EXCLUSIVE: Joe Tess Place owner talks about decision to close south Omaha restaurant

Joe Tess Place, a staple in Omaha for its fried fish, is shutting its doors this week.
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 10:23 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The talk of the town Tuesday — and certainly on social media — was the closing of another longtime Omaha favorite restaurant: local fish market and tavern Joe Tess Place, specializing in fried carp.

Joe Tess Place is a staple in Omaha for its fried fish. The iconic restaurant is shutting its doors this week. After more than 85 years of serving the community, the owners feel like it’s time to close up shop.

It’s been serving up carp since the 1930s. Bill Falt worked for the original Joe Tess. He bought the restaurant from him more than 50 years ago. Now, Bill’s three sons are the ones cleaning and frying up fish.

William Falt, one of the brothers spoke to 6 News exclusively about the decision to close.

“We could bust our tails for another 20 years if we were making money, but it’s an operation that has long since seen its day, seen its heyday many years ago,” said Falt.

The dining room closed due to COVID-19 and never reopened. In addition to the challenges of running a restaurant during a pandemic, like staffing shortages and supply chain issues, the owners say what’s contributing to their closing is also the process of having fresh fish daily.

Their operation is complicated and now much more costly. It takes a lot of fuel and liquid oxygen to drive the fish in from northern states like Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“We’ve had enough. We can’t continue it anymore. There are way too many costs up and down along the production line to make it profitable,” said Falt.

When word got out the store may be closing, people started to swarm, and the phones were ringing all day.

Many remember coming to Joe Tess Place as children. Some have been going for more than 50 years. Kim Whiteside is one of them.

Whiteside’s grandmother would take her as a child. That’s where she developed a love for fish.

“What I will be taking with me when this place closes is some great memories, of being here, sharing stories, and eating great great food,” Kim said.

It’s a tradition and a connection, she says.

Darrell Rytych runs the live fish market next to the restaurant. He and his mother lived down the street of Joe Tess Place when his mom who worked there enlisted him for help washing dishes behind the bar. He was just twelve years old when he started, too short to be seen over the counter. Now, 56 years later, he still works here. When he found out the news that the establishment would be closing, he was emotional.

“I wanted to cry, this is the only thing I’ve done all my life,” Rytych said.

Joe Tess Place plans to stay open until Saturday or until they run out of food. They say even when they’re gone, they want you to support local businesses.

Since the pandemic, data from the Bureau of Labor show that full-service restaurants have not made the same comeback as limited-service restaurants like coffee shops and fast food.

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