Opening Soon: Ooh De Lally: Dundee Restaurant to Upskill ‘Hidden Workforce’

The very essence of Ooh De Lally, a restaurant taking over the former Mark’s in Dundee, can be described with one word: community.

It’s woven through the artwork, the food, and the individuals who work there. Individuals who are looking for a new community and a second chance after spending time incarcerated.

The Hidden Workforce

When Mark’s closed in Dundee after nearly 20 years in business, it left a gap in the community. That was, until Diane Good-Collins, director of Metropolitan Community College’s 180 RAP (Re-Entry Assistance Program), had an idea.

Good-Collins learned of French restaurant EDWINS in Cleveland, Ohio. The nonprofit offers formerly incarcerated individuals support and training in the culinary and hospitality industries as they transition out of incarceration.

The program reportedly graduates 75 individuals a year and has a 95% graduate employment rate with less than a 1% recidivism rate.

With Nebraska’s low unemployment rate and the abundance
of positions available in the culinary and hospitality industry, Good-Collins thought a similar program could work in Omaha.
After all, she calls the formerly incarcerated population the “hidden workforce.”

And with that, the vision for Ooh De Lally was born, eventually finding a perfect home in the former Mark’s.

Tim Steinbach, executive director, Ooh De Lally. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Tim Steinbach, executive director, Ooh De Lally. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

Laying a Foundation

Developed in collaboration with MCC’s Institute for Culinary Arts, the Jumpstart program was designed to teach participants basic skills in an active restaurant.

- Advertisement -

“Our whole goal is to give them the opportunity to determine if this is their path; if this is where they want land,” Good-Collins said.

Throughout the three-month program, participants will learn about kitchen prep, line cooking, and front-of-house duties at Ooh De Lally. By the end of the program, participants will have essentially completed the lab component of an associate degree through MCC.

Participants can choose to transfer those microcredits to MCC to finish out the degree, or they may decide to pursue a job right out of the program. On the flip side, participants may decide that this isn’t the path they want to take.

“I try to tell participants that there’s no losing here. If they decide this isn’t for them, then we will help them get into a different program,” Good-Collins said.

They plan to begin with three participants, adding up to nine at a time.

Beyond a Paycheck

Individuals coming out of incarceration face an uphill battle. They may have lost skills and support systems, financial resources and personal documents, putting them in survival mode.

Good-Collins said that with those factors at play, it’s unrealistic to ask someone to attend college.

It’s a truth that 180 RAP recognized early on, and has built support systems around it, such as a food and basic needs pantry and a financial assistance office.

Chef Doug Case prepares Prince Edward Island mussels.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Chef Doug Case prepares Prince Edward Island mussels.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

As it relates to Jumpstart, participants will receive a stipend to supplement expenses and will be enrolled in a financial literacy and empowerment program. Participants will also be asked to attend a peer group, and a full-time staff member will be dedicated to this program.

The staff member will support participants in a variety of ways, from providing transportation to appointments to helping fill out child support paperwork.

What’s more, 80% of the 180 RAP team members are individuals with similar lived experiences.

Prince Edward Island mussels.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Prince Edward Island mussels.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

“When participants throw up excuses and say “you don’t get it” our team members can say “Yes, I do,”’ she said.

The support system is one reason 180 RAP has one of the highest success rates in the country, with a 99.83% participant employment rate.

Lean On Me

At Ooh De Lally another layer of support is added through staff members. Ben Dabney, Ooh De Lally general manager, said he owes his nine years of sobriety to his support system.

“I ended up broke, jobless, homeless, and in legal trouble back in 2014,” he said. “Since then I’ve relied heavily on the people around me to help me. I have to give a shoutout to Arch Halfway House, that was the program I was in in early 2015.”

While Dabney has never been to prison, he has friends that were incarcerated and acknowledges that he was probably only a few mistakes away from heading there.

Charcuterie board.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Charcuterie board.(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

“I don’t see myself as any different then someone who has served time,” he said.

After over nine years in the industry, Dabney said he’s excited about Ooh De Lally’s commitment to “do better.”

“I think a lot of folks in the industry say they care, but I think that’s different than showing it,” he said. “Partnering with 180 RAP gives us the tools and resources to do better.”

Simply put, this means treating people with respect, dignity, and compassion. In one instance Dabney was able to share his lived experience to help a participant feel at ease. In another instance he was able to help secure a bus pass for a participant.

Part of the Community

One of the biggest highlights so far, according to organizers, is the community’s overwhelmingly positive response.

“I was expecting support; this is a friendly neighborhood and people are generally open minded around here. But it’s been universal support,” Steinbach said.

Local artist Eduardo Gardea has created seven paintings to be placed throughout the restaurant. The paintings are impactful given that Gardea recently worked for RISE Re-entry Services and was incarcerated in his youth.

(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
(Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

Several Omaha businesses have stepped up to directly support the initiative. Site-1 Brewing, Myrtle & Cypress Coffeehouse, eCreamery and Chocolat Abeille have all created custom products to be served and sold at Ooh De Lally.

“We’re trying to create more ways for people to support the restaurant without necessarily having to come in and eat,” Steinbach said.

Opening Soon

Starting at the beginning of March, the restaurant will open for dinner service on the upper floors Tuesday through Saturday.

Tim Steinbach, executive director, Ooh De Lally. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)
Tim Steinbach, executive director, Ooh De Lally. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

“As we gain participants we can expand to a lunch service,” Steinbach said. “We see the steps and we have places to grow. We just want to make sure we’re paying attention to every single step.”

There is no shortage of interested participants. Good-Collins said that she began putting fliers up at the Omaha Correctional Center, the state work release centers in Lincoln and Omaha, and the women’s prison in York, Nebraska.

“Right now we have about 90 people on the waitlist,” she said. “We want this to be successful … [so we’re] looking for employers to hire our skilled laborers.”

Ooh De Lally also has a place on its website for donations and e-gift cards.

“The smallest thing you can do to help us out is to come eat, and if you want to be a real hero, bring a friend,” Steinbach said.

4916 Underwood Ave, Omaha, Ne 68132
Social Media: Facebook • LinkedIn • Instagram

Ooh De Lally Custom Creations

Myrtle & Cypress Coffeehouse

Brandon Sperry, Owner & Roast Master

Why is Myrtle & Cypress supporting Ooh De Lally:

It really comes down to community. In short, our desire is to cultivate community through coffee. We see Ooh De Lally creating community by seeking to be good neighbors in Dundee and the surrounding neighborhoods, and by working to create local partnerships before they’re even open.

I also instantly felt connected to their mission to employ and empower previously incarcerated individuals. We, too, have worked to help give back humanity to individuals on the margins in our neighborhood, via our efforts with the houseless population in our larger community. Choosing to partner with and alongside other like-minded individuals was an easy decision. We are very excited to see the impact Ooh De Lally has, beyond just being a restaurant!

Tell us about the custom coffee:

The coffee we developed for Ooh De Lally came from a collaborative effort to identify the just right coffees to produce a classically full-bodied and comforting cup of coffee. We arrived at a 60/40 blend of Washed Mexico and Honduran coffees. The goal of this coffee is to taste as much like that classic “coffee” coffee as possible.


Site-1 Brewing

Dave Link, Head Brewer

Why is Site-1 Brewing supporting Ooh De Lally?

When the team at Ooh De Lally reached out about a partnership beer for their venture it was an easy ‘yes’. At Site-1, we’ve had community connection in our DNA from the day we opened. Ooh De Lally’s mantra of ‘A seat at the table for Everyone’ aligns perfectly with our own value of everyone being welcome.

Tell us about the custom Ooh De Lager:

In the spirit of everyone being welcome, we brewed an approachable, easy-drinking, light American lager that should be a hit with every palate. Crisp, clear, and with just a hint of malt character.


Chocolat Abeille

Ron Samuelson, Operating Partner

Why is Chocolat Abeille supporting Ooh De Lally?

Our involvement with ODL is a labor of love and service for both Justin [Halbert] and myself; both of us coming from families with addiction. We have been acutely aware of the deep connection between addiction and incarceration, as we endeavor to help keep people out of the system through employment at Herbe Sainte, our restaurant in Aksarben Village. When our involvement in Chocolat Abeille occurred in 2022, we sought ways to be more deeply involved in community partnerships, and this was a fabulous fit for us. We continue to seek new and inventive ways to show how local businesses can work together to build a stronger community, simply by finding creative ways to utilize products and create new and productive collaborations in Omaha, and beyond.

Tell us about the custom chocolates:

The chocolates that will be placed at each table with dinner checks will be 58% dark chocolate with house-made, small-bath butter caramel.