LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Rob Gilmer

Title

LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Rob Gilmer

Subject

Queer Omaha Archives
Sexual minorities -- Nebraska -- Omaha
Interviews
Oral Histories (document genre)

Description

Click here to access the interview, LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Rob Gilmer

Mr. Rob Gilmer, photographer and restaurant owner, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on December 5, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. Gilmer shared information about growing up on a farm in New York, attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City, meeting his long-term partner René Orduña, surviving the AIDS epidemic of the 1980's, opening and running Dixie Quicks restaurant, and Orduña's cancer diagnosis and death.

Biographical Sketch 

Mr. Rob Gilmer, born in Huntington, New York, is a white, gay man, photographer and former co-owner of Dixie Quicks restaurant (1996-2018), a popular brunch spot and a favorite of Omaha/Council Bluffs’ LGBTQIA+ community. Gilmer grew up on a farm in Huntington, New York, and later attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City (1982-1986) where he graduated with a BFA in Photography. Throughout the 1980’s, Gilmer worked various jobs, such as bussing tables and checking coats at New York City gay clubs Les Mouches and The Saint, gardening, and DJing.  

After moving to Omaha in 1986 with his partner René Orduña (1953-2016), Gilmer began his 30-year career working at ENCOR to provide support for those with developmental disabilities. Additionally, Gilmer and Orduña opened their restaurant Dixie Quicks at 15th and Dodge in 1996, which featured “a blend of Southern Cooking with Cajun, Tex-Mex and Southwest elements,” and was the first restaurant in Omaha to offer brunch. In 2001, the restaurant moved to 19th and Leavenworth and opened the adjacent RNG Gallery, where it operated for the next 10 years until moving to its last location in Council Bluffs, Iowa. A highly popular brunch spot, Dixie Quicks was an attraction for politicians and celebrities visiting the area, a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community, won 2016’s Restauranteurs of the Year from the Iowa Restaurant Association, and was featured on the fourth season of Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives in 2008.  

Orduña was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer and died in November 2016. In early 2018, Dixie Quicks and RNG Gallery closed after 22 years in operation. As of March 2019, Gilmer lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 

Interview Summary 

Mr. Rob Gilmer, photographer and restaurant owner, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on December 5, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. Gilmer was born in Huntington, New York in the early 1960’s and grew up as the youngest of four children on a three-and-a-half acre farm. There, Gilmer explored with his friends and had a very unique, liberal upbringing with free-thinking parents.  

Gilmer knew he was gay around age four or five, knew that this was “different” and “frowned upon,” but never believed it was wrong himself. When he did eventually come out to his parents, his sexuality was a non-issue. Gilmer moved to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts in 1982, where he graduated with a BFA in Photography in 1986. During this time, he met his long-term partner René Orduña while working as a disco bus boy at New York City gay club Les Mouches. Their first date was 6 days long, and they moved in together soon after in 1983.  

When the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980’s, Gilmer heard it referred to as “gay cancer” and initially believed it was due to the use of the drug called Poppers. Gilmer and Orduña lived in the Upper West Village and experienced the gay men around them dying “left and right.” In addition to this, the AIDS epidemic put a spotlight on the already-stigmatized gay community in New York City, and Gilmer witnessed a lot of gay bashing and discrimination. He saw sick gay men being sent on Greyhound buses back to their homophobic hometowns and families, not knowing if they would survive the ride.  

In 1986 while on a trip to Omaha to attend Orduña’s brother’s wedding, the couple decided to stay in Nebraska. Gilmer worked various jobs like gardening and DJing and later began his 30-year career at ENCOR supporting those with developmental disabilities. In 1996, Orduña left his job waiting tables when his favorite restaurant, Heaven Sent, closed in North Omaha. Depressed and missing his love of soul food, Gilmer suggested Orduña start his own restaurant. That year the couple opened Dixie Quicks restaurant on 15th and Dodge, which featured “a blend of Southern Cooking with Cajun, Tex-Mex and Southwest elements,” and was the first restaurant in Omaha to offer brunch. In 2001, the restaurant moved to 19th and Leavenworth and opened the adjacent RNG Gallery, where it operated for the next 10 years until moving to its last location in Council Bluffs, Iowa. A highly popular brunch spot, Dixie Quicks was an attraction for politicians and celebrities visiting the area, a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community, won 2016’s Restauranteurs of the Year from the Iowa Restaurant Association, and was featured on the fourth season of Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives in 2008. 

Orduña was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in September 2016, and Gilmer cared and advocated for him throughout his battle with the disease. Orduña died in November 2016, and in early 2018, Gilmer closed Dixie Quicks and RNG Gallery after 22 years of operation. As of March 2019, Gilmer lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 

In this interview, Gilmer also discusses being raped while hitchhiking at age 17, his time at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and marrying Orduña in 2011. 

Interview Notes 

Trigger warning for death, rape and suicide. 

An unexpected event next door can be faintly heard during part of the interview. 

Date

2018 December 5

Creator

Luke Wegener

Publisher

University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries

Relation

LGBTQ+ Oral History Collection finding aid available at https://archives.nebraska.edu/repositories/4/resources/604

Interviewer

Luke Wegener

Interviewee

Rob Gilmer

Duration

1:49:39

Files

RobGilmerPhoto.jpg

Citation

Luke Wegener, “LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Rob Gilmer,” Queer Omaha Archives | UNO Libraries, accessed September 18, 2021, https://queeromahaarchives.omeka.net/items/show/3307.

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