like oxtails served with mashed potatoes and carrots. Johnny’s grandmother Terry Patton was a waitress at Johnny’s for 35 years. After many meals with family and friends, he said the food, service and atmosphere never gets old. “The oxtails are delicious,” said Patton: “I like the Reuben, lots of great meals. People are so busy these days. They don’t seem to take the time to sit down and enjoy it.” Bob and Cindy McDonald had their first date at the steakhouse. Decades later, they still eat there once a week. “Lots of tradition here,” Bob McDonald said. “We’re not the only ones coming back.” Johnny’s has survived waves of economic hardship over the past century and now a pandemic, but the beloved restaurant remains an icon of ‘Omaha.” It was the unknown, I guess it was scary,” Kawa said. “And you had to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and keep going.” expects many years of quality food and service. “We’re still here and still thriving,” Kawa said.

In 1922, at the start of the Prohibition era, South Omaha was teeming with new business, and Polish immigrant Frank Kawa opened his restaurant, Johnny’s Cafe, near Omaha’s stockyards.

“The building was just a little bar here at the corner of 27th and L, with only five to eight tables,” Johnny’s co-owner Kari Kawa said. “His name was Frank, but the story goes that the name painted on the building was ‘Johnny’ and he didn’t have enough money to change the paint. So that became his nickname.”

One hundred years later, Kawa’s granddaughter, Kari, shares the business with her sister, Sally.

“We think it’s an honor to be a part of it,” Kawa said.

The couple took over the business from their father and uncle in the 1990s to keep the historic steakhouse alive.

“Beef has always been our heart,” Kawa said. “The prime rib and steak is what put us on the map.”

At the heart of Johnny’s Cafe are old-school dishes like oxtails with mashed potatoes and carrots.

Terry Patton’s grandmother was a waitress at Johnny’s for 35 years. After many meals with family and friends, he said the food, service and ambience never gets old.

“Oxtails are delicious,” Patton said. “I love the Reuben [sandwiches], many good meals. People are so busy these days. They don’t seem to take the time to sit down and enjoy it.”

Bob and Cindy McDonald had their first date at the steakhouse. Decades later, they still eat there once a week.

“[There are] a lot of tradition here,” Bob McDonald said. “We are not the only ones who keep coming back.

Johnny’s has survived waves of economic hardship over the past century and now a pandemic, but the beloved restaurant remains an Omaha icon.

“It was the unknown, I guess it was scary,” Kawa said. “And you had to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and keep going.”

Kawa says she expects many years of quality food and service.

“We are still here and we are still thriving,” Kawa said.

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