MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson of The Sioux Chef have been waiting a long time for this moment.
"We signed on to this project way back in 2016 and it's taken quite a few years building to this point where we're actually open to the public," said Sherman, CEO and founder of The Sioux Chef.
Their Indigenous restaurant "Owamni by The Sioux Chef" opened Monday in the new Water Works Pavilion building at Mill Ruins Park in Minneapolis. It's a signature project of the RiverFirst initiative by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. RiverFirst is an initiative that was adopted by MPRB in 2012 to develop riverfront parks and trails on both sides of the Mississippi River from the northern city limits to downtown.
"This building was a literal archeological dig to preserve two beautiful mill ruins that have been buried under the old Fuji Ya building," explained Thompson, COO and co-owner of The Sioux Chef.
Owamni is located at 425 West River Parkway on the banks of the Mississippi River. The Dakota name for the river is Haha Wakpa which means "river of the falls."
"It's just stunning," Thompson said. "Really excited to be able to tell the Indigenous story of this land."
Owamni is a restaurant that focuses on North American Indigenous foods. The name Owamni comes from the Dakota name Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) which Sherman says means "place of the falling, swirling water."
"We really just try to bring awareness because we believe there should be Native American Indigenous restaurants all over the place that really represent the land and the history and the cultures of where we are today," said Sherman, who was awarded a 2018 James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook and a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2019.
"We've created a menu that doesn't have colonial ingredients. There's no dairy, no wheat flour, no cane sugar, no beef, pork or chicken," Sherman said. "We've worked really hard to create something utilizing a lot of wild foods, utilizing a lot of Native American agricultural products."
The restaurant will also be using ingredients from the Indigenous Food Lab, a professional Indigenous kitchen and training center inside Midtown Global Market that is part of The Sioux Chef's nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NĀTIFS).
Owamni's drink menu features an all Indigenous wine list, beer that is 100% BIPOC or women-owned and an extensive mocktail menu.
"We were able to work with the Park Foundation and the Park Board to identify a lot of the Indigenous plants that would've been growing here hundreds of years ago just wild and they incorporated those plants into the Water Works Pavilion Park itself," Thompson said. "There's going to be a walking tour where people can go and identify what these plants are, see the Dakota word, understand what the original uses were."
Sherman added, "I feel like it's really just looking at the world around us as our Indigenous ancestors did and just seeing so much food and medicine basically everywhere. And giving a lot of opportunity to especially Indigenous youth is our hope to be able to come into a business that really represents them and their culture."
Reservations can be made online. Thompson said if you are not having luck getting in, you can always stop by to see if there are tables open on their patio.
"We're getting emails from people, not only all around the state but all around the country and even around the world, traveling just specifically to come here," Thompson said. "So we're just really honored and grateful for that support and it feels really wonderful."
Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.