Justin has consistently been involved in community service from a young age, participating in Habitat for Humanity as well as homeless shelters and feeding the homeless programs. This service background was fostered by his parents and led him to take a commission in the Peace Corps where he was stationed for 2 years. This experience was formative not only in his love of community service but also in giving Justin a very direct and tangible love for simple, flavorful, and local food and beverage. Justin was able to live amongst and experience a food culture that has long been forgotten in America where families are responsible for their food and beverage from start to finish. During his stay in Easter Europe, Justin was also able to travel widely, especially when joined by his brother, Aaron Halbert. Together they were able to experience a wide variety of cuisines. The very simple and visceral food cultures of Eastern Europe reignited Justin’s desire to work in the food industry.
Upon his return to Omaha, Justin sought out the advice and mentorship of his uncle, Ron Samuelson. His question for his uncle, “where should I start in the restaurant industry?” Ron’s advice was to start from the very bottom to gain a very humble and diligent view of how restaurants work. Justin took a position as a busser at P.F. Chang’s and had the opportunity to work nearly every front of the house position available. Within a year, Justin applied for and was offered a position as Assistant Manager for Kona Grill. This position, more than any other, laid the groundwork for Justin to understand the ins and outs of restaurant management and efficiency. Using this gained knowledge, Justin was able to move to General Management for Brix at Village Pointe. Working alongside the owner and creator of Brix, Justin’s knowledge base was expanded to include lease negotiations, restaurant design, human resources, proforma creating, etc.
Aaron Halbert has 16 years of experience in the restaurant industry. His earlier experience, mostly on the gulf coast of Florida, taught him how everything in restaurants works from the ground up. He started as a dish washer and advanced into bussing, bar backing, serving and bartending. This helped mold Aaron and taught him how each different facet of every position compliments and relies on the others.
After working the high-volume tourist seasons and spring breaks in Florida, he had a short stint in Omaha as a server and bartender at M’s pub where Ron Samuelson was able to guide him into focusing on how to improve his skills. This short period enabled Aaron to save enough money to travel internationally for the first time to go see his brother, Justin Halbert. This trip, as they were traveling through Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic sparked interest in learning more about wine. The complete lack of familiarity with the styles, laws, and practices of these countries was enthralling.
Working just over a year with the Bin 36 group solidified in his mind the need to work through the Court of Master Sommeliers program. Deciding to leave Chicago to be near family again, Justin and Aaron bought a house together and both of them set out in different avenues toward the same goal of owning a restaurant (or a few). Justin went with the corporate management path, while Aaron focused on the service side.
Over the next three years, Aaron worked alongside Master Sommelier Jesse Becker and renowned chef Paul Kulik at The Boiler Room. These two mentors gave him the direction and resources to pass through the introductory and Certified Sommelier tests. After passing and taking stock on how to use his skills in a place more similarly aligned with his personality, he shifted over to Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar. Working with old friends Brad and Johanna Marr, they, along with chef Joel Mahr, were able to build one of the most visited and talked about programs in the city.