The Reuben sandwich: A Nebraska original

Pure Nebraska
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 7:53 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Our state is the birthplace of the Reuben. In this story, we discover that it was invented at a hotel in Omaha, and you can still enjoy that hotel today.

We caught up with Steve Shern, who is the general manager of the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel. “This hotel was originally built in 1916,” Shern said, “It opened as a hotel in the ‘20′s. The proprietor, Charles Schimmel, was the operator of the property and this was known as the Blackstone Hotel. It operated into the 1980′s and then was converted into office space.”

By 2018, the old hotel was vacant. “But three local developers saw this as an opportunity,” Shern said. The hotel was renovated and opened in November of 2020. “Unlike a traditional hotel, this has a really nice mix of the historic past as well as the new amenities you would expect in a premier hotel,” Shern said. If you want a great steak, consider a visit to the hotel’s restaurant. “We are sitting in the Committee Chophouse,” Shern said, “This is our steakhouse and it’s more of a modern steakhouse in feel and offering.”

It turns out the Blackstone Hotel, which is now the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, is the birthplace of the Reuben sandwich. “This poker table we are sitting at has a connection to it,” Shern said, “The Reuben originates on the 8th floor of this hotel. Mr. Schimmel was having a poker match with a group of business people would often get together. They would call each other and say ‘The Committee is getting together.’ They nick-named themselves The Committee, which is why our steakhouse pays homage to that. At one of these poker matches, they were hungry. One of the attendees, Reuben Kulakofsky, had some fresh barrels of sauerkraut. Mr. Schimmel asked the hotel chef, who was also his brother, to go down, get some fresh sauerkraut and corned beef, and make him a sandwich.” That’s when the Reuben was born. “They loved it,” Shern said, “The group convinced Mr. Schimmel to put it on the menu at his coffee shop. He then put it on the menu at his other three hotels. In 1956, it was voted the National Restaurant Association’s sandwich of the year. Then, the recipe was published, and that’s how it just took off.”

You can taste a true Reuben sandwich at the Cottonwood. “We curate the corned beef for seven days, the sauerkraut is fresh, but also seasoned and blanched. The bread is locally sourced. There’s a lot of love that goes into this sandwich.”

As far as what’s next for the hotel, Shern said it’s just all about getting the word out and continuing to welcome Nebraskans. “We are really just continuing the tradition of being Omaha’s living room,” Shern said, “If you are staying or not staying, and just want something to do, this is a great place to come and visit.”