BY MATT LINDBERG
ELKHORN — When Steve Minino first got wind of a new building being constructed in the heart of downtown Elkhorn, he spent months tracking the owner down and convincing him to give his business a shot.
There was just one stipulation: No restaurant or bar.
“Cool, neither do I. I want to build a high-tech real estate office,” Minino told the builder of what he wanted to do with the space.
Fast forward months later — Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 — Minino laughed as he shared that story with nearly 200 people who packed the house to celebrate the grand opening of kwELITE in Elkhorn, 2606 N. Main St.
Minino, his wife, Jenny; and business partner Jim Marriott were all smiles as they looked out at the crowd and saw people from all walks of life, such as kwELITE leadership, agents and staff from across the state; fellow Elkhorn business owners, West O Chamber representatives and various community members. Their dream was now officially a reality.
“They’re an excellent addition to Main Street — they’re a perfect fit, and they’re in a great location here on the corner,” West O Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Trevor Hudson said during the festivities. “I believe they’re going to do great things down here.”
The official launch of kwELITE in Elkhorn was quite the celebration — guests were treated to drinks and a massive charcuterie board boasting loads of cured meats, a variety of cheeses, crackers, nuts, fruits and vegetables, among other things. Then there was a nearby table full of various sweet treats and a raffle to award prizes to attendees at random.
The grand opening was no spur-of-the-moment decision, though. Minino is a third-generation Realtor who followed in both his grandfather’s and mom’s footsteps in the real estate industry, getting licensed in 2007. Having been with Keller Williams for five years and kwELITE since its inception two years ago, opening an office in Elkhorn was always part of the plan.
“The only spot for us was downtown Elkhorn. Our motto is, ‘live, work and play in the area you love,’” Minino said, noting he and Jenny, along with their children, have proudly called it home for nearly a decade. “We just love the community, we love the feel of it … it still has that small-town feel to it. Elkhorn has its own heartbeat, its own rhythm.”
The opening of the 2,900-square-foot Elkhorn office is just another step of the plan for the kwELITE arm of Keller Williams Realty founded by Jeff Cohn and Renee Mueller in August 2020. The company has skyrocketed in success by becoming the fastest-growing brokerage in Nebraska’s history outside of acquisition.
It started with the headquarters in Omaha, which serves as a one-stop-shop tech-powered office that provides clients a simple, customized home buying and selling experience utilizing ancillary businesses. Since then, the company has successfully launched operations in Columbus and Kearney, with a location in Gretna, among many others, in the works following Elkhorn.
Minino stressed watching kwELITE grow rapidly and successfully has served as inspiration, noting it was important to be part of a company that wants and does things at a high level — an “ELITE” level.
A location in Elkhorn was a natural part of kwELITE’ growth, according to Team Leader Dakotah Smith.
“It’s always been said that real estate is local, and we really believe in having a brand that not only represents value but also represents a true commitment to a community,” Smith said. “And Elkhorn is a community that, despite annexation to the City of Omaha several years ago, has done a great job of maintaining its local, unique history and identity.
“So we wanted to be a part of contributing to that and making sure that it’s able to be perpetuated into the future.”
Mingling with the various people in attendance, Smith said the turnout only further solidified why kwELITE expanded into the Western Omaha neighborhood that boasts a population of a little more than 6,000 people, adding that attendance exceeded his expectations.
“What I really wanted to see out of today was a lot of energy and excitement about everything we’ve built here with kwELITE in Elkhorn and what it means for the expansion of our brand across the state,” Smith said, while praising the Mininos and Marriott for being genuine and passionate individuals.
“The energy, the amount of agents, the amount of people from beyond our brokerage, from beyond the real estate industry, who have shown up to support us, just shows what both kwELITE means for this area and how close-knit of a community Elkhorn is. We’re really excited to contribute to that.”
Aksarben Mortgage Co-Owner and Lead Advisor John Major was among the many business leaders who showed up to congratulate the kwELITE team. He, Co-Owner Nick Zwiebel and members of their team made their way around the office greeting fellow attendees.
“We at Aksarben Mortgage are excited to continue our partnership with kwELITE in their new Elkhorn location,” Major said. “Aligning with great people in great communities is what we feel it is all about.”
Jenny Minino said she, her husband and Marriott were all blown away by the attendance.
“We couldn’t have asked for better support from all our colleagues, business partners and local business owners who came out to see what we’re all about,” she said.
Mueller called the night a special moment for the company and community.
“At kwELITE, we put people first,” Mueller said. “I’m so excited for Steve, Jenny and Jim, as well as the Elkhorn community — what a turnout. I have no doubt this will be a great location for kwELITE as we continue to grow. I’m excited for what’s to come for our company as a whole.”
When it finally came time to cut the ceremonial ribbon, the Mininos, Marriott and kwELITE leadership shared laughs and smiles from across the room. The room erupted in cheers and thunderous applause when Jenny Minino did the honor with a big pair of red scissors.
And just like that, a new era began for kwELITE and Elkhorn.
Looking out at the sea of people in the office, Minino recalled all the hard work that was put in to make the office and grand opening a reality. It was a humbling experience, he noted.
“It has been a process and a labor of love,” Minino said, adding Elkhorn is starting with 11 agents initially and they hope to grow to 40 over time. “To put this building together has been a two-year process, so to be at this moment, it’s pretty exciting for us. We couldn’t have picked a better community.”