Wapepah’s Kitchen: Native American Restaurant Opens in Bay Area

Capriccia Thomas, Health Editor

Local East Bay Indigenous Chef opens one of only two Indigenous restaurants in the area

FRUITVALE, Calif. — East Bay Native Crystal Wahpepah is opening an Indigenous restaurant “Wahpepha’s Kitchen,” the second of its kind to serve Native American dishes and delicacies.

Wahpepah got her start in the Bay Area as a caterer focusing on Indigenous and tribal cuisine and starred as the first Indigenous chef on the Food Network’s show “Chopped.” Wahpepah’s grand opening in October highlights a menu featuring bison chili and blue corn waffles.

Native Americans’ diet varies by climate and tribe but is mostly composed of buffalo, potatoes, squash, fry breads, and more. The large amount of starchy vegetables consumed has caused a large number of Native Americans to have diabetes. Diabetes has plagued the Native American community in addition to the limited healthcare resources and financial access to facilities providing care.

In the East Bay, the Native American Health Center (NAHC) provides resources to American Indians and Alaskan Natives who are vulnerable and underserved in the community. NAHC provides care for 15,000 members annually. The NAHC does not have tribal or ethnic requirements for services. With over 45 years of service, NAHC continues to strive to improve the health of underserved groups with medical, dental, behavioral health, WIC, and community wellness for members.

It’s a federally covered organization. The program offers dental, medical, and holistic care. “Food medicine and Food Pharmacy are two programs we have that provide fresh produce to people weekly, a nutritional class Thursday mornings at 9 AM along with cooking classes, as well as a 16-week program to learn about living a healthier lifestyle,” said Jasmine Sanchez, Behavioral Health Program Coordinator at the Native American Health Center.

Native American organizations in the Bay Area give a sense of belonging. “It helps you connect with Indigenous groups. It’s a sense of belonging, of being a part of something bigger than yourself. My wish for people is to educate themselves, respect the culture, and enjoy the culture. It’s a beautiful thing to experience, there’s a lot of passion we have for preserving culture and traditions,” Sanchez continued.

There is a vibrant multi-tribal American Indian community in the Bay Area. According to the U.S. Census, the Indigenous population in the Bay Area is 18,500. The Ohlone are the most prominent group in the Bay Area. However, there is a presence of the Chochenyo and Karkin groups in the East Bay.

The East Bay has a large presence of Native American groups who were displaced from their native land. The Intertribal Friendship House is an organization in East Bay connecting the multi-tribal community connected with culture and tradition through pow wow dance, drumming, beading classes, and other forms of social gathering, serving as “the heart of a vibrant tribal community.”

The significance of an Indigenous restaurant in the East Bay is a nod to the strong presence of Native American culture and traditions in the Bay Area. Wahpepah’s kitchen stays true to the native ingredients and cookery of Indigenous foods. The opening is set for mid-late October and is sure to be a staple of Indigenous cuisine for the community. “Adding another cultural restaurant is a beautiful thing. It adds to the diverse pallet in the Bay Area. A friendly reminder that Indigenous people are still around” added Sanchez.