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From downsized to opening a new trendy Omaha nightspot: Nosh Wine Lounge

So there she was, downsized from her corporate finance job in the Dallas area the day before, out with her friends, wondering what would be next in her life.  She was over 50, without a job, although she was more fortunate than many in the recession with a severance and some stock options.  But she did have a thought.

“I always wanted to open a bar,” she said.  “I’d go into places, look around, think about how maybe I’d do something a little different than what they were doing.”

And there, out with her friends that night, was one of them exclaiming to her: “You should do that!”

Lila Anderson and Nosh Wine Lounge

Lila Anderson at Nosh Wine Lounge at 10th and Dodge in Omaha.

A little more than three years later, Lila Anderson’s place, Nosh Wine Lounge, is a staple of the new Capitol District in downtown Omaha.  Within walking distance of the CenturyLink Center, Holland Performing Arts, the new TD Ameritrade Park and gathering foot traffic from several downtown hotels, the intimate setting boasts this urban destination as “the place for friends to gather, relax and celebrate good times.”

“A group can hold a nice sized event and have the whole place to themselves,” Anderson said as she took a break from planning to host a large party for a group from ConAgra.

Want to browse from more than a hundred wines to sip?  How about artisan beers, cocktails and gourmet sliders and flatbread pizzas using locally-grown organic produce?  There’s live entertainment, a VIP area and a private tasting room, and patrons can join a wine club, where members receive two personally selected bottles of wine each month.

Meeting a demand for a unique place

“People are kind of hungry for this,” Anderson said.  She’s seen Nosh Wine Lounge packed for events for singles, including an event in conjunction with the dating site Match.com.

Her family wanted her to move back to Omaha when she lost her job with TD Ameritrade in Texas, and soon discovered her old hometown lacked anything like she wanted to create.  After looking over available franchises, Anderson decided to hire a business consultant, the former president of the Omaha restaurant association, to get help with a business plan.

“That was in 2009,” she said.  “Banks were really tight with money.”

So she smartly put her idea on hold, working for a year as a branch examinations analyst, until she got financing for her idea thanks to an SBA Rural/Small Lender Advantage loan approved Aug. 31, 2010, through First Savings Bank for $150,000 to cover leaseholder improvements and construction to build a bar and kitchen from the ground up.

“I did have many people warning me about the recession, but I think I got in at a good time,” she said.  “My lease was low, and there were a lot of good people looking for work.”

Going through the growing pains of a new business

And as she discovered the hospitality industry was different than the financial services industry, her business plan hit a snag.

“Because I managed 300 people at TD Ameritrade, I was used to working with people who all knew what needed to be done,” she said, “so I figured, hire people to do what needs to be done and that’s that.”

Instead, she had to let go the first manager she hired after only six weeks, and replaced him with the lead bartender.  He could sell wine, “but I had to let him go after four months.  I was learning every time I had to let someone go, I had to take on more responsibilities as a result.”

Anderson admitted the first six months in business “were really hard and there were many times I was wondering, ‘what am I doing here?’

“But here we are.  The last six months have been comfortable and we’re where we need to be,” she said.  “If I can say one thing, don’t give up.  There were so many struggles for this business in the first six months.  I had to learn I had to fire people, but then I was struck afterward how I was going to make this work without them.  So my piece of advice is to learn everything you can before you start.  I thought if I just had everyone in place I’d be set. Now I know what to look for in getting the right people.”

Anderson had a degree in finance and was an operations director with TD Ameritrade in Texas.  But that didn’t prepare her for the unique challenges of tracking costs and budget for a small business; she relied on her employees to keep costs in line, then ran into a little trouble when the books got out of control.

“Now I do the budgeting and ordering so I have such a better idea on our costs,” she said.

Her advice: get out and promote

Unlike before she opened the doors to Nosh Wine Lounge, Anderson also finds it tough to make time to network to grow the business.

“I’m telling you, you have to work it all the time, I figured a good place with good food and good service, things would go great but you have to be out there and promote, promote, promote.  It’s hard to find the time, but it’s a great resource if you can build a network.”

She’s also looking into leveraging social media to help attract that crucial foot traffic and promote her place’s specials and events.

Still, she’s doing well, $45,000 to $50,000 in sales per month with the help of a full-time chef and three part-time kitchen employees and six part-timers handling customers out front.

“Would I do it all over again, if you would have asked me that six months, a year ago …” she trailed off.  “If you ask me now, yes, absolutely. You have to stretch yourself, grow.  I think a lot of people don’t have these opportunities to go out and do your own thing, and I wouldn’t have had it if I hadn’t gotten downsized from TD Ameritrade.

“Who knows,” Anderson added, “if my friend hadn’t said, hey you should really open up a bar, who knows when or if I would have done this.”