|The Omaha Restaurant Association
began in 1944 with a small group of restaurateurs that met at the
Castle Hotel. Seven faithful members agreed to serve on the first Board
of Directors and began meeting every month to discuss the purpose of
the ORA as well as the welfare of their members and of the hospitality
industry, in general. One of the early purposes was to promote “eating
out”, and they did succeed, as Omaha is known to this day as a city of
great food, and great restaurants...
In the early years, the ORA
did not have paid staff, and was operated solely by the elected board.
In the early 1980’s that was changed by the Board, resulting in the
hiring of Mr. Harold Norman to be the first Executive Director. Harold,
with his wife Dorothy, were very instrumental in the growth, and
stature of the ORA. Perhaps one of Harold’s biggest achievements was
the thousands of dollars he raised for scholarships. Upon Harold’s
retirement in 2000, Jennie Warren was named the new Executive Director
and remains in that position 12 years later, as the ORA continues to
The ORA has served the community well through the
promotion eating at Omaha’s great restaurants. The ORA also works with
many local groups and agencies to insure that Omaha is always known for
great food and service. Some of the agencies the ORA has worked with
include the Douglas County Health Department, the Nebraska Restaurant
Association, The American Culinary Federation, and the Institute for the
Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College.
The ORA has
additionally served the residents of the area by offering scholarships
to those outstanding individuals who are interested in making a career
in the food industry.
What was once a committee of the ORA (The
Scholarship Committee), in 1991 became the Omaha Restaurant Association
Foundation (ORAF). It is now an affiliated but separate organization
that promotes and distributes scholarships.
The ORA can look with
pride at the reputation that Omaha restaurants have developed in the
greater metro area. It is proud of its members who have risen to
positions of national prominence. Perhaps unprecedented, the ORA has
had three individuals who have gone on to be President of the National
Restaurant Association. We owe a great debt of gratitude to these
individuals, as well as all of those who have served on the ORA Board,
especially our presidents, and our two Executive Directors. If not for
their dedication, perhaps Omaha would not be so well known for its
ORA Members that became National Restaurant Presidents:
1919-1920 John W. Welch, the First President
1959-1960 Raymond C. Matson, Hilltop House
1994-1995 Herman Cain, Godfather’s Pizza, INC.