The Oklahoma-based Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a tribe long known for its diverse and unique business portfolio, is adding a new endeavor into the mix: a fry bread and Indian taco restaurant.
FireLake Fry Bread Taco opened in late September in Shawnee in the tribe’s former convenience store. The new restaurant, which is open seven days a week, features three different kinds of Indian tacos: beef, chicken and bison; fry bread; meat pies; corn soup; and a dessert fry bread with strawberries and whipped toppings.
The restaurant and array of offerings is helping to bring CPN culture into the mainstream, said Jennifer Bell, tribal spokeswoman.
“People already know what a fry bread taco is, but they don’t know the CPN way of making a fry bread taco. Or that we got our recipe from CPN tribal members,” Bell said. “So people can get to know us a little bit better, too.”
FireLake Fry Bread Taco uses sugar as opposed to salt in the fry bread, said Preston Goombi, assistant manager and head cook. “It gives a little bit of a sweeter taste, more of a unique taste,” he added.
One of the biggest sellers has been the dessert fry bread, which Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett came up with, said restaurant manager Tammy Tate.
Courtesy Citizen Potawatomi Nation
“[W]e always try to stay away from things that can take away from the authenticity of the Native American culture.”
“Chairman saw it at a festival and they had it there. He brought the idea back to us. He gave us the recipe for the fry bread, which had us use a certain kind of flour. It’s a very fine flour. He asked us to use it, and it actually comes out very fluffy. We like it a lot.”
Tate said one of the biggest challenges to opening the restaurant was finding the perfect fry bread recipe that everyone would love. If it’s not made the right way, it can be too salty or not fluffy. But using input and recipes from tribal elders as well as Chairman Barrett, Goombi was able to come up with a base recipe that he tweaked a bit.
Another challenge has been remaining true to the Native roots. “We don’t use taco seasoning in our meat and we season it with regular salt and pepper and other things. But we always try to stay away from things that can take away from the authenticity of the Native American culture,” said Goombi, a member of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
So far, customers, which are about evenly broken down between tribal members and non-tribal members, seem to be enjoying it, said Tate, who has 20 years of restaurant experience but had never made fry bread before learning about it from the tribal elders, which she called an honor.
Almost everyone in Oklahoma and Shawnee knows what a piece of fry bread is and enjoys it thanks to various festivals and the Oklahoma State Fair, Goombi said, but what makes FireLake Fry Bread Taco great is that people who may not know how to make their own can now buy one in central Oklahoma all year long.
Though there isn’t yet signage noting the restaurant, word of mouth and a Facebook page have helped draw people in. Tate is confident that the popularity of the restaurant, which employs 10 people total, will continue to grow. Plans for the future include growing the customer base and adding to the menu. Tate said she would like to add fry bread nachos, which uses fry bread instead of chips.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation also owns its own grocery store and bank in addition to casinos, entertainment venues, shops and hotels.