At the turn of the last century, Little Italy was a close-knit enclave of Italian immigrants. Today it is a melting pot of ethnicities, ages, and professions, a small community of urbanites introducing a vibrant new chapter to a colorful, historic neighborhood.
Named for James Dahlman, eight-term mayor of a young Omaha, the Dahlman neighborhood was home to numerous ethnic communities. Little Italy was one. Just south of downtown, the neighborhood was settled by Sicilian immigrants, mostly from the village of Carlentini, and it became home to many meat packing, stockyard and railroad workers, and, yes, a few bootleggers looking to circumvent pesky Prohibition laws.
Pride in their Italian heritage ran deep. At the center of this thriving community was St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church, with the Sons of Italy civic organization coming in a close second. The Santa Lucia Festival was brought over from the old country, as were many of the traditional foods still proudly served today at such Omaha institutions as Orsi’s Italian Bakery and Pizzeria and the popular Sons of Italy Hall lunches and dinners. Though not exclusively Italian in makeup today, Little Italy still retains the flavors of its former inhabitants while making room for new neighbors from other parts of Omaha and beyond.