Ted & Wally’s is owned by siblings Joe Pittack and Jeannie Ohira. You can get some of their ultra-premium hard serve ice cream downtown or in Benson. Ted & Wally’s creates all of their ice cream from scratch using local ingredients. Their ice cream is also classified as the highest quality in the country; there are only a few places in the States that serve ultra-premium ice cream (greater than 16% butterfat).
Q1: Is your family originally from Omaha?
Jeannie & Joe grew up on 97th and Maple, not too far away from Ted & Wally’s Benson location. Growing up, their family spent a lot of time attending local events downtown and in Benson. Jeannie attended Central High School, and Joe started off at Burke, but ended up transferring to Northwest High School. Both Siblings went on to graduate from UNO.
Q2: What are some of your hobbies and passions?
Jeannie is really into creating art and is currently doing a lot of research on genealogy and the history of her and her brother’s family. Joe’s hobbies include doing home improvement work and going sailing in the summer. Of course, it goes without saying, that both of them love (probably a little too much) ice cream!
Q3: What is the history of Ted & Wally’s?
The original owners were Theodore “Ted” Weber and Dean Wallace “Wally” Kirschenman, who were good friends. Later, Dean’s brother, David, his wife, Deb, and his sister, Julie, bought the store from them. In 1996, siblings Jeannie and Joe Pittack started working at Ted & Wally’s. Four years after they stated working there, in the year 2000, talks of a buyout sprouted. A man from out of state aspired to turn the location into a new shop for his doughnut chain. After working at Ted & Wally’s for several years, Jeannie and Joe hated the idea of seeing the iconic ice cream shop turn into a chain. So, together, the two approached the owners and worked out a way to purchase the store and keep Ted & Wally’s as a locally owned, family business.
Q4: How did Ted & Wally’s get its name?
The name Ted and Wally’s came from Theodore Weber’s first name and Dean Kirshenman’s middle name-Wallace. Using these nicknames also tied in with the popular TV show Leave it to Beaver where the two main characters were Theodore (the Beaver) and his brother Wally.
Q5: How did you know this was your passion?
Because they grew up in Omaha and had worked at the ice cream shop for a few years, Jeannie and Joe could not stand the thought of the business being run by anyone other than a local. Joe had gone through a period where he jumped around jobs quite a bit but had actually stayed at Ted & Wally’s because he enjoyed everything about the business so much. Throughout the process, they fell even more in love with the business and now can’t see themselves doing anything else. They are constantly trying to improve the shop in any way they can. “It’s the best job in the world,” Jeannie commented.
Q6: What was your goal when taking over Ted & Wally’s and how has that changed?
Jeannie and Joe were hit with a road block immediately after purchasing the business. Their primary goal when they first took over the business was to find a new location because their landlord had announced that the building would have to be closed for a couple of years for renovations. Joe explained how it was a leap of faith moving Ted & Wally’s from its original location to the recently vacated gas station at 12th and Jackson St. Back then, this spot was not considered part of the Old Market, and there were not really any popular businesses there.
Currently, the goal is to continuously innovate. Jeannie stated how important it is to adapt to new market trends, including offering paleo and vegan ice cream. Despite currently offering over 3,000 different flavors, Jeannie said that they are always brainstorming new flavor ideas!
Q7: Have you obtained any key partners or mentors?
In the beginning, the previous owners helped Jeannie and Joe get started as new business owners. They showed the siblings how to file taxes, do payroll, and even how to make the ice cream. Now, Ted & Wally’s collaborates with tons of local businesses, some of which can be found here. They work with these other businesses to develop new flavors and to ensure that all of their ingredients are locally sourced.
Q8: Are there any businesses you look up to or aspire to emulate?
“You know what? I would say no, absolutely not!” Jeannie said. Ted & Wally’s has always been very forward-thinking. The ice cream shop was creating wacky flavors and was using local ingredients way before it was “the cool thing to do.” They also intentionally set themselves apart from other businesses by having the highest quality ice cream that you can get anywhere in the country. “I couldn’t use a recipe because it wouldn’t work in the old-fashioned machines anyway, so we had to do it pretty much from trial and error and doing it our own way,” explained Jeannie. So, because of their commitment to the highest quality product, Ted & Wally’s is designed in a way that they simply can’t just copy the model of another business.
Q9: What were the hardest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As they were trying to buy the business, Jeannie and Joe approached conventional banks, they were turned down for loans. “We got financing through the previous owners,” Joe told me, “They basically financed the sale of their own business.”
The second greatest challenge, according to Joe, was moving the business right after they purchased it. As mentioned above, the Old Market was really only known as the area on Howard street between 10th and 14th streets. Moving to 12th and Jackson made both him and his sister fearful that people would not find them.
Their third greatest challenge was opening up the second location (the shop in Benson). Because Ted & Wally’s is a small business, they did not keep a lot of cash on hand and could not take out a huge loan. Getting settled into the Benson location was a two-part process. First, they needed to purchase the building and pay the building down. Only after they made payments for three years, was Ted & Wally’s able to use their equity as leverage to take out a loan to renovate the building. After the second location was up and running, they had to figure out how much staff would be needed to accommodate the foot traffic, as well as the amount of ice cream that needed to be made (and stored) at the location.
Q10: What products does Ted & Wally’s offer?
When Jeannie and Joe took over Ted & Wally’s, the business had about 125 ice cream recipes. As of May 2018, the famous Omaha ice cream shop has over 3,000 different flavors! The ice cream is produced at 20% butter fat, making it the highest quality of ice cream available anywhere in the United States! Ted & Wally’s also has an old-fashioned soda fountain to make sundaes and malts, sherbets, sorbets, paleo and vegan ice cream, and even frozen yogurt. All of these are homemade and use local, all-natural ingredients.
Q11: What is Ted & Wally’s position in the market?
Ted & Wally’s focuses on being their own business and on producing the highest quality ice cream possible. Their ice cream is unique for a couple of different reasons. Of course, there are the crazy flavors, but the ice cream is actually, by definition, the highest quality you can get anywhere in the country! How cool is that!? The quality of ice cream is measured by the percentage of butter fat, and Ted & Wally’s clocks in at 20% butter fat (just to compare, Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen Dazs are between 14-16%). Ted & Wally’s continues to get voted number one in multiple categories. The ice cream shop has become a staple of Omaha culture and a tradition amongst locals and tourists alike.
Q12: What is your secret to maintaining a limited budget?
According to Joe, you must be very flexible. Especially with the Midwest weather. Weather effects sales of ice cream…a lot. Years with mild winters entice customers to go out for ice cream sooner because it is not as cold outside. Ted & Wally’s makes sure they always have emergency funds available for maintenance on their equipment. Their top priorities include taking care of their employees and ensuring that the quality of ice cream stays consistent.
Q13: What forms of marketing do you use?
Ted & Wally’s will do occasional print advertisement in the World Herald for special events. The business also makes a lot of donations and sponsors many events around the city, which helps get their name out there while simultaneously helping out a good cause. Additionally, Jeannie runs social media for the ice cream shop.
Q14: What’s next for Ted & Wally’s?
“Right now, we aren’t planning on really expanding. It’s more of just keep doing what we’re doing and keep doing it better every year,” Joe said. He went on to say, “What’s next is to get our two locations to run seamlessly.”
Jeannie mentioned that a priority of hers is to continuously experiment with more new types of food, including ice cream tacos and a new doughnut ice cream sandwich using sweet magnolias and Culprit Café doughnuts.
Q15: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their own business?
Jeannie responded by saying that you should, “Find something that you really love doing, and start off small.” Joe agreed with her statement and recommended to, “Start small and build up. Don’t build your dream on your first day; work towards it.” Both agreed that it was extremely important to be passionate about what you are building and wanted to remind new entrepreneurs to “Have fun, but stay within your means.”
Q16: To what extent is Ted & Wally’s involved in the Omaha community?
As mentioned above, Ted & Wally’s is very philanthropic. One of the things that Omaha is known for is having Ted & Wally’s ice cream. The shop has been around for multiple generations, and is known by both tourists and locals. Jeannie believes that the cornerstones of Omaha are comprised of the local businesses that occupy them. Joe explained how he believes, “It is definitely bigger than Jeannie and [him]. [He] feels like they are really just caretakers of it for this time and it’s really more about everybody else.”
Q17: What is your favorite part about doing business in the city of Omaha?
“People in Omaha are just very real,” Jeannie told me. The siblings also both touched on our city’s diversity, which they attributed to Omaha’s geographic position – right in the center of the country.
Q18: What is your current view of Omaha and where do you see it going in the future?
They believe that Omaha will continue to become more diverse over the next few years. On top of that, both owner have realized that Omahans are becoming more educated about food and have begun to be more conscious about consuming food that supports local businesses and uses local ingredients. Joe noted that many companies have started investing a lot more into the core older parts of our city that have been around the longest, including Downtown and Midtown. He also mentioned that he is excited to see modern, new communities pop up out west, including the new West Farm development coming near Boys Town. “Omaha is definitely on a path of growth,” he stated. Him and Jeannie both agreed that, whether new developments continue to pop up or older parts of the city continue to show a resurgence, that they hope the communities fill up with local businesses instead of chains. Jeannie expressed that “It seems to be— with that growth—a lot more opportunities for a new generation of entrepreneurs, so it’s kind of exciting.”
Q19: Why should someone from New York, LA, or Chicago move to Omaha?
Jeannie lived in LA for a little while, so the first thing that came to mind for her was the traffic. She mentioned how much she can’t stand waiting in traffic. “People are generally pretty friendly,” she added. Jeannie was also quick to mention our low cost of living and our thriving job market.
Joe talked up our city’s culture and reference our spectacular music and art scene. He also stated that Omaha is all-inclusive and has a great geographic position because it is in the middle of everywhere, making it easy to have road trips.