Revenue generated by the restaurant will support NATIFS’ programming
The nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) has announced its acquisition of James Beard Award-winning restaurant Owamni. Chef Sean Sherman will continue to serve as NATIFS’ executive director and will oversee Owamni; revenue generated by the restaurant will support the nonprofit’s programming, according to a press release.
The announcement comes on the heels of NATIFS opening its Indigenous Food Labs Market on Lake Street in May. The food lab features a tea bar, a hot bar of Indigenous foods like Dakota čhoǧíŋyapi sandwiches, a market selling Indigenous-produced goods, and a test kitchen and education studio where Indigenous chefs cook and hold classes. But having a full-service restaurant was always part of the original vision for the nonprofit.
“Moving Owamni into the NATIFS family fulfills the original vision, making the longevity of Owamni more possible while focusing on mission over profit,” Sherman said in a statement. He says that the acquisition will create new opportunities for guest chef events and exchanges — Owamni may be expanded into a sort of training center for the nonprofit. “By multiplying Indigenous food opportunities, we can drive direct economic development benefits and improve access to nutritious foods in communities disproportionately affected by food-related health disparities.”
Owamni was previously owned by the for-profit company the Sioux Chef, run by Sherman and Dana Thompson. Thompson confirmed that she’s no longer involved with the restaurant or the nonprofit. “I have stepped away from both the nonprofit and the for-profit entities to focus on expanding the mission through new ventures,” Thompson tells Eater. “I will always be the co-creator of Owamni and it holds a special place in my heart, as well as the co-founder of NATIFS. I am making room for more of the Indigenous community to lead.” Sherman will retain the Sioux Chef brand and trademark.
NATIFS has set its sights well beyond the Twin Cities — its mission is to “reclaim Indigenous food sovereignty and transform North American Indigenous food systems” writ large. The Indigenous Food Labs model is designed to be replicable in other cities; Sherman has been in conversation with potential partners in Anchorage, Alaska; Bozeman, Montana; Rapid City, South Dakota; and O’ahu, Hawai’i. “We recognize the profound impact of Indigenous food opportunities, extending beyond economic benefits to address food-related health disparities and environmental injustices,” Sherman said in a statement. “By creating access to nutrient-rich, culturally relevant foods, we empower communities most affected to reclaim health, wellness, and a sense of belonging.”