Little Italy, Big Flavor
Aug 12, 2014 09:00AM
By Omaha Magazine Staff
In the back, hustling to make it all happen, was Jim Hall.
Hall’s first job was at Orsi’s. Times and labor laws have changed since a then 8-year-old boy wrapped bread and buns in paper bags. Now he and his wife, Kathy, own the Little Italy landmark.
“It’s been part of me my whole life,” Hall says. Before he returned full-time as owner, Hall worked at UPS and OPPD, but always kept a weekend shift at Orsi’s.
Founded by Alfonso and Raphael Orsi in 1919, the bakery descended through the family over the years. In 2006, Hall and Bobby Orsi Jr. took ownership from Bob Orsi, adding a deli counter with meats, cheeses, olives, oils, and dry goods around 2007. In 2010, the Halls became full owners.
If anyone thinks that the Halls’ full ownership signaled the changing of the family guard, they’d be at least figuratively wrong. Hall, an informally adopted Orsi, has been part of the lifeblood of the iconic South Omaha outfit most of his life.
By age 12 Hall was entrusted with a set of keys and, along with an older neighborhood kid, opened up early each Sunday morning to start baking bread.
“I’ve been here on Sundays since 1967,” says Hall. “I’m German-Austrian by heritage, but I’m an adopted Italian.”
He describes the South Omaha of his youth as an ethnically diverse place where “everyone got along,” but each proud population had their own churches, groceries, bakeries, and bars. Unfortunately, this tradition of niche family businesses isn’t as prevalent as it once was.
“This is all that’s left of Little Italy besides Cascio’s now,” Hall muses. “These places were the special gems of the city.”
But the pendulum is always swinging.
“People are moving back down here now and it’s revitalizing the area,” he says. “It’s a lot more vibrant again.”
Hall still works long hours along with Kathy, who handles bookkeeping. They suspect that many such businesses shutter when a family’s sons and daughters aren’t keen on the grueling time commitment involved in many small businesses.
“If there’s no one in the next generation to take it over,” he notes, “a lot of them have faded on.”
Hall says it may not be his kids, but perhaps one of the next generation of neighborhood kids—just like he once was—who pick up the Orsi’s baton when the time comes.
But not just yet. It’s Orsi’s 95th year in business, and Hall says he will see it to the century mark and beyond.
“I was always part of the family,” he adds, “and I want to keep going.” I know our customers and like making them happy. And having new people discover us. Once they taste, they’ll be back.”