The Omaha Restaurant Association is watching you.

Actually, they’re watching out for you. They’re doing this by making sure that Omaha area restaurants have all the tools they need in order to provide the best dining experience possible to patrons. “The ORA is a group of local restaurants that work together while at the same time allowing us to get to know like-minded folks within the industry,” explains John Wade, ORA President. “We look at how we can learn from each other. We learn to take care of our customers. We look at the best hospitality experience possible and we work on it together.”

Started in 1944, one of the main goals of the ORA has always been to keep an eye on what the hospitality industry in Omaha is doing. They promote the restaurants in town and have been one of the factors that helped Omaha’s food scene evolve and thrive into what it is today. “It’s a great group of people that put on great events,” says Wade. “There’s a lot of philanthropy. We support the food bank and provide culinary scholarships at Metropolitan Community College’s Culinary Institute.”

The reason you may never have heard of the Omaha Restaurant Association is because they’re not necessarily reaching out to you. This organization is more behind-the-scenes as far as what they do. “Our model isn’t based on catering to the general public; that’s not our target market,” says Wade. “It’s more a group of restaurants and businesses where we pull together seminars. Let’s figure out a way to learn about ways to control our food costs. If we do a better job of that as a group, we can keep our menu prices down. So the direct impact is a little different and not as tangible for the everyday Omaha resident, but it does obviously impact them.”

The ORA had an active role in trying to fight the restaurant tax in Omaha. “The ORA was very active in trying to fight that tax,” says Wade. “It didn’t work out quite how we wanted it to, but we certainly spent a lot of time and energy and money in trying to go after that. We went after what we thought was in the best interest of the people of Omaha.”

Although the ORA has a high degree of membership from independent restaurants, this group does not make up the entire organization. “It’s not solely independent restaurants, but we’re mostly ‘Ma & Pa’ owners who have their one location. These restaurants buy local, for the most part.” Wade adds, “I encourage Omaha residents to support the ORA restaurants out there because these are mostly local folks.” Chain restaurants, suppliers and some other groups are also ORA members.

If you didn’t know much about the ORA before, there’s a good chance you didn’t get tickets to their upcoming annual event called Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen on Sunday, March 23rd at the Hilton Omaha. It’s too late now because the event is sold out, but here’s what you’re missing: “You have a cocktail hour and then draw a chef’s name, and that’s the chef who cooks for your table,” explains Wade. “They do a five course meal and that’s paid with five different drinks. The chef comes out in between courses and explains what his inspiration was, how he prepared the dish, and some interesting

facts about that dish. You don’t have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with your chef, so that’s a pretty unique experience.”

“Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen is one of our biggest fundraisers for the Omaha Restaurant Association that benefits hunger relief and culinary scholarships,” says Dan Preusser, ORA Treasurer and co-chair of the event. Proceeds from the event go to the Heartland Food Bank and culinary scholarships. “It is my personal favorite event and a great way to get some of the best chefs around the city to come together in one place. I am really looking forward to it!”

The list of restaurants offering their chefs for this event is impressive: Twisted Fork, Vivace, le Voltaire, Liberty Tavern, M’s Pub and J. Coco are just a few of them. “This will be our biggest Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen yet,” boasts Wade. “We sold out fast.”

Wade says that the future of the ORA looks good. “We’ve certainly been growing,” he says. Find out more about the ORA, including participating restaurants and upcoming events, at their website:

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