A Lincoln neighborhood offers small-town experience in city
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Even though a visit to the bank is just a walk down the block from the Engine House Cafe in Havelock, owner Roger Pletcher says it takes him near an hour.
“I stop in at Wolfe Ace Hardware, talk to those guys, I stop in at the Vickeridge and talk to Tammie, I spend a good minute with Kristi, my banker at Pinnacle Bank,” he said to the Lincoln Journal Star. “I know just about everybody in the whole community.”
Havelock, formed in 1890, offers a small-town experience within the city limits of Lincoln, which annexed the town to its northeast border in 1930.
Many of the community’s shops, restaurants and services are set up along Havelock Avenue, where Pletcher has been the owner and operator of the Engine House Cafe for nine years. The building had originally been the town’s firehouse from 1900 to 1975 before a new station opened on Touzalin Avenue.
Inside, the walls are lined with relics of its time as a fire station, including old photos and original fire suits.
Pletcher, who is originally from Houston, said he was drawn to Havelock during a Thanksgiving trip to Lincoln, where his ex-wife lived. Bored, he decided to check out a screen-printing company, an industry he was involved in at the time.
“I drove through Havelock and they had the Christmas lights up, and I thought, ‘What a cute, quaint, little town,’ never knowing that in a few years from then I would be an integral part of that community,” Pletcher said. “I was really drawn to it at first sight.”
Pletcher and his family moved to Lincoln a few years later in 1998. After working in the food industry for several years, he became the owner of the Engine House Cafe in 2009, an investment he called the best he’s ever made.
The Engine House Cafe’s positive reception comes not only from its food, but from its location in Havelock, Pletcher says.
“You see so many people when they come in, they don’t go straight to a table,” he said. “They stop, they hug somebody, they say hi to somebody coming and going. It’s got that neighborhood feel to it.”
But while the Engine House Cafe has seen success, Pletcher, who previously served as president of the Havelock Business Association, said the community still has issues with vacancy.
“We struggle to fill up every bit of space that we have,” he said. “There are several spots that businesses just come and go. Just finding a permanent fixture would be great.”
One new addition to Havelock could fill that role. The Pasta Place, which served its first dish in March and has been in a soft opening for several months, is set to be fully operational in mid-July, according to owner Don Mayhew.
“I know that restaurants have a 90% failure rate, and so we wanted to take our time, give the chef a chance to really get the menu sorted out, get a little bit of feedback, try some things,” he said. “Right now, we’re still getting data and experimenting.”
The Pasta Place is a collaboration between Mayhew and Laurent de Villiers, who previously opened the Normandy with his wife, Renee, in 2013 before selling it in 2017.
Mayhew has served on the Lincoln Public Schools Board of Education since 2001, representing District 7 in southwest Lincoln. Despite being on the opposite side of the city from Havelock, he said he knew the area would be the perfect location because of the people living there, including his close friend and fellow board member Kathy Danek, who represents District 1.
“There is this kind of spirit of the northeast area,” Mayhew said. “The neighbors here are very real people, they’re really loyal people and I knew that if I could come up with a good product at a reasonable price that resonated with people, I knew that they would be very supportive. And that’s where I wanted to be.”
Mayhew said he also decided to take up shop in Havelock after seeing recent revitalization in other areas of Lincoln, such as College View.
“I feel like Havelock has had some challenges, but is poised right at the edge of a resurgence, and I wanted to be here for it,” he said. “I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help make it happen.”
The Pasta Place allows customers to choose their own pasta sauce, meats and noodles to combine for a meal. The restaurant has a heavy Italian flavor, Mayhew said, but also includes Asian cuisine, with plans to expand the selection after a menu revamp in the summer.
Despite the Pasta Place relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, Mayhew said the restaurant has been received well in its Havelock location, and plans to reach out more as its grand opening comes closer.
“People have been finding us and we’ve had people who have been coming back, which is very gratifying,” he said. “I love the area, and I love the people.”
One of the old-timers of Havelock is Richard O’Hare, who runs Cosmic Cow with his wife, Roxann. The two bought the building in 2001 and also run the Udder Store in Seward, which opened a decade later.
Cosmic Cow sells fabric used to make purses, quilts, curtains and more. The store also sells quilts, which O’Hare makes himself.
O’Hare grew up in Havelock, attending Northeast High School with his future wife. The two had previously run a business out of Bethany, which closed in 1994.
Prior to opening Cosmic Cow, O’Hare had no experience in quilting.
“I just bought my machine, and I pretty much taught myself,” he said.
Due to Seward’s small size, O’Hare said most of the business is done at Cosmic Cow.
“Here, we’re kind of a destination store, and Seward is not that yet,” he said. “We don’t want two destination stores because it’s myself and my wife, that’s it.”
Despite the community’s annexation, O’Hare said many of the older residents of Havelock don’t see themselves as Lincolnites.
“We don’t live in Lincoln,” he said. “We live in Havelock. That’s just the way it’s always been.”
O’Hare said he’s also been hesitant to embrace technology and the internet, which he said has led to a decline in sales for Cosmic Cow.
But that doesn’t faze him, O’Hare said, and he’ll keep going on with business as usual for as long as he can.
“I’m at the age where I don’t really want to change. I don’t have to change,” he said. “I’ll just shut the doors down, move to Seward, work when I want to work. Not that we’re going to close this store. We love what we do, and we’re not going to close down anytime soon.”
But while some shy away from the internet, others in Havelock are trying to embrace it. Pletcher said he’s currently making plans to launch a YouTube channel called “Roger’s Neighborhood,” based off a skit presented at an HBA event.
The channel would have Pletcher performing as a pseudo-Mister Rogers, visiting multiple businesses around Havelock and talking with the owners. He said some of them have already expressed interest in taking part in the series.
But Pletcher also wants to see the return of several of Havelock’s events, including its Farmers Market and street dance. He said little by little, the community lost those events, and he wants to see Havelock thriving again.
“We talked about it at the HBA meetings, but I think everyone just kind of got tired or just lost sight,” he said.
Kristi Molacek, branch manager at Havelock’s Pinnacle Bank location, currently serves as secretary and treasurer for HBA. She said while the association doesn’t meet on a regular basis anymore, she will often have business owners stop by to meet with her.
“We don’t have as many members that meet with us anymore, so we just kind of do it very whenever we need to, and we’ll talk on the phone or email,” she said.
Molacek said in the 18 years she’s worked at the location, she’s seen the community take pride in living in Havelock.
“I think they like the small-town atmosphere,” she said. “We have a lot of stuff that, if they ever needed, they could just get it here.”
Molacek said Havelock has been stable, and she wants to continue to see more businesses come in and help them make good decisions.
To help with that, O’Hare said he’d like to see the City of Lincoln put more funds into Havelock.
“It seems like they put all their money down in the Haymarket and we’re kind of on the back-burner,” he said. “We get a few things now and then, but it’s like we have to really fight for it.”
But no matter what, Pletcher said the people of Havelock are always there for one another.
“It’s a great little community,” he said. “We all have each others’ backs.”
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com