Brownie Bar expanding with new location in West Omaha

Brownie Bar expanding with new location in West Omaha

Brownie Bar expanding with new location in West Omaha

Baker's Candies Nebraska box

OMAHA – If there’s anything we love more than seeing one of our members gain enough success to expand operations and open a new location, it’s when one of our members gains enough success to expand operations and open a new location because of dessert!

Michael Mitilier, co-owner of The Brownie Bar with Jim Friedman, took some time to tell us about the company’s exciting new developments, as well as provide some insight into their success. After the challenges that small businesses endured due to the pandemic, it’s especially encouraging to see such dynamic growth from one of our members!

After seeing so many cupcake, cookie, and donut shops around Omaha, Michael and Jim realized there was an opportunity in the dessert market for something different, and in 2019, the Brownie Bar was born. 

If you haven’t heard of (or visited) the Brownie Bar, here’s a quick rundown of the innovative concept:

Step 1: Choose from 3 types of signature brownies: Traditional, Blonde, and Dark Chocolate

Step 2: Choose 1 of 9 different toppings

Step 3: Enjoy them for yourself, ship them to a loved one, or make a large order for an upcoming event!

This simply delicious business model not only helped the Brownie Bar get on its feet, but kept it upright throughout the pandemic. In addition to producing a high-quality product that people love, their active presence on social media has been extremely useful in not only getting the word out, but actually expanding to a new location. 

“We were getting so many people who were coming down to our location in the old market,” said Michael. “I think a lot of those people were traveling from West Omaha, and would say things like, ‘We would have gotten down here sooner but we just don’t get downtown as often,’ or ‘We’ve been following you for about a year and finally got down here.”

So when it was time to expand, how did Michael and Jim decide where the next location would be? They took it to Facebook and let the people decide. They offered three zip codes and, after around 300 people voted, it was clear that West Omaha was the right choice.

Michael had plenty to say about the benefits of social media. “Social media is probably one of the biggest factors of our success. It gets the word out there quickly, and we can adjust it and play with it to see what’s working and what’s not working. Email marketing has been pretty good for us, too, allowing us to constantly remind clients and potential clients of our presence. That helps a lot.”

The ability to ship their brownies was a big help during the pandemic. “We do a lot of shipping. That saved us through COVID for sure, especially for the holidays and Valentine’s Day. We also have a food truck/van for private things and corporate events, which helped a lot, too.”

The fact of the matter, though, is that The Brownie Bar provides a unique, delicious dessert option that is consistent in quality and hard to forget. 

“Everything is made from scratch.” Michael laughed, “Some days I’d love to find out how many pounds of butter we go through a month! The packaging has a lot to do with it, too: cute little boxes with our logos on them. And if they order a 6 pack or 12 pack, there’s crinkly paper and an instruction sheet on how to heat your brownies. It’s the little things that make it just a little more memorable.”

Michael also believes in the power of simplicity, when it comes to success. “Keep yourself lean; don’t offer 5000 products. You need space, and you need the people to do all that work, and you need to be able to do everything well.

GROW Nebraska would like to wish a hearty “Congratulations!” to Michael and the whole Brownie Bar team. Your hard work, ingenuity, and talent has certainly paid off!

Story by Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen Copywriting Services, a GROW Nebraska member. Lauren hails from Kearney, NE, where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations. 

Basics of Bookkeeping: Loving Your Balance Sheet | GROW Nebraska’s® FREE Online Training

Basics of Bookkeeping: Loving Your Balance Sheet | GROW Nebraska’s® FREE Online Training

GROW Nebraska’s® FREE Online Training

Basics of Book Keeping: Loving Your Balance Sheet

Steps to starting a small business
The presentation is about the balance sheet, why it matters, and how to use it.
  • The balance sheet is your scorecard
  • The balance sheet is an early warning system
  • Check your balance sheet regularly

DATE: March 18th

TIME: Noon – 1:00 p.m. CST

LOCATION: Live Stream

COST: Free, must register to receive call-in details and recording

Cory Morris has loved budgeting for as long as he can remember, and even convinced several budget-haters to love it too! That passion has grown into loving the numbers of business, and how those numbers tell us the health of the business. From 400 unit apartment complexes to start up vehicle sanitation companies, the books can be a source of fear and frustration, or a source of peace and direction.

Make the 2021 Tax Season A Breeze With Tips from GROW Members

Make the 2021 Tax Season A Breeze With Tips from GROW Members

Woman doing taxes

With the tax-filing deadline quickly approaching, small business owners should be taking steps now to make the process efficient and to maximize savings.

With the right professional advice and some pre-planning, income tax season doesn’t have to be a headache.

GROW Nebraska members Cory Morris of Morris Better Bookkeeping and Susan J. Tonniges, CPA, PC, offer the following tips to maximize your income tax savings and make the tax filing process as smooth as possible.

1. Maintain accurate financial records all year.

Morris, the owner of Morris Better Bookkeeping in Kearney, said maintaining up-to-date financial records throughout the year is one key to a smooth tax season.

Cory Morris

Cory Morris

Staying on top of activities such as invoicing, reconciling accounts and loans with bank statements, and having an updated balance sheet are important.

Whether business owners prepare returns themselves or hire an accountant, accurate financial records will help.

Morris has a degree in agricultural economics and is a certified QuickBooks Pro Advisor. He is a self-described budget geek and helps business owners with monthly tasks such as invoicing, paying bills, filing sales taxes, processing payroll, budgeting and forecasting, business plans, cost accounting and preparing monthly financial statements.

Morris said business owners shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for help with these tasks.

“Business owners have to learn everything,” he explained. “The fact that they don’t fully understand the bookkeeping doesn’t mean they don’t fully understand their business.”

His services are fully confidential and can all be completed virtually so there’s no disruption to the business. Business owners who work with him can spend more time building their businesses instead of stressing about that 10-cent difference when reconciling a bank statement.

While Morris doesn’t prepare income tax returns, he does create monthly financial statements for his clients so they know where they stand every month and can make changes sooner than later if needed. Plus, his clients are always ready with any information an accountant may need.

“Businesses working with me can take up-to-date financial statements to an accountant at any time,” he said.

2. Gather all financial records needed for the income tax-filing process.

Susan Tonniges, a Kearney-based accountant, has worked in accounting for more than 30 years, and her passion is income taxes, especially for small business owners.

Susan Tonniges

Susan Tonniges

“You guys are the bread and butter of America,” she said about small business owners. “I love working with you guys. Each one of the tax laws affects you guys.”

Tonniges said business owners should round up the following documents/financial records to file taxes:

  • An accurate listing of business income and expenses.
  • Mileage log, including miles driven for business and total miles driven. (Tonniges recommends tracking mileage on a calendar, a notebook or apps such as QuickBooks online or Mile IQ.)
  • Bank statements.
  • Loan documents.
  • Credit card records related to business expenses.
  • Business expenses paid for out of pocket (keep receipts as proof).
  • Copies of 1099 forms received.
  • Copies of 1099s sent to others.
  • W-2s and all quarterly payroll reports.
  • Copies of receipts for asset purchases (furniture, computers, vehicles, etc.)
  • Documents related to changes in ownership.

3. Understand the rules about COVID-19 PPE loans.

 Tonniges said the CARES Act and follow-up legislation has resulted in many tax law changes this year.

“The biggest controversy in the tax world has been the taxability of PPP loan forgiveness,” she said. “I think most people can agree that the intent of the lawmakers was for it to be tax-free aid, but the IRS did not agree with that position and stated that it would count PPP loan forgiveness as taxable income. The passage of the CRRSAA law in late December 2020 made it clear that a forgiven PPP loan is completely tax-exempt and is not taxable income.”

She said this year also brought changes in employment taxes.

“There are credits and/or deferments available,” she said. “Some of these credits and deferments are exclusive, meaning if you chose to take one credit, the other credits are not available and some of them work together.”

She advises business owners to work with an expert to make sure they choose the options with the most benefit.

“I think 2020, with all of the employer payroll tax changes and income tax changes, has proven to most people that it is advantageous to work with an accountant,” she said. “Accountants work with a variety of businesses and probably have some experience in your particular industry in addition to a wide base of tax law knowledge.”

When Tonniges works with a new business client, she is often able to point out some missed deductions or the proper way to take deductions to avoid penalties and interest.

“A good accountant will try to get to know you and your goals so that they can point out tax laws that might affect decisions you might have to make during the year,” she said. “I always ask my client to call me before they make major decisions so we can discuss the tax implications before the decision is made. I hate to tell a taxpayer that they owe more in taxes. It is even worse to know that I could have helped them save money if they had just called me before they made the decision.”

4. Know what expenses can be deducted to reduce your tax liability.

Tonniges said most small business owners are a bit afraid of the IRS and don’t want to throw up any ‘red flags,’ so they will not take deductions that they are unsure of.

“Business use of home and business use of vehicles are confusing subjects, and I see a lot of errors in computing proper deductions,” she said. “My goal as an accountant is to make sure that my clients get every deduction possible. Most taxpayers understand that they have to pay their fair share, they just don’t want to pay more than their fair share!”

Tonniges said another issue she sees when working with new clients is not exactly income tax-related. State sales tax law and the requirements for filing Form 1099s are complex and frequently reported incorrectly.

Other possible deductions include retirement contributions, self-employed health insurance, home office, and business use of a vehicle.

“I can’t stress enough that you find an advisor that you feel comfortable with,” she said. “You share your goals and dreams, and they can help you find ways to get you there faster and more efficiently.”

5. Plan a pre-tax appointment.

This appointment allows business owners to make year-end adjustments that could reduce their tax liability and paves the way for a more organized for your tax appointment.

Most pre-tax appointments happen in November or December.

“There are things you can do to save money, but you have to take action before Dec. 31,” Tonniges said. “So many times people come in in January, February and March and I found out I could have helped them save so much money if they would have come in earlier.”

Morris said the pre-tax meeting will also help avoid sticker shock of paying a large unexpected tax bill.

“If you are unprepared, that tax bill can hurt,” he said.

6. Assemble a team of trusted experts to help your business succeed.

“The most important thing I would tell a small business owner is that it is never too soon to start asking questions,” she said. “It seems like an unnecessary expense to talk to a lawyer, an investment advisor, or an accountant, but it is so important to get things set up right from the beginning. You are starting this business because you feel you can be successful. Talking to and planning with advisors is the best way to set yourself up for success in the long run.”

She said to think of the cost as an investment in your future.

“As an accountant, I can work with your attorney to make sure that your business entity or entities are set up to limit your legal exposures and provide for the best tax savings,” she said. “Your investment advisor can also provide input on the best retirement plans that limit your tax liabilities and still help you meet your goals and dreams for retirement. Your best steps to ensure a successful small business should include good advice from experts you trust.”

For more information or to contact Cory Morris, visit

For more information or to contact Susan Tonniges, visit

Story by Kristine Jacobson, GROW Nebraska member and owner of KRJ Public Relations, a business that specializes in helping non-profits and other businesses tell their stories and gain momentum through blogs, newsletters, annual reports, social media and other publications.

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

When Cheryl Hughes began HR Poppin’ Snacks more than 20 years ago, she encountered a steep learning curve. Not only was she learning how to make the best quality popcorn, but she also had to learn all aspects of snack food manufacturing and wholesale.

At about the same time, GROW Nebraska also started with the intent to help educate and promote businesses just like hers. Cheryl joined as one of GROW’s first members.

“There was always a learning experience, good exposure and good advertising,” Cheryl said of GROW. “They have done a great job for me.”

HR Poppin’ Snacks grew into a successful business that now pops more than 20,000 pounds of popcorn seeds annually from its store in Gibbon and sells popcorn in more than 135 flavors in stores around the county.

Cheryl has maintained her GROW membership the entire time, and she continues to give back to GROW through mentoring and giving advice to other members. And her giving doesn’t just stop with members.

Entrepreneurs have traveled to Gibbon from as far away as Brazil, Paris and Nigeria to visit HR Poppin’ Snacks to learn how to produce quality popcorn for their business ventures. Cheryl gladly shares her knowledge with anyone who asks without charging consulting fees.

“If I can help somebody with a leg up, then I do,” she said. “I learned the hard way because I didn’t have someone in the know to mentor me. Now, I have the benefit of the knowledge so I want to share with others to make their road to success a little easier.”

Cheryl and her husband, Gary, are adamant about using their business to help others. That philosophy started with the naming of their business nearly 20 years ago. The HR in the name stands for ‘Heavenly Reason.’

At least 10 percent of their earnings go to charity or someone in need, whether it’s donating popcorn gift baskets to local fundraisers or giving popcorn away to those serving in the military.

“This has happened by the grace of God, and we need to give back,” Cheryl said.

GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson-Ehrke said Cheryl donates all of her mentoring services to pay it forward, which makes a huge difference for many business owners.

“She’s easily touched more than 100 businesses we’ve worked with,” Janell said.

In the early days of GROW, Chery helped set up a retail store in Grand Island and later launched the UPC program to help GROW members sell their products on sites like Amazon. Members who sell just one or two products can save money by buying into GROW’s UPC numbers instead of spending hundreds of dollars to purchase their own UPC number.

When GROW members ask about product labeling, Cheryl is their source for answers.

New GROW Nebraska member Karen Ogelsby, owner of MoKa’s Kitchen, recently relied on help from Cheryl with labeling her popcorn for sale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen thought her business would be “dead in the water” when COVID-19 hit. Her business previously provided artisan and gourmet popcorn for special events. When the special events stopped, so did her business. Chery helped Karen find a distributor to make her popcorn products available in stores, where shoppers were still flocking to buy snacks during the pandemic. MoKa’s Kitchen popcorn is now in 50 locations across the state.

Janell said she is grateful for members like Cheryl who give back and wants to celebrate her and others.

“I don’t want to forget where we came from,” Janell said. “It’s been GROW and a whole bunch of people and members who just kept giving back.”

Cheryl said she’s always lived with the philosophy that there’s always enough business to go around. She’s not worried about helping her potential competitors.

“If I continue to make a quality product and do my business well, I shouldn’t have any problems,” she said.

Cheryl encourages anyone who is considering starting a business or developing a product to contact GROW Nebraska.

“There are lots of ways that GROW Nebraska can help,” she said.

One of the biggest benefits, Cheryl said, is the annual MarkeTech conference, which she has attended every year it has been offered.

“It’s a great benefit, and any member that I work with I encourage them to attend MarkeTech,” she said. “It’s well-organized, provides good networking opportunities and education. I encourage anyone in the state, even if you aren’t a member of GROW Nebraska, to participate in MarkeTech.”

The 2021 MarkeTech conference is scheduled for Thursday, July 15, in Kearney. For more information, visit To sign up for the GROW newsletter to stay informed on upcoming trainings, visit here.

With holiday popcorn sales just wrapping up, Cheryl said she is preparing to launch new popcorn flavors soon.

Story by Kristine Jacobson, GROW Nebraska member and owner of KRJ Public Relations, a business that specializes in helping non-profits and other businesses tell their stories and gain momentum through blogs, newsletters, annual reports, social media and other publications.

Game and Parks partners with Grow Nebraska for centennial year swag

Game and Parks partners with Grow Nebraska for centennial year swag

Game and Parks partners with Grow Nebraska for centennial year swag

LINCOLN, Neb. — Outdoors fans now can show their Nebraska parks pride with merchandise celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission parks system.

A variety of items, from camper favorites to collectibles, will be available online through Grow Nebraska. Find a direct link to the shop through

“The partnership with Grow Nebraska is a great one, and one that will help get these commemorative products in outdoor enthusiasts’ hands — no matter where they live,” said Margot Desrocher, parks program manager. “This also is a great way to support our amazing Nebraska park system, a system that belongs to the people of the state.”

Proceeds from the sales will go to the parks’ fund for improvement projects, including improved infrastructure, new amenities and added accessibility.

The initial product launch includes high-quality vinyl stickers featuring the Nebraska State Parks centennial logo; iron-on patches; and a special-edition commemorative coin. Coming soon are T-shirts, fanny packs, coffee mugs, water bottles, flying discs, coasters, hats and 12 other collectible coin designs.

“We are grateful to work with Nebraska Game and Parks on offering gift items that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the state park system,” said Janell Anderson-Ehrke, GROW Nebraska Foundation CEO. “This is a very exciting project.”

Additional merchandise is expected to be added throughout the centennial year.

The centennial celebration, themed “Your Memories, Your Adventures, Your Parks,” honors the park system’s legacy while also looking to its bright future. To learn more, visit