Omaha Steaks Incorporated advertises that it serves up the best cuts of beef straight from America’s heartland. From its humble beginnings up to a huge expansion into new markets, it’s not just mail order anymore, this is the untold truth of Omaha Steaks. Believe it or not, Omaha Steaks hasn’t always been the meat industry mainstay it is today.
The Omaha Steaks story begins not in Omaha, Nebraska, but actually in Latvia, during the 19th century. When the Simon family fled Latvia due to fervent antisemitism in the country, they eventually wound up in Omaha, where they were among the first Jewish people to make their way into the city. The Simon family patriarch, J.J. Simon, and his son, B.A., worked together as butchers, which was the family trade back in their European homeland, founding the Table Supply Meat Company in downtown Omaha in 1917. The company grew in popularity among local Omahans. The business eventually changed its name to Omaha Steaks in 1966 as the company expanded to sell their product in other states via the Union Pacific Railroad. More than a hundred years after Omaha Steaks’ beginnings as a company, the food delivery service has grown all across the nation, raking in around half a billion dollars in revenue each year.
According to the Omaha Steaks website, the company has become the country’s largest direct response marketer of beef and gourmet food. Talk about living out the American dream. In the company’s century-long history, Omaha Steaks has remained a Simon family enterprise for generations. The current CEO and owner, Bruce Simon is the great-great-grandson of Omaha Steaks founder J.J. Simon. Simon has grown up in the family business and used to accompany his father to the plant as a child before working there during summer breaks from high school and college. This made Bruce Simon a natural choice to step into the position, as he had served various other positions within the company until 1994, when he became president and CEO. “We love customers like you.”
Unlike other meat industry giants like Tyson Foods and Oscar Mayer, Omaha Steaks remains a privately owned company, meaning that investors cannot purchase shares of Omaha Steaks. While going public is typically looked at as a huge accomplishment for any major company, remaining a private, family-owned business has allowed the company to focus more on its long-term strategies, rather than constantly worrying about quarterly earnings. The name “Omaha Steaks” is, admittedly, quite a bit misleading. While beef might be what comes to mind when you first hear the company’s name, you might be surprised to find that you can actually get a much wider range of specialty products. In the 1960s, Omaha Steaks began expanding its catalog from only offering steaks to also include premium cuts of pork, poultry, and seafood. Since then, they’ve added an even more extensive range of products to the menu, as the company’s delivery services have become much more widespread.
While steaks are still the prime cut of meat at Omaha Steaks, you can actually purchase a huge range of products besides their signature beef as well, from Polish-style kielbasa to hearty wild halibut fillets. They’ve even got an expansive line of side dishes to serve alongside the main course, including charcuterie selections and potato-based side dishes, as well as some decadent wines.
Ever wonder how Omaha Steaks manages to keep their products fresh, even while they’re shipping them all the way across the country? Raw meat is not exactly the easiest thing to transport thanks to its tendency to spoil. So, how does Omaha do it? “What’s colder than dry ice?” “I don’t know.” When the company began its mail-order operations in 1952, they settled on using wax-lined cartons filled with dry ice to keep the meat cool, essentially mimicking a refrigerator. As polystyrene and vacuum packaging became more popular and mainstream, Omaha Steaks ditched the wax-lined containers and began using those, in conjunction with dry ice as a means of keeping the meat cool. Vacuum packaging ensures that the meat has no exposure to air, and thus, bacteria, while the dry ice keeps the temperature down low without requiring any electricity. That means high quality steaks that haven’t gone rancid on you in the mail. Does your dog whine and beg every time you throw a steak on the grill? Next time you stock up on some Omaha Steaks, you might want to consider grabbing some of their signature dog treats, which the company added to their inventory around 17 years ago. As The New York Times reported in 2004, customers were constantly telling the company’s management that they were feeding scraps from their Omaha Steaks products to their dogs and cats. Eventually, the company gave in and decided to capitalize on their popularity with pets and began making dog treats themselves in 2003. Now, these pet treats aren’t some downgraded, poor-quality meat scraps leftover from the higher quality cuts of meat meant for humans. Omaha Steaks uses the same high quality beef to make their dog treats, creating a product that actually resembles the company’s beef jerky, just with a lot less salt.
Omaha Steaks is quite well-known for its lavish and pricey boxes of food. Boxes like their Gourmet Stock-Up Package, which features filet mignon, sirloin, chicken breast, other meats and side dishes, will cost you a couple of hundred dollars. While these are great deals if you have a lot of mouths to feed, chances are you don’t need to be spending that much on some fancy meat that you probably can’t get rid of fast enough. That said, Omaha Steaks has plenty of more reasonable packages for the everyday diner. If you’re willing to do a little shopping, 20 dollars can actually go a long way over at Omaha Steaks. For starters, it’s hard not to find at least a couple of promotional sales on their website. But also, you can typically grab a pack of eight sausages for around 20 bucks. The same goes for certain cuts of beef, like their tenderloin tips. But what’s the point of a cheap steak if it doesn’t taste any good? As Business Insider reported, the quality of what you get at Omaha Steaks typically surpasses that of what you can find in your local supermarket. If you’ve got the extra cash to spare and want to go to a local butcher or steakhouse, then, of course, you can’t beat that. But Omaha Steaks might just be the next best thing. Perhaps you’ve gotten a call or two from a robocaller at Omaha Steaks trying to sell you on their holiday gift box special that’s stuffed to the brim with gourmet hamburgers and tri-tips galore. Well, in 2014, one man in Gresham, Oregon, had received just one call too many. According to The Oregonian, Michael Hetherington received 10 unwanted calls to his cell phone from the company over the course of a little more than a month in 2013. Hetherington did some research on laws surrounding telemarketing and realized that the company could be breaching the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The act essentially states that companies aren’t allowed to call customers without their permission or use automated programs to dial up random numbers. There’s also an added emphasis in regards to protecting cell phone numbers. This is exactly what Omaha Steaks was doing when they called Hetherington those 10 times, and he filed a lawsuit against them in 2014. The lawsuit grew into a wider class action suit and was eventually settled about two years later in 2016, when the company had to shell out $5 million to customers they’d called in violation of the TCPA. According to Top Class Actions, a website investigating various class action suits across the country, customers began receiving checks from Omaha Steaks for around $40 in December 2016. You’re probably most familiar with the Omaha Steaks website, or maybe even their mail catalogs. After all, the company is primarily known as a delivery service. But Omaha Steaks does have a handful of brick-and-mortar shops across the United States as well. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the first Omaha Steaks retail store opened up in the company’s hometown in 1976, as a “pilot for possible similar operations throughout the country.” Prior to opening up shop in downtown Omaha, customers could only purchase Omaha Steaks through the mail or at select restaurants carrying their products. Though it was a pilot project, the company didn’t really begin expanding its brick-and-mortar presence beyond Nebraska for nearly a decade. In 1985, the first retail shop outside of the Cornhusker State opened up in Houston, Texas. Since then, Texas has surpassed Nebraska as the state with the most Omaha Steaks locations.
The company has since opened up more than 75 locations across the nation, so if you’re looking to get your hands on some Omaha Steaks, and you need them fast, you may just be able to drive on down to your nearest location to stock up for the next family cook-out. According to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Nebraska has a grand total of 6.3 million cattle, meaning that bovines outnumber people in the Cornhusker State by three-to-one. That’s more cattle in the state than there are people in the entire city of Los Angeles. In fact, Nebraska is the state with the second-highest cattle to people ratio, so you know they take their beef seriously over there. According to Omaha Steaks, this beef-centric ethos is what’s kept them in the state throughout their century-long history. “All Omaha Steaks are grain-fed Midwestern beef from the heart of beef country, USA.” The company prides itself on sourcing all of its beef from farms throughout the heartland of the United States, and not outsourcing anything from cheaper, far away locations in South America or Australia.
According to the company, all their steak products come from grass-fed, grain-finished beef, another factor that helps boost the quality of your Omaha Steaks box-set. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the United States, a number of meat processing facilities all across the nation found themselves in the center of controversy. Workers at these plants were considered essential, and as such, many meat processing companies did not shut down their operations. One of the companies at the center of the story has been Tyson Foods, which has been linked to around 4,500 reported COVID-19 cases nationwide. Omaha Steaks didn’t have Tyson-sized issues, but the company still had to take plenty of precautions.
Per an April 2020 press release, Omaha Steaks continued operations at its facilities and the company said it would be working to maintain social distancing measures at its facilities while also allowing all staff at its plants paid sick leave. As of May 2020, Omaha Steaks had not been linked to any COVID-19 cases like some of its competition. Although it may seem like a cold and distant corporate entity, at its core Omaha Steaks still adheres to the mom-and-pop ethos that its founder J.J. Simon fostered when he first made his way to the United States. And a big part of that is giving back to the Omaha community. The Simon family maintains close ties to the city, carrying out various acts of service throughout Omaha and its surrounding regions. The most recent example of that? The company’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. According to local news outlets, Omaha witnessed huge spikes in unemployment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, during the first week of April 2020 alone, more than 25,000 people filed for unemployment in the city. In response, the Omaha Downtown Improvement Group partnered up with local businesses, Omaha Steaks included, to provide meals for a drive-thru food pantry to help out those who were struggling with unemployment as a result of the crisis. While organizers were initially looking for discounted prices on food to give out, Omaha Steaks reportedly refused to accept a single cent for any of the hamburger or pork chops that the company doled out.