It’s not uncommon for restaurants to open with a purpose beyond serving exceptional food and creating a singular dining experience. But whereas many focus on local sourcing, wholesome ingredients, and fair wages, Owamni is driving a social revolution, and food is the vehicle.
“A lot of the work is just raising awareness to Indigenous peoples, Indigenous histories, and showcasing this kind of invisibility of how Indigenous people have been treated,” Sherman says. “And [it’s] opening up a lot of conversations of why that is and why there aren’t Native restaurants in every single city when you can find food from all over the world [at restaurants], just not the food that’s from the land you’re standing on.”
To this end, Owamni eschews ingredients brought over by colonists, like wheat, dairy, and refined sugar, in favor of native plants and proteins. Dishes include Blue Corn Mush with Ute Mountain blue corn, maple, hazelnut, and berries; Game Tartare, made of Cheyenne River bison, duck egg aioli, picked carrots, sumac, and aronia (chokeberries); and Wild Rice Sorbet, with puffed wild rice and wojape syrup, which is made from fresh berries. The menu is predominantly influenced by Dakota cuisine, but features specialties from different tribes and nations, too.
“We use the menu as a way to educate, as in ‘this is the food of the Salish,’ or ‘this is the food of the Navajo Nation,’ so that we can show people that there are differences; there’s diversity,” Thompson says. “We consider Owamni a really beautiful opportunity for passive education. Every detail has been analyzed and strategically curated so that people come in and they don’t feel like anyone’s hitting them over the head with anything, but they leave changed.”
The design is similarly subtle. Rather than lean into stereotypical “Native” decor that can come across as inauthentic and garish, the restaurant is an airy space with floor-to-ceiling windows, natural wood accents, and creamy exposed brick. In addition to patio seating, the outdoors offers an opportunity for exploration, as the park is dotted with native plants, each displaying its name in English and Dakota, as well as details about how it was used by Indigenous cultures.