Sneak Peek: Indigenous Food Lab


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May 04, 2023

Sneak Peek: Indigenous Food Lab

New Entrant in the Breakfast Sandwich Wars Coming Soon: Brunch at Petite León

New Entrant in the Breakfast Sandwich Wars

Coming Soon: Brunch at Petite León

Chef Sean Sherman of Owamni officially launches his next project.

by Stephanie March

May 31, 2023

2:22 PM

It's been three years in the making, but Sean Sherman's full vision for the Indigenous Food Lab launches officially this week in the Midtown Global Market. "We originally started moving in here in January of 2020, taking over the Kitchen in the Market space. And we had planned to launch a full restaurant in the Rabbit Hole space," Sherman told me today. "By the end of that February I thought I'd run down to Mexico for my birthday, and while we were down there we watched everything start to roll: First Seattle shuts down, then New York shuts down and we knew Minneapolis would be next. We came back to a completely different world, so we held off on the leases for a bit."

And then George Floyd was murdered and the aftermath pushed the city into chaos. Sherman's team went into action. "It activated us. A few of us found some money, we came in, and we started making meals for food relief. Suddenly we were doing 10,000 meals a week in this tiny kitchen."

And then, of course, Owamni was also in production. Deciding that they shouldn't try to launch two full service restaurants in the wake of the pandemic, the NATIFS team changed their vision for how the food lab would lay out and work.

Finally launching this week, the Indigenous Food Lab encompasses a market, classroom, teaching kitchen, test kitchen and community space.

"Pivoting from a restaurant to a market space made sense, especially since the two main goals of the non-profit NATIFS organization is creating access to Indigenous foods and creating access to Indigenous education," Sherman told me. "We're curating a whole bunch of Indigenous food products from Indigenous food producers. And we're going to continue to grow it. So we're starting off with a pretty good selection right now but we're going to continue to add shelves and grow it out as we move forward."

In the IFL Market you'll find hand harvested wild rice from the Red Lake Nation, but also hot sauces from Sakari Farms, a tribal farm in Oregon, heirloom flour from Ramona Farms in Arizona, honey sticks, drinking cacao, skin care products, candles, teas, books, and a cooler full of bison, elk, and venison. Eventually, they'll private label some of their own food products and hope to get them in the convenience stores on tribal land, as well as conventional grocery outlets.

The market counter will also offer prepared foods for lunch and dinner, you can eat in the market or take it to go. Look for the menu to include Dakota open-faced čhoǧíŋyapi sandwiches, tacos, grain bowls made with bison, turkey, whitefish, squash, mushrooms and the three sisters (corn, beans and squash), as well as salads and sweets. All menu items will be free of colonized ingredients such as chicken, pork, wheat flour, or dairy.

"And then in the classroom, we'll be teaching all sorts of Indigenous curriculum," Sherman noted. "Really anything, from culinary classes to preservation of language, community crafting like quill work or beading, or making ropes from plant material, it could be anything. And we've invested in a whole bunch of cool video equipment, so the entire class can be recorded and then uploaded to the website so that anyone can have access to it."

The space will also act as an incubator kitchen for new businesses, "When we do bring in food entrepreneurs, they can take over this whole space to test market their menu. We're calling this a 'spirit kitchen,' kind of a play on the ghost kitchen idea."

This footprint is being tested for replication. Sherman is exploring sites for expansion in Anchorage, Bozeman, Rapid City, and Oahu. Though each space would be unique to its community, the NATIFS goal is for each one to be a regional center point to bring food access. "Utilizing Indigenous food producers, we'll do a lot of training and development to help other peoples, regionally, to build their own healthy food operations within their own community."

There's a lot of action, a lot of moving parts, but they are thrilled to finally launch this piece with a grand opening event on Thursday which is open to the public. Look for food samples, drum performances, a meet and greet with vendors, and more between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. The Indigenous Food Lab's regular hours will be open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the market, and hot food will be served Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Food and Dining editor Stephanie March writes and edits Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's Eat + Drink section. She can also be heard Saturdays on her myTalk107.1 radio show, Weekly Dish, where she talks about the Twin Cities food scene.

May 31, 2023

2:22 PM

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Indigenous Food Lab Owamni NATIFS