Comeback brews on riverfront: Storz to revive brand in new restaurant at Rick's Cafe Boatyard site - Omaha.com
Published Friday, August 9, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:38 pm
Comeback brews on riverfront: Storz to revive brand in new restaurant at Rick's Cafe Boatyard site

Photos: Storz Brewing Co. history, advertisements
Video: How Storz's plans came together

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The brick smokestack is about all that's left standing.

It's still visible from the Omaha river­front, a fading reminder of the glory days when the Storz brewery chugged out thousands of cans and bottles per shift.

The factory that produced a third of the beer sold in Nebraska is gone. But Storz now plans a comeback, hoping to capitalize on the nostalgia of a bygone brand.

Descendants of the historic brewery's owners will revive the Storz name and transform the former Rick's Cafe Boatyard into the Storz Trophy Room Grill & Brewery.

The old brewery's smokestack — north of 16th and Cuming Streets — was visible Thursday as organizers unveiled the river­front's new restaurant. The company's management team includes John Markel, a great-grandson of Storz founder Gottlieb Storz, and his cousin Tom Markel.

“Nebraska, we're back,” Tom Markel said.

The Storz Brewing Co. plans to join the nation's craft brewing movement, which is seeing more growth in the Omaha area, by joining with a Nebraska brewer to make Storz brand beers.

The restaurant will open Nov. 15, its operators announced. Yves Menard, owner of Charlie's on the Lake restaurant, will help run the kitchen and business.

Brewery history will be an important part of the restaurant, its operators said. Storz was brewed in Omaha for nearly 100 years before the plant closed in 1972, six years after the Storz family sold the business.

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“We feel like we've been in Prohibition for about 42 years,” Markel said.

In exchange for a marquee location, the new restaurant will have to operate its business in accordance with a lengthy legal agreement with the City of Omaha.

The Storz Riverfront Development Co. must provide the city with financial information on its operations every six months. The city had rights to do that with Rick's Cafe Boatyard but rarely did so.

City Attorney Paul Kratz said the lease for the property will run for 50 years, expiring on Dec. 31, 2063.

The operators will pay the city rent starting at $60,000 a year and also pay roughly $19,000 in back taxes on the property. But the city has waived the lease payment until July 1, 2014.

The new operators will renovate and make some repairs, including dealing with potential building code violations. But otherwise, the lease prohibits the restaurant from renovating the property without city approval.

The city will continue to give the restaurant exclusive access to the redeveloped lead refinery site and prevent any construction in the immediate vicinity that might impair views of the building. The City Council should get its first look at the lease next week.

Officials hope the restaurant can accomplish what its predecessor did early on: Help jump-start efforts to develop Omaha's riverfront.

“Twenty years ago this was the Asarco lead refinery,” Mayor Jean Stothert said.

“Today's announcement is about Omaha's future, and it is about Omaha's past,” she said. “The family's decision to bring this Omaha brand back to the tap is an exciting addition to our riverfront and will certainly bring back memories for many generations of Omahans.”

Rick's Cafe Boatyard, under the ownership of Rick Albrecht, was the lone business that submitted a plan to the city in 2001 to open a restaurant at Lewis & Clark Landing.

The restaurant faced problems in recent years — flood threats from the Missouri River, unpaid taxes and complaints about the food.

Rick's closed in January, and its operator defaulted on his 30-year lease agreement with the city last spring. The city owns the property, which was valued by Douglas County last year at $1.68 million.

The 19,000-square-foot bar and restaurant will be renovated to include a Storz memorabilia museum on the second floor. The original Storz Brewery had a hunting lodge room called “The Trophy Room,” adorned with the stuffed heads of big game.

There were some obvious hints that work to revive the brand was afoot.

The Storz Brewing Co. filed paperwork with the state in May, according to state corporate records. “Hey Nebraska, guess who is coming back!” blared a Twitter account for the company in late July.

Now Storz beer will be available statewide through an agreement with five Anheuser-­Busch distributors, organizers said. Storz plans to introduce lager, wheat, pale ale and amber ale products in a few weeks, producing 160,000 cases in its first year of operation.

Stothert aides said the Storz company would work with the Lincoln-based Blue Blood Brewing Co. Markel said the restaurant would employ about 100 people.

Kratz said the circumstances leading to the deal were a “kind of luck, serendipity kind of thing.”

After Rick's Cafe closed, multiple entities contacted the city to express interest in the site.

Markel had already started the process to revive the Storz brand, Kratz said, but began to work with the city after he was routed through a series of current and former public officials including former Mayor Hal Daub.

“That's the way these deals happen sometimes,” Kratz said. “You just never know.”

Daub has been one of the Rick's Cafe investors, Kratz said, and serves as a sort of spokesman for its other investors.

Daub wasn't present at Thursday's announcement, but Stothert said her supporter in the mayoral election was instrumental in the riverfront's development.

“The front door to Omaha that we have built here on the riverfront is a result of your vision and your leadership,” she said.

As for the food, chef Menard said the business would focus more on steaks, rather than the seafood that Charlie's is known for.

“What I envision is what it should've been in the first place. It should be quality, quality and more quality,” he said.

“This will be our party. It's going to be a big project. ... We need this landmark back open.”

CORRECTION: John Markel is the great-grandson of Gottlieb Storz, founder of Storz, the historic Omaha brewery. An earlier version of this story misidentified the family relationship.

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