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Osage-owned ‘Saucy Calf’ Restaurant to open in Pawhuska

Asa Cunningham Concha and Jamison Concha, of TaOsage Catering, teamed up with the owners of Buckin’ Flamingo to open a traditional Native foods restaurant in Pawhuska. Grand opening is planned for March

Saucy Calf, a new Osage-owned restaurant serving traditional Native foods, is coming to Pawhuska and will open doors from Monday through Saturday this coming spring. Items on the launch menu include grape dumplings, Indian tacos, spicy green chili meat pies, traditional Pueblo oven bread, and a “soup of the day.” Husband-and-wife duo Asa Cunningham Concha and Jamison Concha of TaOsage Catering have teamed up with fellow co-owners Lauren and Cody Garnett of the Buckin’ Flamingo to open their new Native American food restaurant.

The Conchas are bringing menu items from the powwow trail—where they have impressed the likes of Northern Cree, Cozad Singers, and Indian rodeo riders—and they are also developing new menu ideas with the Garnetts. The four-person team first worked to sell meat pies at the former Big County Pawn, now the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum, which the Garnett’s also own. Lauren Garnett, Osage, expressed that there is a lack of restaurants in Pawhuska. Additionally, the state of Oklahoma offers surprisingly few options for Native fare, outside of food trucks and powwow tents.

On a Wednesday in mid-January 2024, the Conchas visited the job site of the restaurant undergoing renovations and sat in the dining room discussing ideas for seating layouts. The renovation team had recently finished a new interior paint job. Cody Garnett stopped in and the conversation turned to the menu.

Jamison Concha said they wanted to sell breakfast burritos and open earlier at 8 or 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.

“Breakfast burritos would be good, but we need to make sure we can keep up with 10 to 2, first,” said Cody Garnett.

The co-owners of Saucy Calf, sans Lauren Garnett, pictured in the dining area of the new restaurant in Pawhuska, located at 205 E. Main Street in the former site of Rancho los Primos. ECHO REED/Osage News

Asa Cunningham Concha is currently in a wheelchair since a diabetes-related surgery reduced her mobility two years ago. As Garnett enthused about Jamison’s traditional Pueblo oven bread, Asa toured the kitchen, noting places that still need cleaning from prior management. She indicated grease-coated pipes overhanging the grill. “That can cause a fire,” she said. “It needs to be cleaned every three to six months.” Both Conchas have up-to-date food certifications and can’t wait to be in the kitchen full-time.

Asa has cooked in Osage community kitchens her whole life and also has experience in industrial kitchens. Her husband Jamison, who is Ioway, Otoe-Missouria and Taos Pueblo, has also worked in food service roles from food prep to cooking and plating. He has his Taos Pueblo grandmother’s traditional recipe for oven bread.

“Staying busy with cooking has been part of Jamison’s sobriety,” Asa shared, and Jamison said, “I strive to be sober. The restaurant is a huge blessing, which will allow us to carry on our ancestors’ traditions.” Asa added that they are grateful to Lauren and Cody for trusting them, and making them co-owners.

Asa is the daughter of Jack and Roseanne Cunningham and comes from the Pawhuska District on her father’s side. On her mother’s side, her maternal grandparents are George Boone and Cynthia Daniels, who are from Grayhorse. Asa was raised as a traditional cook and was taught by her grandmother Lillie Bighorse Cunningham and her mother Roseanne. “I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” Asa said. “I have a main ingredient that I use in all foods, and I’m not ashamed to say it,” she said. “It’s prayer. Love and prayer.”

Concha made her first cake when she was about five or six years old, and it came out a little uneven, but her grandmother told her, “You’re going to be a good cook one of these days, you keep it up.” She mastered cakes and went on to setting tables, dish-washing, and then peeling potatoes. After her grandmother passed Asa cooked with her mother and started making meat pies. She could make meat pies by herself at 15, and by 17, she was on her first committee under Vann Bighorse, who she cooked for until Berbon Hamilton took the drum.

Jamison Concha talks about plans for the soon-to-open Saucy Calf, expected spring 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

Jamison said that he and Asa came together because his great-grandmother, Julia Whitecloud Kihega, used to sew and bead for Osage families and stayed with Chief Fred Lookout and his wife Julia. Additionally, Jamison’s maternal grandmother Anna Kihega Tohee cooked for all three Osage districts. Jamison is the son of Billie Tohee and Joseph Michael Concha.

In their restaurant, a newly built wrap-around service counter holds a buffet, where diners will be able to choose from Pueblo oven bread, green chili soup, meat pies, and more. “Grape dumplings will be offered every day,” Asa said. A meat pie warmer is behind the checkout end of the counter.

Even while being in her wheelchair, Asa is confident that with Jamison’s help, the two of them will manage. She has even entrusted her meat pie recipe to Jamison, who protects it. “My aunt called asking for that recipe and I said, ‘No, that’s my wife’s recipe,’” he said.

Asa is excited about a new convection oven, which will allow her to cook meat pies in only thirty minutes. “We’ll have one hundred and fifty meat pies per day,” she said. A newly installed frying station beside the convection oven will turn out “Rez Dogs,” or hot dogs fried with fry bread wrapped around them. Healthier options may include bashpu, corn soup, and other soups of the day, but not necessarily “decolonial food,” which does not overlap with “traditional” Native food, which emerged from Depression-era commodity recipes and make-do approaches.

Jamison is excited about the whole venture, but perhaps most of all about his “green chili taco,” which was a favorite with Indian relay race riders. “A green chili taco is fry bread topped with green chili stew, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese,” Asa explained.

Exterior view at one of Pawhuska’s newest eating establishments, Saucy Calf. ECHO REED/Osage News

From the menu to the team’s joint business and cooking expertise, Saucy Calf has a great deal working in its favor, and high traffic is a reasonable expectation. “Right now, my biggest challenge is going to try and move in a fast-paced environment being in the wheelchair, and staying out of everybody’s way,” Asa said. “I can delegate, but I’m the type of a do-it-yourself person.” She hopes to be out of her temporary wheelchair in a month or two, and she has also reached out to a couple of trustworthy cooks to help out.

Lauren Garnett and Asa Concha both acknowledged that, in addition to a lack of restaurant options, the availability of healthy foods is also a concern in Pawhuska where Native and non-Native residents alike must combat diseases highly correlated with food and diet. Cody commented on the nature of Native foods deemed “traditional,” saying, “Back in the day, they took what was given and made something delicious out of it.” Recipes that rely less on commodities, such as vegetable-forward traditional options, will hopefully help to balance out fried and sugary indulgences.

Sourcing from Harvest Land could empower Saucy Calf to offer foods higher in vegetable servings—a major factor for combatting four out of the top five causes of death for Native people: “cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis,” according to Indian Health Service statistics. Asa noted her favorite thing to eat was most likely candied squash. She mentioned the possibility of serving corn soup and bashpu, two higher water-content foods that can help satiate with lower calories.

Even if Saucy Calf has some healthy offerings, the mainstay of the restaurant will be the “fry bread food group,” said Cody. The Conchas made meat pies and fry bread for a scene in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and Jamison recalled taking their spicy green chili meat pie to the Ioway Powwow, where it was a hit with the Cozad Singers. “‘These are gonna take off,’” Jamison remembered Rusty Cozad predicting. The popularity of such foods is undeniable.

Saucy Calf is a longtime dream come true for Asa, whose meat pies and Indian tacos have earned her acclaim, including the 2013 National Indian Taco Championship title. The name Saucy Calf comes from her paternal great-grandmother Ida Bighorse, the daughter of Chief Saucy Calf. “I like the name so much, I used to joke I could change my own name,” she said with a smile, recalling how her niece once brought her a little Pendleton ice chest and dubbed it her Saucy Calf ice chest. “I said, ‘You know, if my dream ever comes true, to open a restaurant, I would name it that.’ It is a dream come true.”

A banner to stand in front of the new Saucy Calf restaurant, advertising Asa Concha’s award-winning Indian tacos. Courtesy Photo/Cody Garnett

Lauren Garnett likened partnering with Asa Cunningham Concho to working with Muhammad Ali. “She’s the champ! And you say ‘Indian tacos,’ I’m there.” With Lauren, Asa and Jamison’s tribal affiliations, the team is majority Native, and future menu items could be from any tribe, said Cody. “If we hear of a good recipe, we’ll add it.”

Possibilities for seasonal menu variations abound, from a Taos Pueblo recipe for pork chunks with red chili to dried meats that Jamison said little Pueblo kids survive on while running around or in the Kiva. Future plans for Saucy Calf already include a drive-through window, online ordering, and vegetable sourcing from Harvest Land. The Osage Nation’s Butcher House will source meat from opening day onward. Tentatively, Saucy Calf is scheduled to open in March 2024.

Renovations are on track and Asa is proud of how bright and clean the restaurant is looking. When they first entered the building, she said there were pitchers of rotting salsa and grease-covered surfaces throughout. Now, with new appliances, hard work, and thoughtful planning, the Saucy Calf is almost ready to invite the Osage Nation Congress and Executive in for a tasting, and to host a family night for the community to sample the food.

Once Harvest Land’s hydroponics growing setup is operational, Saucy Calf will source their lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables from Harvest Land, meaning the possibility is there for Saucy Calf to hearken back to the diets of Asa’s ancestors in more ways than name alone. In the meantime, daily meat pies and grape dumplings will gesture to history, and bring smiles to the faces of visitors and Osage County residents alike.

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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hickshttps://osagenews.org
Title: Staff Reporter
Email: chelsea.hicks@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
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