His second-grade teacher once told him she thought he was either going to wind up behind bars, or wind up owning a city block. After a couple of career detours, the still-obstreperous Nick Bartholomew makes no apologies that he's well on his way to the latter, starting with the latest in locavore eating in Omaha's Millard neighborhood.
To think it took Bartholomew willing to chuck a career as a stockbroker at his father's firm and an SBA Lender Advantage loan approval to make it happen.
Bartholomew's idea, Over Easy, boasts a unique chef-driven menu packed with locally-sourced delectables for breakfast and lunch. Try the homemade Pop-Tart packed with plums and the house favorite, the herb biscuits and gravy whipped up with ingredients from area farms. And then there's the inviting hash brown rounds with bacon, cheese and caramelized onions.
Better, diners on the go can pull up to the drive-thru window and watch the chef prepare his recipe of a farm fresh baked egg boat served in a demi-baguette.
"We wanted to elevate breakfast from the normal," Bartholomew said. There's no shelf life for their ingredients, meaning it's literally right from the farm to the plate. The daily specials and new menu delights come from the chef's imagination--as a result, Bartholomew calls the restaurant concept "chef-driven."
Over Easy already has been named by a local TV channel and an independent newspaper as one of Omaha's best new restaurants.
From the Big O to a spot on national TV
Then there's the mischievous marketing that helped to put the eatery on national television some scant eight months after the business plan was put to paper.
The show, CNBC's "Restaurant Startup," flies out to Hollywood two opposing teams who sell their concept in front a couple of investors to compete over which will get to create a pop-up working restaurant complete with advertising and branding campaign, all within 36 hours. If diners like the idea, it could mean getting the investment funding to take it to the big time.
"They were looking for new ideas," Bartholomew said. "So we wrote an email to the producers telling them they should have us on the show, that we're the only chef-driven, drive-thru restaurant in the country." No response.
After three months, Bartholomew had just about given up hearing back from the show when he got a surprise.
"The producers said 'we can't find anyone else who does a drive-thru and sit-down breakfast place, and believe us, we looked around the country,'" he said. The producers asked if they'd be willing to put their concept up against an established deli, and cheekily, Bartholomew shot back: "We'll go against anyone, anytime."
Which is how he and his staff found themselves jetted to the California coast, rousted from a hotel room at 5 a.m. and hustled to a TV studio on Melrose. With lights in their eyes and cameras watching every move, they prepared some of their menu favorites and for two hours made a high-energy pitch in front of the money men on behalf of their idea.
There wasn't time to be disappointed; the exposure of Omaha newscasts offering plenty of coverage of their experience created enough local buzz to give Over Easy an immediate 30 percent bump in revenue after the show aired, and a 15 percent increase year-to-year.
Giving up the stockbroker life to opening a place in his old neighborhood
Still, becoming a restauranteur wasn't Bartholomew's first choice.
"In high school and college, I was a server, working for walking-around money," Bartholomew said, "but I knew eventually I'd have to have a big boy job."
After an aborted time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he went to UNO to study business, ready to follow his father with a career in the financial services industry; he later quit school to go to work for a local brokerage firm hustling stocks. And when his dad decided to hang his own shingle, the younger Bartholomew joined him.
Until the stock market and the economy crashed. "I knew this wasn't going to work for me, and I'd need to find a new route to go in life. I mean, there's only so many times you can call people to sell them a stock and hear them laugh in your face."
One morning, meeting his father for breakfast, Bartholomew pitched his idea, and the location.
“I have been in that pocket of the community for as long as I can remember. I went to Millard West High School, I still live in southwest Omaha and my office is on 168th and Center,” Bartholomew told Omaha Magazine. “I drove by that corner every day; it was just waiting for a place like this where people can come together, enjoy a good meal and each other’s company.”
But his dad was a little hesitant that a breakfast place without usual breakfast fare would work. It would turn out he wasn't the only skeptic.
With the help of a friendly banker, Bartholomew spent four months to polish off a business plan. "When you're making it up you have to be realistic," he explained. "You have to know the variable costs, the fixed costs, what's your breakeven point. I had to learn all of that stuff for myself. Also, for this kind of place, you don't know how much eggs and sausage are going to cost when you're ordering every other day to day from local farmers."
How much would utilities be? What about how many people could be expected to drop by? He was in high school homeroom at Millard with the daughter of the previous owner, so it was easy to find that out. But Bartholomew was determined to know as much as he could before he flung open the doors.
"Like, if people would have a mimosa, how long will they stay in their seat?"
Hitting bump after bump on the road to success
Finally, he was ready to take his plan to a lender to finance the leaseholder improvements and kitchen equipment to bring Over Easy to life.
One after another, five banks said no. The reasons varied, from one who claimed the business plan was incomplete, another "didn't want to do restaurants because 50 percent of them go bad," another said the credit score wasn't strong enough, and he'd need a co-signer. Then there was the lender who was fearful of a loan to a chef-driven restaurant, since no other place has one, "there must be a reason no one else has done it."
Bartholomew was crushed. "You go through the stages of grief, ask yourself, 'am I good enough, what could I be doing better?'"
Finally, he got an approval February 2013 for $150,000 from Centris Federal Credit Union, the SBA's National Small Lender of the Year for 2011.
"Every bank that told me no just added fuel to the fire," Bartholomew remembered the determination that got him through each rejection. But when Centris said yes:
"My reaction was 'wait until they get a load of me!'"
The financing in place, Bartholomew had to meet the challenge of running the place.
"I had to fight and argue for low prices on eggs and fruit because nobody knows who you are," Bartholomew said. "That's where my stockbroker experience came it. I'd bluff them and say I'd go to another farm, just to save us money."
Dealing with a bad review to helping to build a community
Over Easy has 34 employees, a mix of full-time and part-timers, and "each person cares more than the last about this restaurant," he said. "And each is overqualified for what they do, but they work here because they love the feel of Over Easy and the contact with people they get."
And some work in the tiny kitchen, smaller than a submarine, demanding a strong sense of teamwork. "Check the egos at the door," he agreed.
But as successful as Over Easy has been, "the good news, bad news story is that this can crumble at any time," Bartholomew said.
Like getting a bad review on social media from a local diner.
Instead of getting mad at the post, Bartholomew decided to be cheeky. He got permission to bring fresh menu items to her workplace, a "guerrilla catering job," he said, offering free items to her customers all day and grinning as he listened to the raves. In the end, he and his staff won her over "with more care than anyone put into responding to a bad review."
Then there's that former second-grade teacher of his, who eventually moved on to be a professor at Midlands University in Fremont.
"She had a business plan for a sustainable restaurant, and she was scared and didn't know what to do, so she came to me for guidance," Bartholomew said. So impressed, she invited him to speak before her entrepreneur students.
Bartholomew also is giving back to his old school, working with a donated half-acre with a student club to create an urban garden, a plan he wants to take city-wide. He's also expanding his restaurant ownership by refurbishing a shuttered place in the Old Market.
Owning a city block? For Bartholomew, sounds about right.