Citta’ Deli opened its doors at 110 W. Third Street in McCook in March of 2015 as a lunchtime sandwich shop, a traditional deli with imported meats and cheeses. It didn’t take long for owners Bill and Jade Lesko to find out what many entrepreneurs discover – they needed to expand their offering to satisfy customer demand.

Business award – Citta’ Deli staff accept an Honor Business Award from the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Leskos heard about and applied for the Ben F. Hormel Entrepreneurial Competition in October of 2016. Of the 23 entries, Citta’ Deli was named one of 15 semi-finalists and received scholarship money to take McCook Community College’s Entrepreneurship Business Plan Writing class.

They completed the class, developed their expansion plan and in April of 2017 were named the grand prize winners and received $15,000 to expand their restaurant.

“The amazing thing is that as much business background as I had, I never realized how complex yet how vital a business plan can be,” Bill said.

He grew up in the food industry and has 30 years of business experience, but all of it in large markets. So when developing a business plan for an authentic New York deli in Southwest Nebraska, there were no existing corporate models to consult. He and Jade had to create the numbers – always with their customers in mind.

McCook Community College Vice President Andy Long presents a $15,000 check to Bill Lesko, owner of Citta’ Deli, as the 2017 grand prize winner in the Ben Hormel Business Plan Competition.

“While Jade is from here, I didn’t know small towns,” Lesko said. “I’ve tried to listen to our customers, consult our business plan and come up with the best possible plan.”

In the fall, they applied for and received a liquor license, which allowed them to serve wine with their high-end dinners and desserts. Bill’s homemade cheesecakes have become a favorite. All their sauces are made from scratch. Their recipes are a combination of Bill’s Italian family favorites along with newly developed ones. 

They expanded their menu, their hours, their liquor inventory and stepped up plans to move into a larger building in 2018.

After major renovations at 110 W. First, Citta’ Deli will open at its new downtown (the former LaCosina Restaurant) location in 2018 with expanded seating (from 400 square feet to 3,000 square feet), a deli-side during the day (and overflow seating), a larger full-service kitchen, more parking, an expanded menu and dedicated seating for high-end dinner dining. 

A business legacy turns dreams into reality

Ben F. Hormel

The family of a McCook businessman is keeping his entrepreneurial spirit alive and encouraging local business growth through a thriving partnership with McCook Community College.

The Hormel Family Foundation, which honors the late Ben F. Hormel, works with MCC to train and encourage entrepreneurship and business development in the Southwest Nebraska economic region. The idea is that education and entrepreneurship are the strongest weapons against population loss.

“For us to grow and thrive in Southwest Nebraska, it’s vital for us to keep finding new and innovative ways to make entrepreneurship work,” said Renelle Mooney, MCC business instructor.

What started out in 2007 as a $25,000 winner-take-all small business investment has evolved into a full-blown opportunity for numerous entrepreneurs to network with experts and fine-tune their business plans before annual prize money is distributed to multiple business interests.

The key to that partnership has been that the Hormel Family Foundation finances scholarships for semi-finalists, allowing them to take MCC’s online Entrepreneurship Business Plan Writing class free of charge. 

Those business hopefuls who meet the qualifications receive help in writing business plans, money to develop businesses and the chance to join a network of professionals providing expertise in several areas.

“A lot of students who take this class tell me they are surprised how much they learn,” Mooney said. “I think it’s because with all the networking and mentoring that happens, students have to look at their business from different perspectives.”

MCC’s Entrepreneurship Business Plan is a three credit hour class that runs for eight weeks in the spring.

“We’re big fans of entrepreneurs at MCC,” said Andy Long, Vice President of McCook Community College. “It’s great we have partners who are committed to finding the best ways to encourage economic growth by encouraging this entrepreneurial focus.”

The entrepreneurial competition gains momentum each year, and MCC now receives major sponsorship contributions from MNB, Community Hospital, the McCook College Foundation, and the McCook Community Foundation as well as sponsorship funds from the McCook Economic Development Corporation, AmFirst (Pinnacle), First Central and Adams Bank and Trust in Imperial.

Among Ben Hormel’s entrepreneurial ventures was the Chevrolet dealership in McCook. He died in 2002 and passed the torch to his children and grandchildren, who operate the foundation today with the main objectives of stimulating entrepreneurship and supporting business expansion in Southwest Nebraska.

The Hormel competitions happen every other year with the next one scheduled for the 2018-19 school year.