If you were to take a stroll down the streets of Benson today, you would meet people who still say “hi” to strangers, see a booming restaurant scene, and find trees old enough to tell you tales about when your grandparents were the snot-nosed kids on the lawn.
This wasn’t always the case. In 1995 the only businesses on the currently thriving stretch of Maple were a Buffalo Wild Wings, and a fledgling, family-owned franchise called The Pizza Shoppe.
Amy Ryan, a North Omaha native, brought The Shoppe to Benson from Kansas City 19 years ago with her then-husband. She chose Benson because, as she says “If you want to save an area, you just have to show up!”
A student of Neurology and psychology, Amy worked as a social worker and ran a domestic violence shelter in KC. In her spare time, she was a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Then, the pair decided to start a family. With 2 beautiful children, a meaningful vocation, and a family business on her plate, the 25 year old’s entire life changed literally overnight when the Mom and Pop pizza stop became a solo venture.
Trial and Error
With no training in business, restaurant ownership, or kitchen management, the newly single mother found herself struggling in a world of quick criticism. She calls it well-deserved and admits she was in over her head. That’s the kind of humility any conversation with this truly impressive woman is dripping with.
After years of on the job training, failed experiments and struggle, Amy felt the shop was in good shape. With a staff she could trust instead of micromanage, she could start to focus on bringing more of her passion to Benson.
Eight years ago, The Pizza Shoppe became The Pizza Shoppe Collective: a platform for local artists, comedians, and even educators to take the stage and share their gift. Living by her motto of “Find a need and fill it,” she built the theatre to create a positive platform for starving artists, seniors, those with special needs, and an entire underserved population to help fill a void in their community. A place to share passion, humor, and a hot slice of truly unique pizza.
Serving up love, one slice at a time.
Her reputation for philanthropy spread even faster than her reputation for eccentricity. She soon found waves of hungry, homeless, and heartbroken Omahans at her door. Never one to overlook a person’s potential, she couldn’t turn away a soul. She soon struck a deal with a local church, which would send anyone without a table to sit down at to her door. The church agreed to split the bill with her, and while she shyly admits to footing more than half of the bill, she feels like she’s answering a true calling.
She gives toothbrushes, soap, and a slice of dignity with each hot meal she serves. She offers small tasks to those interested in bartering for a meal, knowing that it’s a hand up they’re looking for.
And did I mention they serve pizza?
As my Caveman roommate likes to say “It’s hard to make a bad pizza, but it’s hard to make a really good pizza, too.” Enter a world where the most common ingredient on the menu is creativity.
With signature pies ranging from the creamy “Diane’s Delight” (Alfredo, artichoke hearts, black olives, feta, broccoli, and garlic) to the tangy Irish Mob (Corned Beef, sauerkraut, red onion, green pepper, and extra cheese) you’ll ask yourself two questions: ”Why haven’t I eaten here before?” and “How on earth am I craving a mustard and pickle pizza?” Yes, you read that right. It’s called the Cabana and there is no reason it should be so delicious, but in an environment so welcoming, you take a chance. You fall in love.
An extensive beer menu will give you something to sip while you peruse the endless pizzabilities. Italian nachos will silence the grumbling belly as you take in a show at The Collective.
End your meal knowing that you’ve become part of something empowering. A neighborhood that was once considered the dregs of Omaha is now a budding community of respected artists. Despite the initial resistance she faced, and having to learn so much in the public eye, Amy keeps her eyes on bigger ways to bring her city compassion, art, and yes, pizza. “Resistance is an interesting thing,” she tells me. “There’s a reason for it. I used the resistance to better myself.” And whether or not she’s willing to admit it, she used it to better her community.
6056 Maple Street
Monday – Thursday: 11:00AM – 10:00PM
Friday – Saturday: 11:00AM – Close
Sunday: 4:00PM – Close