The food offerings at 88 Tactical have come a long way since the day it opened for business—according to Executive Chef Matt Davenport, “There were days we had zero customers and not a penny in the till.” Quite a contrast to today, where eastward expansion is coming very soon in Omaha for a 400-seat Founders Club, including an expansive patio and play areas.
Fondly referred to as the “Guntry Club”, Davenport’s team serves over 5,000 members and their guests in the Founders Club space on the second level of the facility. At its inception, the eatery was more of a lounging space but now boasts several tall, striking wood communal tables that seem to be perpetually full of content diners.
Members aren’t just there for the firearms, either. The club offers family activities and educational offerings such as anti-bullying and anti-abduction courses, female empowerment, and a full gym. And some folks come in just to dine, whether on date night, with the family, or entertaining clients.
Davenport has been in the business for over 20 years, working his way up through restaurants, focusing on improving his skills and work ethic by tackling incredible opportunities in Yellowstone and Denali National Parks, and perhaps the most fulfilling—a stint cooking for United States wildland firefighters. Davenport described the experience as “legendary”, cooking upwards of 1200 meals thrice daily. “That time taught me to work for a greater good—someone had to be there to nourish those out busting their tails and risking their lives.”
Well-travelled, Davenport has been to 46 of 50 states and spent several months backpacking across Asia. These varied and magical experiences taught the accomplished manager and cook the importance of ensuring his food was beautiful, bountiful, colorful, and flavorful. Through these experiences he began to understand that we eat with our eyes first, regardless of environment or context, so plating and cooking principles always consider time and place. “I have a soft spot for real Italian charcuterie, a good green or red curry, in Thailand, or a warm bowl of cao lâu (Vietnamese noodle dish),” he shared.
The menu changes quarterly to keep things fresh, with the team replacing seven existing items with new, seasonal offerings. A big proponent of community, the establishment supports local businesses such as Rotella’s Bakery, which provides bread products, Council Bluffs-based Larson Supply for disposables, and Nebraska Star Beef from Holdrege, Nebraska. US Foods has also been a key partner. “US Foods saw potential in us when every other vendor said we were too small,” Davenport said.
One of the most popular sandwiches served at the Founders Club is the Caribbean Pork Triple Threat, a visually impressive dish that begins with a base of Jamaican Jerked country ribs topped with achiote pork, two slices of thick bacon, and finally garnished with fresh mango salsa, jalapeño, and cilantro.
Davenport’s favorite, though, is his signature item, the Slawco Taco. To bring this dish to life he melded the flavors of Southern California with Nebraska, giving the traditional fish taco a Midwestern twist. “I love them to death, could seriously eat one a day, and guests often tell me the same,” he said.
The cocktail program is ever evolving, striving to delight members and their guests. According to Davenport, the Bloody Mary is the best he’s tasted. He further explained, “The vodka is infused with no fewer than 13 ingredients, and the mix contains at least that many.” The new Founders Club expansion will see additional craft beer options as well as new Scotch and American whiskies.
Though the menu is full of flavorful meat-based dishes, Davenport is a self-professed salad aficionado. “I take great pride in my salads and have been building them since I was a kid.” Inspired by the creations at local favorite Jams, his kitchen creates healthy and filling salads with unique flavors and textures. The Cajun Wedge salad, a creative and well-balanced twist on the classic, is spiced with Everything Bagel Seasoning, topped with a house-made applewood-smoked bleu cheese dressing, bacon, blackened shrimp, and crunchy sunflower seeds.
With expansion comes new opportunities, so it is no surprise that further changes are afoot at the Founders Club. Chef Bobby Mekiney, formerly of M’s Pub, is joining the staff as the new Executive Chef, and Michael McDonald, hailing from Panera Bread, is taking over as Food and Beverage Manager at the Omaha location.
As the venture moves into new markets such as Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee, delivering a consistent dining experience to members is critical, and Davenport is eager to take on that challenge as Director of Food and Beverage, overseeing startups and expansions.
In addition to its welcoming culture, Davenport describes the founders of 88 Tactical as “real life superheroes”. An essential component of this is food, which brings people together in myriad ways. “Steering this ship has been a humbling experience, but I will continue bringing my best shot daily for both my staff and customers.”