Delicious always wins at Gather, one of the most unique eateries to grace the Old Market in a while. The concept is the brainchild of Graeme Swain, an Omaha native with a passion for tasty food and sustainable practices. Along with his partner Christine Mara Hrupek Swain, he first tested the concept in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an idyllic spot nestled in the Grand Tetons, known for great food and views.
Proud of their hometown, the couple kept their eyes on the restaurant scene in Omaha, and eventually that patience paid off when a spot in the historic district opened. “We grew up on those cobblestone streets, so when the opportunity arose, we jumped at the chance,” shared Swain.
Additional space in the property basement motivated the entrepreneurs to expand the original Gather concept by installing a striking vertical farm. The hydroponic vertical farm is a revolution in dining that provides fresh produce for the kitchen and an excellent conversation piece for diners.
A stylish viewing room allows diners to peer into the sustainable 3,200-sq. ft. vertical garden. Very little water is required to grow nutrient dense produce without pesticides in a very small space where LED lights provide what’s needed for photosynthesis, and not a speck of soil is in sight. According to Swain, one acre of vertical garden is equivalent to 390 acres of traditional farming.
Not surprisingly, food and beverage selections are inspired by the subterranean farm. The freight elevator whisks moveable towers of greenery straight from farm to kitchen, so Head Chef/Chef de Cuisine Alex Becker and his staff can snip fresh salad components and have them on the plate within minutes.
The Swains jokingly refer to Gather as “the Seinfeld of restaurants”, because there is no single focus or concept. Rather, the menu is developed collaboratively by staff. Proposed dishes are tested, tasted, and judged on flavor, presentation, and creativity, and winners ultimately make the menu. The result is an eclectic offering of fresh, approachable food.
Aligning perfectly with their penchant for taste and creativity, local products are used whenever possible. Sakura Farms provides unctuous wagyu beef, Jon’s Naturals the flavorful pork, and Plum Creek Farms supplies quality chicken.
Dishes such as the Crispy Brussels are wildly popular, and the Pork Buns are a textural delight with crispy pork belly nestled atop a freshly made bao bun dressed with zingy kimchi and garnished with cilantro from the basement. Salad lovers will appreciate the OMG Caesar, an offering that makes the most of the local produce in a classic salad replete with anchovies and pecorino cheese.
The beverage program is run in a similar manner, with mixologists encouraged to create drinks that look and taste incredible. Gather’s food philosophy is aptly put by Swain, “Make something that calls you at 2 am to drive 15 miles in the snow—something so memorable you think ‘I have to have that!’” Local spirits and brews are prominent shelf dwellers, and fresh herbs such as basil, mint, and rosemary elevate the cocktail program, arriving fresh from the farm.
“We are not fine dining, we are fun dining,” said Swain. Servers are encouraged to get to know tables, creating an approachable vibe that jibes with the restaurant’s upbeat music. The open space allows a peek into the bustling kitchen, and two outdoor spaces encourage diners to enjoy peaceful moments—one adjacent to the cobblestone street and a second outdoor bar and dining area tucked away in the niche between M’s Pub and Gather. “It’s really a former pigeon haven,” joked Swain. “But seriously, it’s a beautiful space.”
One of the most delightful food moments in his personal experience came with the escargot dish at neighboring eatery M’s Pub. “Raised vegetarian, I typically ordered the cucumber sandwich, but that escargot dish changed my life when I first tried it.” Swain considers himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel the world but credits that dish with opening his mind to new flavors, textures, and tastes.
Stunning photos shared by diners on Instagram (@gatherinomaha) tantalize, but don’t do justice to the plates coming out of this scratch kitchen. “Food here travels 5 feet, not 500 miles,” boasts Swain. “We want to truly be considered the epitome of farm-to-table.”
Gather’s hydroponic vertical farm products such as kale, aromatic basil, and spicy arugula will be available for both community sourced agriculture (CSA) programs and retail sales next summer. Customers will soon be able to order “greens to go” with their dinner, and service staff will bring sustainably packed vegetables ready to take home and enjoy.
The partners are thrilled to have a presence back home in Omaha and are bursting with plans and ideas for the future. Swain said, “We absolutely loved M’s Pub growing up, so it’s an honor to be neighbors, striving to bring beauty to the Old Market by putting our best foot forward every day.”
More stories like this one can be found at Our Food.