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PepperJax grows out of teen years, returns corporate flag to Omaha, where it all began

By: - November 2, 2022 5:30 am

New PepperJax Grill Omaha headquarters, 9430 S. 142nd St. (Courtesy of PepperJax)

OMAHA — An Omaha-founded restaurant chain that for a time moved its headquarters out of Nebraska has returned its corporate flag to the city where it started 20 years ago.

PepperJax Grill interior (Courtesy of PepperJax)

PepperJax Grill, positioning itself for area growth, bought and opened a nearly 4,000-square-foot building off 144th Street and Interstate 80 for its national operations and field team base, said Erin Palladino, chief operating officer.

The stand-alone structure is near one of PepperJax’s newly opened Omaha area stores. Nationally, the fast-casual restaurant chain — which features the Philly cheesesteak sandwich and more, made to order in front of the customer — has about 30 stores in five states.

‘Poetic’ return

Besides Nebraska, PepperJax is in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota.

“Staging ourselves for growth, we wanted to have a hub in our home roots,” said Palladino. “We started in Omaha, so for us it’s kind of this poetic thing about returning with a headquarters right back where it all began.”

The Omaha return caps a series of shifts that included, in 2016, an ownership change that at the start of the following year took the headquarters from Omaha to Denver.  Palladino said that in late 2017, another new owner took over, and Nebraska native Brett Weis soon after moved the corporate team and headquarters to Kearney, Nebraska.

Kearney is now considered the company’s “support center,” where accounting and finance teams still are based, Palladino said.

Meanwhile, media reports show that over the last few years PepperJax closed three Kansas City area locations, an Iowa location and a Minnesota store.

“The locations we lost were originated from previous ownership and a combination of pandemic, real-estate, expiring leases, and positioning ourselves with synergies for management,” Palladino said.

Lately in the Omaha area, the company opened a new store near 144th Street and I-80, is about to open another in Gretna and has a summer opening planned for one near 204th Street and West Maple Road. Another is planned to open next fall in the Sioux City area.

Workforce still a challenge

Palladino said that recruiting workers remains a challenge, especially as work-from-home jobs have grown since the pandemic and compete with restaurants and other retailers. The chain has responded, she said, by trying to improve employee perks.

“We are fortunate that we have maintained a lot of our staff through the pandemic and have a lot of very long running employees that have helped us maintain our culture and we’re just kind of growing off of them,” Palladino said.

PepperJax exterior. (Courtesy of PepperJax)

Among other local changes intended to “refresh” the PepperJax brand is a relocation of the original store to a free-standing structure with a drive-thru lane across the street at 2444 S. 132nd St.

Another longtime store near 74th and Pacific Streets closed and a replacement opened blocks away on 72nd Street, north of Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Earlier this year, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, PepperJax had a period where it rolled back the philly price to the original $4.99 (compared to $9.99 today).

For those who missed it, she said, the company typically has similar birthday promotions every Jan. 9th.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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