A Fairy Tale at Omaha's Edge of the UniverseApr 28, 2021 03:52PM ● By Kim Reiner
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Rachel Evans started 2020 believing she would achieve her longtime dream that year. She was going to open an ethereal cafe where if one felt like dressing up like a princess, they could.
The plan was for a 2020 summer opening in the Benson neighborhood for her cafe, Edge of the Universe. At her side, her boyfriend, Adam Van Osdel, helped prepare the space. In early March, they shared photos of the beginning stage of renovations.
She expected challenges, being a first-time business owner. She hadn’t expected a global pandemic.
These days, watching Evans work behind the bar, her mask cannot hide the smile in her eyes as she greets each customer. It’s been almost a year since this small-business adventure started for her and Van Osdel. Evans thrives on the interaction with patrons.
“Let’s be best friends,” she says as she claps her hands together.
There is no hint of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into opening Edge of the Universe.
When Evans and Van Osdel started renovations, they were hopeful, expecting to open three months later.
“When the pandemic hit, everything came to a crashing halt,” she said.
Van Osdel balanced his job as program and gallery director at Pottawattamie Arts, Culture & Entertainment with painting and building the immersive environment of the cafe. Evans wrangled contractor schedules and sought city inspections and permits. Their business hadn’t opened yet, but the bills and rent arrived.
At long last, the delayed opening was set for October, and the couple was ready and excited. Well, almost ready. Evans nearly broke her ankle in September, but remained undeterred, and the doors opened on an autumn Friday morning.
On Saturday morning, Van Osdel proposed. She accepted.
The following Monday, a large tumor was found on Evans’ left breast. It turned out to be a benign type of tumor common among her particular Jewish lineage. “God, 2020 sucked,” she said with a laugh.
One Friday evening, a couple chats quietly over cocktails while, a few steps away, a trio of young girls celebrating a birthday prance around in tiaras. It’s movie night at Edge of the Universe, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is on the screen.
The cafe, and its menu, reflects its current theme, “Happily Ever After.” The drink names allude to fairy tales, with some being served in playful mugs.
“Who doesn’t love a great mug?” Evans asked, referencing the princess mugs she recently added to the fleet. They’re gold and covered in rhinestones and roses. “Not only are you getting a great drink, it just adds to the experience.”
The unexpected touches don’t go unnoticed.
Nat Orgura usually photographs beautiful pictures of food at the restaurants she visits to share with her Yum Omaha fans. But she wanted to tell them about the atmosphere as much as she wanted to point out the glowing ice cube in her Stay Out Of The Forest drink.
“My initial reaction was ‘Where in [the] world am I?,” Ogura said. “This place got some magic for me to forget the real world that I came from.”
That’s exactly what Evans and Van Osdel planned. “We wanted it to feel like you’re coming out of the world and into something magical,” Evans said.
Lit by chandeliers and soft lights that reflect off the tin ceiling made in 1910, there is a whimsical feel to the place.
By design, Edge of the Universe will change its look, its menu—everything—every few months. Van Osdel and Evans both worked at Omaha Children’s Museum in recent years, so they know how to transform a space completely.
Evans worked as the special events coordinator at the museum, creating memorable characters such as Princess Poppy and launching popular events like the Fairytale Ball.
Van Osdel built exhibit pieces for the museum, once using a chainsaw to carve giant animal sculptures out of styrofoam.
The frequency of theme changes in the cafe will pick up after 2021, but for now Evans anticipates one more for this year: Starry Starry Night. They intend to feature a local artist to help with the development of the theme, as well as display and sell the artist’s work.
“There is an endless supply of amazing artists in this area,” Evans said.
She loves a good event, so she has several themed nights each week, from music bingo on Wednesdays to game nights on Sundays.
Hillary Horner, a former museum colleague, helped start their trivia night. Horner described the evenings as having a “fun, relaxed vibe,” attracting a mix of families and bar hoppers.
The true magic of Edge of the Universe is that no matter the time of day or theme, the crowd is mixed.
Evans and Van Osdel intentionally put the focus on their business being a cafe and not a bar. They have nieces and nephews, and they didn’t want to own a place where those little ones couldn’t visit.
“I worked at a children’s museum for so long, I love kids,” Evans said. “I love other people’s kids. I don’t mind if they’re here making a mess.”
She’s developed a reputation for her welcoming spirit. In February, when the forecast dipped to dangerously low temperatures, Evans felt bad for the people waiting for the bus outside the cafe’s entrance, so she invited them in. The cafe made news when Evans placed a sign out in front of her business stating: “Welcome! It’s too cold. All are welcome to warm up here.”
She explained to WOWT-Channel 6 at the time, “I kept telling them over the weekend ‘Just come in, come in! And they were like ‘I don’t have any money’ and I was like ‘I don’t care, it’s freezing out here!’”
It’s easy to see how Evans plays a starring role in this story—a chatty small business owner with a penchant for Disney-themed masks and fuzzy pens. But, she credits the success of opening a new business during a pandemic and sustaining it to Van Osdel.
“This would not have happened without Adam. He helped build all of this,” Evans reflected, adding that he’s been the emotional, financial, and creative support behind the venture.
“Everything you love in here, Adam built. I just added flowers to it.”
Visit edgeoftheuniversebff.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.