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Omaha Magazine

Booze, Bar, and Banquets: Beau Starkel Intends to Disrupt the Alcohol Industry

May 26, 2020 08:57AM ● By Lisa Lukecart

Stuffed animals, building blocks, and action figures have been replaced with whiskeys, wines, and ales at the former Toys “R” Us store at Oakview Plaza. Wine, Beer, and Spirits planned to open its doors to liquor lovers with a soft opening the last week in April. The concept merges a bar, events, and shopping under one roof. 

“It’ll be Brix on steroids,” owner Beau Starkel said. 

Starkel brings experience as the owner of two Thunderhead Brewing Taprooms, one in the Old Market district and the other in west Omaha. Dressed in a long-sleeved plaid shirt, blue jeans, and work boots, the businessman looked more like a construction worker. 

“I’ve been building s--- my whole life,” Starkel explained, puffing on a thick Gilberto Oliva cigar. Some of his knowledge comes from growing up in rural Stanton, Nebraska. But his financial flair has helped him seize opportunities. When the building came up in a bankruptcy auction at $900,000 for 31,000 square feet, the 37-year-old businessman jumped on it. He saw an advantage in the location, a destination hot spot adjacent to Oakview Mall. 

“There is a reason I built it in the middle of the Hy-Vees,” Starkel said. “It will completely disrupt the alcohol industry.”  

He pointed with his cigar at the huge building interior, a blank canvas waiting for an entrepreneur’s brush to transform it. Starkel flipped his blue baseball hat backwards and radiated excited energy as he paced the space, much like a kid in a toy store. 

Omaha does not have a massive selection of low-price liquor, he explained. Starkel capitalized on that fact in a big way “to make money.”

To the right of the black tiled entryway, a 45-foot solid walnut bar top invites guests to sample selections before deciding on a purchase. The bar walls will be covered in cedar and wood panels, giving off the vibe of a warm log cabin. Huge slabs of natural oak community tables will seat up to 50 people. An 800-square-foot mural of a vineyard along another wall should inspire wine lovers to share a bottle of cabernet, chianti, or chardonnay. 

While some will sip on Nebraska craft beers at the bar, others can take advantage of the 22,000 square feet of shopping space. Half of the light fixtures were taken down and the remaining converted to LED. The checkout counters from the old store remain, but most likely will be covered in natural pine wood. He kept the remodel simple, preferring to keep it low key, adding rows upon rows of metal shelves for the product. The lower cost in maintenance means customers will be charged less. 

A smaller 1,200-square-foot section has been reserved for “the library.” People could use the granite tables equipped with power outlets to work, read, host meetings—or perhaps play a game of shuffleboard. The east side of the wall is painted in burgundy to match the lipstick trim on the exterior. Pac-Man wallpaper remains on the wall, a holdover from the Toys “R” Us days. Starkel wants to keep it, but has been outvoted thus far by the rest of the crew. 

The bulk of the demo work went into the event space. Architect Mark Sanford approached it as a retail remodel. The form and flow of the soundproof space seemed more important than the aesthetics. His company, Mark Sanford Group, added walls to create a 5,000-square-foot space for weddings, corporate conventions, or holiday parties. Two restrooms, a family restroom, and a bridal/green room added extra touches to keep the area private. Sanford collaborated with Starkel on both Thunderhead Taprooms. 

“Beau is a very energetic and farsighted young man. I have to keep up with him. He’s always ahead of me,” Sanford added. 

This is evident in how quickly Starkel adjusted his blueprint of the retail space due to the COVID-19 virus. He squinted behind his glasses, tugged on his brown beard, and nodded his head. 

“Take down all these shelves. We are going to throw down pallets instead,” Starkel told department manager Dave Ribar. 

Ribar’s blue eyes widened. He bartended at Thunderhead for six months, but the coronavirus forced many restaurant and bars to shut their doors. Starkel didn’t want to see his employees laid off so he asked them to paint, build, and tear down the building at Wine, Beer, and Spirits instead. Ribar had little experience in construction so the shelves took him about 16 hours.   

“I can’t believe I have to take it all down,” he whispered. 

Ribar, 28, quit his job in heating and air conditioning to go full-time as a manager at the store. He is still a part-time senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Starkel, an adjunct finance professor there these past three years, taught Ribar all about the pitfalls of small businesses. Ribar now has a hands-on entrepreneurial education building it all from the ground up. 

“In the beginning, I was nervous. I thought three months to open was hard, but we put in a lot of effort,” Ribar said. 

Along with adding pallets, the event area is temporarily halted. Food can’t be catered in anyway, so it is pointless during quarantine. This way the store can be up and running faster with curbside pickup in the 180-parking stall lot. 

Despite a temporary decline due to the virus, Starkel still hopes to open four more stores, insisting “it’s going to be a damn good value.”

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This article was printed in the June 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.