Northern California’s first Native American restaurant opens: Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, California


OAKLAND, Calif .– On an unusually warm and sunny November day, between 300 and 500 diners attended the grand opening of Wahpepah’s Kitchen Aboriginal cuisine restaurant in Oakland, Calif. The long-awaited grand opening had been planned for weeks and was preceded by mainstream media coverage encouraging chef and owner Crystal Wahpepah.

Crystal Wahepah is from Oakland, California. Wahpepah’s Kitchen is the first woman-owned restaurant offering Native American cuisine in Northern California, and possibly statewide. Wahpepah is a registered citizen of the Kickapoo Nation of Oklahoma who grew up in East Oakland. “This neighborhood is my home. I grew up here and spent most of my time at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, and opening my own restaurant has been a lifelong dream. many years helping my aunt’s cook for all of our tribal events at Intertribal Friendship House. This is where I first learned and enjoyed cooking for the community, “Wahpepah recalled to Indigenous News Online.

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The opening of the restaurant represents the culmination of all of her hard work, dedication and experience over the many years that she has cooked and served Indigenous dishes at powwows and events in California and throughout. the Indian country.

Wahpepah’s kitchen is located in Fruitvale Square directly behind the Fruitvale BART station. The restaurant has a large outdoor patio, landscaped with drought-tolerant plants, and the square was always decorated with Dia de los Muertos marigolds and painted skulls, which created a festive atmosphere that everyone enjoyed. The All Nations Drum Group performed and sang, while several families of traditional American Indian dancers performed for the guests. A craft stall owned and operated by NSRGNTS – Leah “Povi” Lewis, of the Laguna Pueblo, Taos and Hopi tribes, and Votan Hernandez of the Maya and Nahua tribes – sold hats, t-shirts and other items made at native hand. All attendees were fully masked and the staff at Wahpepah’s Kitchen made sure there was enough space between diners inside and outside on the landscaped patio.

Many diners recalled Wahpepah’s appearance several years ago as the first Native American chef to appear on the popular TV cooking show “Chopped”.

“I didn’t win anything, but it was a great show,” Wahpepah said with a laugh. “It was quite an experience. I was flown to New York, and it was all very exciting back then. We were all treated like big stars… We are so blessed with all the support from the Native American local community here in Oakland and San Francisco, “Wahpepah said.” Everyone gave us their time, effort and support, “she said.

The ambiance of the restaurant is colorful and portrays the history of the Kickapoo Nation and Wahpepah’s commitment to Indigenous food sovereignty. Its mission statement proclaims from a large colorful chalkboard: “Wahpepah’s Kitchen aims to use indigenous knowledge and expertise to transform food systems so that they honor the origins, the land and the indigenous connection with each ingredient in cultivating and maintaining ties with indigenous farmers and land stewards. Wahpepah’s Kitchen seeks to reclaim, transform and sustain changes in the food system using a model of Indigenous food sovereignty in Oakland, California and beyond. Diners are also greeted with a traditional chalked greeting that says “hello” in the Kickapoo language: A HO PI TI KE NO.

The colors and decoration of the restaurant also reflect Native American themes. On a column, a painted fresco represents corn rising in the sky and the stars. On shelves painted “squash yellow” are many pots with plant seeds collected and stored for future use. There is also a brief history of the Kickapoo Nation included in one of the shelves for anyone interested in learning more about the historical facts of the tribe. Diners have the opportunity to learn more about American Indian history, and therefore American history if they wish.

IMG 0385The kitchen and the waiters of the new restaurant.

Chef Wahpepah also explained that all of his food is sourced both from the region and from all over Indian country in the United States. They receive organic ingredients from the Cultural Conservancy – native farmers in Novato, California. They also work with Sogorea Te and Deja Gould to feed local Native American elders, and with the Deep Medicine Circle which includes the work of Dr. Rupa Marya and Sage LaPena. Blue corn is purchased from the Ute nation in Utah, and maple and maple syrup is purchased from the Ziimbimijwang farm in northern Michigan. All of the dishes served include organic ingredients and are a combination of traditional Native American and contemporary Native American origins.

Currently, Wahpepah’s Kitchen is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The restaurant is easily accessible by Bart, or by car, with parking available in the Bart parking structure and an attached parking structure next to Fruitvale Plaza. Wahpepah’s kitchen is at 331 Fruitvale Plaza.

Nanette Iron Eagle Deetz (Dakota, Lakota, Cherokee and German American) holds a BA and MA from UCLA. She is a published poet whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently Red Indian Road West; Poetry from native California. In 2019, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Berkeley for her poetry and activism. She has published articles for Indian Country Today, Tribal Business Journal, Bon Apetit Magazine, Alameda Journal, Contra Costa Times, Mercury News, East Bay Times.

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