For the 81 years Piccolo Pete's Italian steakhouse was open in Omaha, Nebraska, it was a neighborhood restaurant where families came to eat heaps of pasta with red sauce and 16-oz. T-bone steaks, served by a staff of locals. Above the tables in the wood-paneled dining room, a sparkly crystal ball hung as a relic from the restaurant's days of hosting ballroom dancing with dinner.
Then, in 2005, something quite exciting happened at the family-run eatery: A billionaire came to dinner.
A very important customer
Warren Buffett, "the oracle of Omaha," first started frequenting Piccolo's in May of 2005, according to the restaurant's former general manager, Scott Sheehan. That winter, he decided to have his company Christmas luncheon at the restaurant.
Waitress Ellen Augustine, 43, remembers arriving for her shift on that afternoon in the winter of 2005 — she could sense excitement in the air. "I can't lie, I was a little bit nervous," she tells CNBC Make It. She kept telling herself "He's just a human."
Today, at 87, Omaha native Buffett is one of the wealthiest people in the world, worth over $82 billion. His financial conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway has a market cap of more than $472 billion. In 2005, Buffett was already worth a fortune — and important to woo as a diner.
Buffett's event was a big deal for the restaurant (in addition to the obvious reasons) because back then he was known to be a loyal diner at rival Omaha steakhouse Gorat's, Augustine explains. Now, he was coming to Piccolo's, and the owners had high hopes he'd become a regular.