The Omaha Restaurant Association (ORA) began in 1944 with a small group of restaurateurs that met at the Castle Hotel. Seven faithful members agreed to serve on the first Board of Directors and began meeting every month to discuss the purpose of the ORA as well as the welfare of their members and of the hospitality industry, in general. One of the early purposes was to promote “eating out”, and they did succeed, as Omaha is known to this day as a city of great food, and great restaurants…
In the early years, the ORA did not have paid staff, and was operated solely by the elected board. In the early 1980’s that was changed by the Board, resulting in the hiring of Mr. Harold Norman to be the first Executive Director. Harold, with his wife Dorothy, were very instrumental in the growth, and stature of the ORA. Perhaps one of Harold’s biggest achievements was the thousands of dollars he raised for scholarships.
Upon Harold’s retirement in 2000, Jennie Warren was named the new Executive Director and remains in that position 19 years later, as the ORA continues to thrive.
The ORA has served the community well through the promotion eating at Omaha’s great restaurants. The ORA also works with many local groups and agencies to insure that Omaha is always known for great food and service. Some of the agencies the ORA has worked with include the Douglas County Health Department, the Nebraska Restaurant Association, The American Culinary Federation, and the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College.
The ORA has additionally served the residents of the area by offering scholarships to those outstanding individuals who are interested in making a career in the food industry.
What was once a committee of the ORA (The Scholarship Committee) is now an affiliated but separate organization that promotes and distributes scholarships through Metropolitan Community College Foundation (MCCF) and Hospitality Education Foundation (HEF). Through these foundations the ORA has been able offer scholarships to outstanding individuals. In addition to education ORA has been able to provide much needed funds for Food Bank of the Heartland, No More Empty Pots, Feedback Omaha and Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue.
The ORA can look with pride at the reputation that Omaha restaurants have developed in the greater metro area. It is proud of its members who have risen to positions of national prominence. Perhaps unprecedented, the ORA has had three individuals who have gone on to be President of the National Restaurant Association. We owe a great debt of gratitude to these individuals, as well as all of those who have served on the ORA Board, especially our presidents, and our two Executive Directors. If not for their dedication, perhaps Omaha would not be so well known for its wonderful restaurants.
ORA Members that became National Restaurant Presidents:
- 1919-1920 John W. Welch, the First President
- 1959-1960 Raymond C. Matson, Hilltop House
- 1994-1995 Herman Cain, Godfather’s Pizza, INC.
The Castle Hotel was home to the first meetings of the Omaha Restaurant Association. Image from the collections of Omaha Public Library ~Used by Permission
Raymond Matson’s Hilltop House was a destination for Omaha diners. Image provided by Miss Cassette, MyOmahaObsession.com ~ Used by Permission