From Omaha Steaks to root beer floats

Warren Buffett brings big bucks to Omaha during Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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OMAHA, Neb. - Berkshire Hathaway's shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., is an annual pilgrimage for investors, sometimes referred to as the "Woodstock for capitalists."

More than 40,000 people were estimated to descend on the Nebraska city. U.S. Census data puts Omaha's estimated population at 421,570, which means shareholders trekking there to see and hear from legendary investor Warren Buffett will account for nearly 10 percent of the city's total population.

That's a far cry from the 12 shareholders who showed up for the first Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 1981.

For the Omaha restaurant Gorat's, the Omaha World Herald reports that typical weekend diners consume about 500 pounds of beef. On Berkshire weekend that triples to 1,500 pounds.

In 2010, the Omaha Visitors Center greeted 570 visitors from 13 countries to include Hungary, Finland, Israel and Malaysia. A spokesman for the city of Omaha told Local 10 that Mohnish Pabrai, the founder of Irvine, Calif.-based Pabrai Investment Funds, was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch as saying, "Paris and London, all those cities are so boring. Omaha is where all the action is. Why would you ever want to be in Paris on May 1? Nothing compares to Omaha."

Pabrai has attended every annual meeting since 1998.

"See that store," Warren says, pointing to Nebraska Furniture Mart. "That's a really good business."

"Why don't you buy it?" I said.

"It's privately held," Warren said.

"Oh," I said.

"I might buy it anyway," Warren said. "Someday."

-Supermoney by Adam Smith (1972)

In 2011, Nebraska Furniture Mart, a Berkshire Hathaway company, did $37 million worth of business during the annual meeting. That, Local 10 is told, was far more than most furniture stores do during a year.

Buffett told shareholders that in 2013 the Nebraska Furniture Mart "in the week surrounding the meeting, the store did $40.2 million of business, breaking its previous record by 12 percent. It also set a single-day record of $8.2 million on Saturday, selling nearly $1 million in mattresses alone."

The Omaha World Herald reported that, "During Berkshire week, the Mart typically does a month's worth of business in seven days, said Robert Batt, the retailer's executive vice president."

Omaha World News reports that at 801 Chophouse at Paxton, "The restaurant will stack about 300 pounds of prime beef from floor to ceiling in its walk-in cooler, making cold-storage space for other products hard to find. Diners typically put away about 100 pounds of beef in a normal weekend."

At another Buffett favorite, Piccolo Pete's, Omaha World Herald reporters Janice Podsada and Cole Epley told their readers, "The restaurant typically drains a keg of the stuff every two weeks, according to Frank Skryja, head chef and kitchen manager at Piccolo's. That's roughly a gallon a day. For the four-day festival that is Berkshire weekend, the restaurant is stocking up on four kegs' worth of root beer, or enough to dispense more than 15 gallons of root beer every day investors are in town."

"They all have to have root beer floats," said Donna Sheehan, a co-owner of Piccolo's.

What do you think of when you hear the word "Omaha?" If you are my parents, the answer is Omaha Steaks -- and, apparently, they are not alone.

The Omaha World Herald is also reporting that Piccolo's is "stockpiling" Omaha Steaks -- a normal weekend calls for about 450 pounds of beef, but shareholders will gobble up close to 1,500 pounds' worth May 1-4 -- as well as ingredients for chicken parmesan and Piccolo's Special Ale, an amber ale that pairs nicely with grilled meats.

Skryja said the brew sells especially well during the Berkshire weekend simply because of its name.

"If it says Piccolo's on it, it sells," he said.

And if the Oracle were buying it, it would sell even better.

"All year long, people want to have what (Buffett) has," Sheehan said. "If he orders chicken parmesan, the whole table orders chicken parmesan."

Piccolo's management has been working with vendors for about two months to ensure the restaurant gets everything it needs for its biggest weekend of the year. Skryja said the brisk business is akin to "having New Year's Eve four days in a row."

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