Grace: While you were sleeping, elves were busy baking WheatFields' Christmas treats - Omaha.com
go logo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
All of those holiday goodies have to be made by somebody. In Omaha, many of them are baked by the folks at WheatFields. Here, assistant deli catering manager Maria Ricano arranges baked goods at the restaurant's One Pacific Place location in the early hours of Monday. The last two months of the year are the busiest for the bakery.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
article photo
WheatFields deli catering manager Jane Cody, at left, is in charge of the “controlled chaos” that marks the last two months of the year at the Omaha bakery.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
article photo
Customer orders are crossed off as they’re filled. And in the middle of the busiest months of the year, “we make a lot of lists,” said manager Jane Cody.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
article photo
Christmas at WheatFields is a monthlong marathon of gingerbread, German stollen, kolaches, sugar cookies, cookie bars, divinity, pies, cakes, cupcakes and this year-round favorite and a Christmas top-seller: cinnamon rolls.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
article photo
“Once a week for 13 years, I remember having big, soft, cinnamon rolls with white icing," said Ron Popp, WheatFields’ owner, who based many recipes on family traditions.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
article photo
WheatFields bakers work through the night to provide Omahans with fresh cakes, pies, rolls and other goodies for the holidays.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)


Grace: While you were sleeping, elves were busy baking WheatFields' Christmas treats
By Erin Grace / World-Herald columnist


A Christmas miracle occurred somewhere between my midtown home and a west Omaha strip mall.

I was driving on West Dodge Road at a desolate morning hour in a desolate temperature when I steered into One Pacific Place.

My assignment: to see just how busy an already-busy bakery is a day before showtime. At WheatFields, Christmas Eve rivals Thanksgiving Eve in terms of traffic and sales.

Unlike the one-day Thanksgiving pie sprint, Christmas is a monthlong marathon of gingerbread, German stollen, kolaches, sugar cookies, cookie bars, divinity, pies, cakes, cupcakes and this year-round favorite and a Christmas top-seller: cinnamon rolls.

But when I opened the restaurant door at 2 a.m. Monday, I discovered WheatFields was merely a front for Santa Claus. He and a cadre of elves, with a penchant for accordion-heavy ranchera music, have been using the joint for their holiday baking.

While you and I have been sleeping these frigid December mornings, Santa and his elves have been mixing and measuring, scooping and stirring, folding and frosting, boxing and delivering so that Omahans could have fresh-baked treats like caramel apple pie.

A constant is the cinnamon rolls. I saw elves in black T-shirts plunge their arms into 20-gallon mixing bowls of butter-yellow dough.

They spread the dough onto flour-topped counters. Then, at lightning-elf speed, they punched, shaped, spread and cut the dough, lathered it with butter, dusted it with cinnamon, pinched it, rolled it, cut it again and placed it into heavy baking pans that slid into an oven taller and wider than Santa Claus.

In Omaha, Santa goes by the street name Ron Popp. He pretends to be a 56-year-old restaurateur who had the revolutionary notion that restaurant food should use fresh ingredients and Santa-like portions. This worked for him when he built the Garden Cafe into a successful chain.

Popp took the formula to WheatFields, which has been his family's only restaurant for the past 14 years, and that, since 2000, has grown to three storefronts in Omaha. All of the baking occurs at the One Pacific Place location.

The baking for all three means, in a single month, WheatFields goes through 8,200 pounds of butter, 9,200 pounds of sugar, 10,300 pounds of flour and 108,500 eggs.

WheatFields uses so much cream — 7,600 gallons this month alone — that in the past it has been the largest cream consumer in Nebraska. I can confirm that this cream is put to good use when whipped and served atop one of those heavenly cinnamon rolls.

WheatFields has made 109,540 of those cinnamon rolls so far this year.

Pulling that off, plus creating and manning all of those other sweets, truly is magic.

On Monday morning, here's what I saw: One elf scooped muffin batter. Another lugged 120 eggs, cracking one with a delicate flick of a wrist. A third squirted chocolate onto a peanut butter pie. A fourth elf pushed airy whipped cream frosting onto strawberry wedding cake while a fifth topped cupcakes with 2 inches of chocolate frosting and a bright red maraschino cherry. More elves lugged trays of muffins, croissants and dessert bars, squeezed them onto whatever shelf space they could find, then boxed them for delivery.

Head elf Jane Cody, who has worked with Popp for 10 years, was keeping track of it all, building a who's-been-nice-in-Omaha list that for Monday and today was several dozen pages long. And that was just the cakes.

“We make a lot of lists around here,” Jane said. “We've got the system pretty much down pat. Controlled chaos!”

In all, some 65 elves were working Monday at the One Pacific Place location.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

Popp has built menus based on old family recipes that his son, Andrew, now uses in candy-making for the restaurant and on staples from his Iowa childhood, like the cinnamon rolls.

“Once a week for 13 years, I remember having big, soft cinnamon rolls with white icing along with a bowl of chicken noodle soup,” Popp said. “I brought the recipe with me from Dow City, Iowa, and it has always been a top seller.”

Good one, Santa. We know where you're really from.

Popp sells a lot of cinnamon rolls at Christmastime. We tried to count, but chief baking elf Andres Avila Rodriguez, while pushing a cart full of risen dough, just said, “A lot.”

The rolls come miniature or as big as your face. They come frosted, drowning in caramel and nuts or sprinkled with red and green sugar in the shape of a wreath. They compete for display space with too many other sweets to write down.

But perhaps the real Christmas miracle is this:

“People say, 'You took out the calories, right?' ” Jane said. “I say, as long as you close your eyes before you eat it.”

Done and done.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace

erin.grace@owh.com    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

Latest Stories

The 8 most untrustworthy artificial intelligences in film
The 8 most untrustworthy artificial intelligences in film

With the release of “Transcendence,” the story of a computer science genius whose mind is merged with a sentient system, Hollywood has once again probed the vagaries of artificial intelligence.


Record Store Day draws long lines, record collectors, good tunes
Record Store Day draws long lines, record collectors, good tunes

At Homer's Music in the Old Market, the first person in line arrived at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.


Coachella: Best of Day 1 includes The Replacements, Outkast
Coachella: Best of Day 1 includes The Replacements, Outkast

Rock Candy correspondents Joel Henriksen and Keith Finn check in from Indio to review Friday's top sets from the godfather of indie rock festivals.


Maha Music Festival announces lineup; might be its best yet
Maha Music Festival announces lineup; might be its best yet

August concert promises to pack Stinson Park with indie rock fans.


A saliva-inducing look at M's Pub's new happy hour
A saliva-inducing look at M's Pub's new happy hour

The downtown staple recently introduced a happy hour. And its menu's pretty amazing.


Dining review: If you're craving sushi, head to Benson's Taita
Dining review: If you're craving sushi, head to Benson's Taita

Chef Jose Dionicio has wisely refocused Taita on sushi, and the well-crafted small bites of fresh fish I tasted from his one-man sushi bar are delectable.


New Benson BBQ restaurant opens next week
New Benson BBQ restaurant opens next week

Fusion BBQ, at 7024 Maple St., focuses on American style barbecue cooking melded with international cuisines.


Nebraska's best burger determined by folks who know about this kind of thing
Nebraska's best burger determined by folks who know about this kind of thing

The Nebraska Beef Council announced the winner of its Nebraska's Best Burger contest.


Rockbrook Village restaurant Taste has a new chef
Rockbrook Village restaurant Taste has a new chef

Ryan Devitt will come to the restaurant as both a chef and partner to focus on farm-to-table style cuisine.


Over Easy will host a west Omaha block party
Over Easy will host a west Omaha block party

Over Easy is playing host to a west Omaha block party this summer.


 
Search
Movies Opening this week

Movie showtimes and theater listings






Read this!








VIDEOS

Tonight in Prime Time
© 2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved