Tucked away inside a small brick building on the corner of 11th and K streets, Chez SoDo is a new coffee shop and lunch bar located in downtown Lincoln. Contemporary art lines the walls and rows of contemporary wooden tables and benches are scattered across the space. The restaurant also has a large stage in the back to offer live performances by local artists.
The coffee shop, owned and operated by Sean and Starr Carmichael, opened in March 2018 after the couple decided they wanted to try something new after spending 16 years running their catering business, Chez Hay.
“We really just wanted to explore a different avenue,” Sean Carmichael said. “We wanted to be able to do something to offer creative things daily, but then also keep our catering business going.”
Right now, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekdays to serve lunch. Carmichael, who is also one of the chefs at Chez SoDo, created the menu composed mainly of soups, salads and sandwiches.
“A lot of the food we serve is just kind of things I like to make,” Carmichael said. “I’ve been cooking for over 20 years, so there's just a lot of things I like to make.”
Every morning, Carmichael gets to Chez SoDo at 9:30 so he can begin working on his favorite food to make: the soups.
Though the soups are Carmichael’s favorite, he said the most popular menu item was actually concocted by his 13-year-old son.
The sandwich, called Graham’s special, is made up of a turkey breast marinated in a citrus brine for two days and served on a croissant with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and lemon garlic mayo.
As for the shop’s coffee, Carmichael said they usually stick to the basics — black coffee, lattes and cappuccino. But Carmichael said he is partnering with local coffee specialist Jon Ferguson on his favorite project at Chez SoDo, the shop’s new coffee-roasting space, which is open for those in the Lincoln area who are interested in renting out the space to roast their own coffee beans.
“We are partnering with Jon Ferguson, and he is offering up classes on how to roast coffee,” Carmichael said. “Then we are also co-oping the roasting space with local artisans who don't have access to a roaster. They can rent out the space and roast their own coffee, and then we sell it here.”
Chez SoDo has also held weddings and wedding receptions at their space, and on the weekends they sometimes offer live performances by local bands.
For employee and University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior Valerie Skaalrud, the different projects the space offers is one of her favorite things about working at Chez SoDo.
The agricultural economics major said she began working for the Carmichaels at Chez Hay during the spring of 2017. But this fall, after returning from a job in Oklahoma, Skaalrud said she decided to jump aboard the Chez SoDo team as a server and part of their marketing team.
In the two months she has worked at Chez SoDo, Skaalrud said her favorite part about the job is the restaurant’s laid-back environment and her close relationships with co-workers. But, she also said she loves making weekend events, like when they hosted Team Jack a few weeks ago, as enjoyable as she can for customers.
“It's hard work, it definitely kind of kills you some nights, but it's definitely rewarding when you see certain groups really enjoy their events,” she said.
Skaalrud said she is excited for the Carmichaels to expand their hours into the evenings to cater more toward college students and to offer another option for them to get coffee and study.
“It's kind of one of those environments,” she said.
When they were getting the restaurant ready to open, Carmichael said he wanted it to be a space where people can come in to hang out and have a conversation over lunch or sit back and relax over a book and a cup of coffee. But at the same time, he said he is excited for the restaurant to begin holding more artistic events, whether involving musicians, artists or theater performances by the Red Theater, a theater collective based out of Chicago.
“We were just contacted by the Red Theater, and they’d done a few things with us at Chez Hay, so I’m excited that they want to come here to use the space for rehearsals and maybe even do performances here,” Carmichael said. “What I’d like in the future is for the space to turn into something the community can use for anything they need.”