TAHLEQUAH – From fish salad to loaded tacos, customers can rest assured their food will be fresh when they place their orders with The Kickin’ Taco Truck.
“We’re trying to cater a little more to the people that may have diabetic problems, weight, just watching what they eat, with fresh food,” Paula Thompson, co-owner and Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “I think that fresh food is just something that most people are starting to look for in and on a menu, and it just tastes better.”
Co-owner and cook Denisse Ramos and her assistant shop each day, sometimes multiple times a day depending on demand, for supplies and ingredients.
“Everything you get for the day, we buy it that day,” Ramos said. “We order meat the day before, and they have it all cut fresh for us. There’s no leftovers from the day before.”
Thompson and Ramos began the business in 2014. Thompson said she focuses on the business side after growing up watching her mother own a restaurant, while Ramos focuses on cooking.
“Paula is like the brains of the whole thing, and I’m just a cook. That’s what I like to do,” Ramos said. “She knows where she’s going, what we’re doing and which direction she wants to pull us. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful. When I have some crazy ideas, she reels me back and puts me on track to, ‘OK, you want to do that, but first we have to do this and you accomplish this, then we can do that.’”
But Thompson credits Ramos’ cooking for the truck’s success, calling it “a party on wheels” that has several fan favorites, including a loaded taco.
“Loaded tacos is like a steak taco. It’s kind of like our twisted version of the street tacos,” Ramos said. “It has the pico de gallo, avocado, cucumber, which is a little bit different, and it has cheese, and it comes in a corn tortilla. But people can also get it in a flour tortilla if they don’t want a corn tortilla.”
Customer Aleah Brown said she visits the truck every week and has tried the entire menu, though she recommends her favorite to others. “I always tell all my friends and family about it, and I say, ‘you definitely have to try the tacos.’ That’s the first thing you need to eat. Eat the tacos. I’ve tried everything else, but you can’t beat the tacos. They’re, hands down, the greatest.”
Delfino Andrade, the truck’s butcher, said he sees firsthand the lengths Ramos goes to for their fresh offerings. “(Ramos) shops every morning down where I work. She buys her vegetables and meat every morning, so I know everything is fresh. So when I come here I know I’m getting a fresh product. Usually she wants lean meat. Not much fat on it and tender, of course. She just comes in and seasons it and cooks it, and that’s her thing.”
Andrade said his favorite item is the torta, which he described as a “Mexican sandwich” with French bread, a meat of choice, avocado, lettuce and tomatoes.
Much of the menu, which includes burritos and quesadillas, uses family recipes passed to Ramos from her mother.
“Every dish you get from me is like if you were coming to my house and I would cook for you. I cook it just the same way I would cook it at my house,” Ramos said. “I talk to my customers like I’m talking to a friend, and I think that kind of makes them feel like they’re part of the truck.”
Thompson said the duo also travels to other parts of the world for inspiration.
“We just returned from the Cook Islands, and one of their items was a fish sandwich, and Denisse had the idea to make the fish torta, and then it evolved into the fish salad,” Thompson said. “That’s just kind of how we keep growing and moving, but keeping our staple items on the menu.”
The Kickin’ Taco Truck sets up at various locations, including Super Spray Car Wash and W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, as well as Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee and Wilma Mankiller Health Clinic in Stilwell.
For more information, call 918-457-0246 or visit Kickin’ Taco Truck on Facebook.
Cherokee Eats highlights Cherokee-owned eateries and their specialties. Send suggestions to <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TULSA – Since 1958, the Cherokee-owned Spears Travel has provided travel services to the people of Tulsa, Bartlesville and surrounding communities.
Spears Travel CEO and Cherokee Nation citizen Greg Spears said he started in the business when his parents opened their first agency in Bartlesville. Now he and his brother run the business, which consists of the Bartlesville office and a Tulsa location.
“I grew up basically filing brochures and delivering tickets, which is what we did back in those days. Just kind of got in the business that way,” Spears said.
After graduating from the University of Tulsa, Spears said he continued to work and now heads the Tulsa office.
“People are very happy and in a good mood when they’re getting to travel. So we kind of help them navigate through all that and have a great experience,” he said.
Spears Travel provides services such as booking airline tickets, cruises, vacation packages, Hawaii packages, river cruises in Europe and corporate travel.
He said people try to book their travel online and sometimes cannot “discern” what a better deal is for them due to all the information. “That’s kind of what we provide for people. Our agents are very experienced at the ins and outs of travel, avoiding the pitfalls, the problems.”
The problems, he said, can be weather delays and cancelled flights or finding out that the hotel or location they see online is not what they expected upon arrival.
“We take the hassle out of it for people. A lot of times we get them better deals,” he said.
Upon walking into the Tulsa office, brochures line the walls, and visitors can take them for their travel plans. The brochures contain destinations and estimated prices for various locations’ hotels and attractions.
Spears said his travel agency also handles corporate travel for businesses and has worked with the CN for the past seven years as a Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business.
“They like the services being able to email or make one quick call. We set up their airfare, their flights, their hotel, their car rental if they need it. Basically just give them the convenience of doing that and then they don’t have to go online and spend an hour and a half, two hours or whatever booking a trip. They can just get it out of their way,” he said.
Spears said when the travel agency opened, there were no computers at the time so it was a slower-paced business consisting of booking flights via a directory that contained schedules and prices, handwriting airline tickets and being on multiple phone lines to help clients with arrangements.
“Its hard to fathom now days because everything is at the click of a mouse or on your phone. That was the way business was done,” Spears said. “Now of course technology is so critical to our business because everything changes so often. But we really have kept kind of at the forefront of technology within the travel business, particularly on the corporate side.”
He said clients can receive tickets or other information on their phones and it’s more convenient.
Spears Travel is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday in Tulsa at 8180 S. Memorial Drive and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Bartlesville at 500 S. Keeler Ave.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.spearstravel.com" target="_blank">www.spearstravel.com</a>.
CATOOSA – From electronic games and card tables to live entertainment and dining, Cherokee Nation Entertainment offers 10 casinos in northeast Oklahoma that offer their own special mixture of fun.
<strong>Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa</strong>
From its modern hotel to the gaming floor, this 1.3 million-square-foot resort offers guests rock star treatment. Guests can play more than 2,300 electronic games, 34 table games and 14 poker tables while being surrounded by some of the world’s greatest rock memorabilia. The facility also has it 51-TV sports bar, Cherokee Hills Golf Course, as well as the musical venues Riffs, Center Bar and The Joint – a 2,500-seat theater. Guests can choose from eight dinning options from dine-in establishments such as Tobey Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill and McGill’s on 19 to grab-and-go options such as Slice and Flip Side. The hotel, rated No.2 on the 2018 Best Tulsa Hotels list, features 454 rooms and suites with modern amenities. In addition, the resort features a luxury spa, two swimming pools and more than 75,000 square feet of convention space and meeting rooms. It’s located at 777 W. Cherokee St. in Catoosa.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Ramona</strong>
Cherokee Casino Ramona offers guests nearly 500 electronic gaming machines to play, and its Ramona Grill serves foods from specialty burgers to homemade Indian tacos. For guests on the go, The Ramona Grill also offers a “grab n’ go” option that includes fruit cups, salads and sandwiches. For a cocktail or brew, The Watering Hole features a drink menu and offers live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. The 31,974-square-foot property is at 31501 U.S. Highway 75.
<strong>Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville</strong>
Located along the Oklahoma-Kansas line, this property features a spacious gaming floor and a full-service bar and grill. Along with 300 electronic games, it has The Bar and Grill, which is open daily and includes a large cocktail and beer menu as well as appetizers, soups and salads, entrees, sandwiches, burgers and desserts. The 17,000-square-foot casino is at 1506 N. Highway 169.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs</strong>
Located in Claremore, Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs’ 55,245-square-foot complex is one of two racinos in Oklahoma and offers live music, dining and more. With live horse racing in the spring and fall, it features a 60,000-square-foot covered/open-aired grandstand with 2,700 seats and a 1-mile racetrack. It also offers 100 simulcast TVs that broadcast live horse racing daily as well as an on-site wagering kiosks for off-track betting. More than 200 electronic gaming machines make up the casino floor. The Dog Iron Grill features home-style cooking daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and offers a late night menu on Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m. For additional entertainment, step onto the Dog Iron Saloon’s dance floor and enjoy live music every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The property also offers a campground with 400 RV pads, full hook-ups, 24-hour security, restrooms and shower facilities, dog park, chapel, barbeque grills and picnic tables, playground and a horseshoe pit, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. It also has 30,000 square feet of convention space, stall rental and overnight horse accommodations. It’s located at 20900 S. 4200 Road.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Grove</strong>
Cherokee Casino Grove sits moments away from Grand Lake, just north of Grove. Guests can step into the 39,000-square-foot casino that has nearly 400 electronic games. Its Grove Springs Restaurant offers a full menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts and is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The 1897 Bar is a full-service bar that features live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night. The casino is at 24979 U.S. Highway 59.
<strong>Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs</strong>
As the closest casino to northwest Arkansas, Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs has a hotel, live entertainment, fine and casual dinning and full-service bars. Inside the more-than-369,000-square-foot facility, there are 1,475 electronic games, 18 table games and an eight-table poker room. The casino also has a simulcast room designated for off-track horse betting. The three dining options are The River Cane Buffet, The River Cane Café and Flint Creek – a steak house. Also, inside The River Cane Buffet entrance is Sweet Treats, a bakery offering fresh made-to-order pastries, cookies, cakes, pies and more. Drinks are served at Flint Creek Bar, East Bar and SEVEN – a 240-seat venue featuring the area’s largest dance floor and local and nationally renowned entertainers three nights a week. The hotel has 140 rooms, including seven suites. The property also has 14,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space. It’s located at 2416 Highway 412.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Tahlequah</strong>
The Cherokee Casino Tahlequah has Cherokee artworks surrounding its inside as well as a gaming floor featuring more than 400 electronic games. Its River City Café is open seven days a week and features a menu from appetizers to homemade desserts as well as homemade fry bread and golden-brown fried catfish and hushpuppies. The Cherokee Springs Golf Course is close to the casino with an 18-hole golf course. However, the casino will soon be moving in 2019. Construction is underway for a new 92,000-square-foot casino at Cherokee Springs Plaza. That facility will feature 525 electronic games, 144-seat restaurant, grab-and-go café, live music venue, full-service bar and complimentary nonalcoholic beverages, as well as 33,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. The current casino is at 16489 Highway 62.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson</strong>
Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson features more than 29,000 square feet of gaming, dining and entertainment space. Its gaming options consist of nearly 500 electronic machines with weekly and monthly promotions. The Three Rivers Tavern is a full-menu restaurant offering all-American favorites from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. It also offers an extensive drink menu with monthly drink specials and live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night from the over-the-bar stage. The casino is at 107 N. Georgetown Road.
<strong>Cherokee Casino Sallisaw</strong>
The 27,500-square-foot casino features live entertainment and a dining venue. Gaming options include 255 electronic games and a private simulcast room for off-track horse betting. The Back 40 Bar and Grill serves food and drinks and has an 80-seat venue and stage for live entertainment three nights a week, as well as a dance floor. The casino is at 1621 W. Ruth St.
<strong>Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland</strong>
Within minutes from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland sits along Highway 64. Choose from 120 non-smoking hotel rooms, including 12 suites, and enjoy a dip in the specially designed pool and hot tub. The casino floor has more than 900 electronic games and nine table games. For more entertainment, grab a cocktail at the Lee Creek Tavern and enjoy live music, which is performed every Friday and Saturday night. The tavern is open until 2 a.m. seven days a week. There are two eatery options also, The Buffet and a grab-and-go café. The Buffet features a Las Vegas-style buffet and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. The grab-and-go counter is open 24 hours a day and offers quick meals and Starbucks coffee. The property also features more than 6,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space with onsite catering services and one-on-one planning assistance, as well as audio and visual equipment. Located adjacent to the casino and hotel is the Cherokee Travel Plaza and Gaming Parlor, which has a filling station, Subway, hot food bar, clean restrooms and showers, laundry area, ATM, merchandise, free Wi-Fi and 65 electronic games. The 323,210-square-foot facility is at 205 Cherokee Blvd.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a> or <a href="http://www.cherokeecasino.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasino.com</a>.
BARTLESVILLE – After nearly two years of business, Native Uniques owner Samantha Barnes is working on more outreach in her community for women interested in making beadwork items.
Native Uniques is a women’s clothing store that has handmade Native American-style jewelry including bracelets, necklaces and earrings.
“We are a boutique that features our beadwork. The beadwork comes from our Native American heritage (Cherokee/Delaware). A lot of our designs comes from our heritage,” Barnes said. “And our clothing, it goes well with our jewelry. They complement each other.”
Barnes, who operates her store with the help of Kelly McCracken and Naomi Park, is an artist who enjoys beading and sharing her beading knowledge.
“One thing we are doing right now is we are starting to reach out to women to help them to learn how to bead. For me, it was extra income, beading. I had to teach myself everything, so, it’s nice for me to be able to show them the shortcuts, and I can tell them where to find supplies. I teach individual classes, too,” Barnes said. “We are reaching people who don’t have the means, so we can help supply them. Hopefully it takes off.”
She said the aim of the beadwork classes, which are held in the boutique, is to help women learn to bead so that they can possibly have an income or extra income.
She said Native women like to learn how to embroider with beads and add beadwork to powwow regalia. Barnes’ specialty is the Peyote Stitch design she incorporates into her bracelets and cuffs.
“We have an open door policy. If anyone needs help with a (beadwork) project they can come in and we can give them whatever tips they need,” she said.
Barnes said the “joy” she gets from helping people learn to bead is the main reason she shares her skills. She said seeing people’s face light up when she’s sharing her knowledge for free makes her happy. “I’ve been there where I’ve asked people, ‘how do you this?’ and they want to guard it (information). I don’t want them to go through what I went through researching and Googling nonstop or even buying books to learn myself. So I can give them a shortcut and make it easier for them.”
She said another way to give back is creating how-to videos for beadwork that will be placed on the Native Uniques website.
“Beading for me is so much more than making jewelry. It’s my meditation, it’s a way to connect with my heritage, and it just brings me piece and healing,” Barnes said. “It helps you focus, especially when you’re working with one bead at a time. You kind of have to focus.”
The storefront has been open for nearly two years. It opened on July 2, 2016, and Barnes said it “keeps getting better.” She said the store “has grown a lot” and foot traffic has increased. She credits a previous Cherokee Phoenix article and inclusion in its Shopping Guide for helping her business take off and gain momentum.
“It’s amazing that they are able to support tribal artists and get out the word,” she said. “And I will say the best marketing by far is word of mouth. When they come in and see the product and see it in their hands and see the textures and feel it, word of mouth is always the best marketing.”
She said the city has been helping, too, as it promotes its downtown to bring in more people to shop and explore the area that includes three museums, boutiques and restaurants.
A bonus for having the store is that Barnes often has fun with her staff and customers. Laughter can often be heard in the shop. “We meet the funniest people here. It’s just awesome making those connections. It’s good to wake up and want to come to work,” she said.
Native Uniques is at 101 S.E. Frank Philips Blvd. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 918-214-3142 or visit <a href="https://www.nativeuniques.com" target="_blank">https://www.nativeuniques.com</a> or the shop’s Facebook page.
PARADISE HILL – For the past seven years, the Peek-A-Boo Petting Zoo in Sequoyah County has pro- vided a way for visitors to learn about different types
of animals through hands-on experi- ences on a nearly 4-acre ground.
From farm animals such as goats, pigs, chickens and ducks to exotic species such as salamanders, geckos, iguanas and chinchillas, the petting zoo provides an array of animals to see. Cherokee Nation citizen and owner Jillian Gates said the zoo, located 25 miles south of Tahlequah, carries up to 50 different animal species.
It got its start in 2011 when she and her husband bought a travel- ing petting zoo and put it on their land, which provides an ideal mix of space, trees and shade for the animals.
When visitors come to the zoo, they pay an entrance fee and are pro- vided a cup of feed for the animals.
“They wander around and see the animals. Some are in barns. Some are out around the petting zoo. Others are in the Nature Center. So they go around on their own, but we’re out there and available to help them and tell them what pens they can go in and answer questions, and things like that,” Gates said.
The zoo also hosts birthday parties and group gatherings, and has a traveling petting zoo for those who want some of the animals brought to their events.
Gates said “a lot of time and money” goes into ensuring the zoo is up to standards. “Every day we go out and rake the animal pens to make sure they’re clean, give them fresh water, give them food and hay. We have a vet that comes out and does inspections and checks to make sure that the animals look OK and that the pens are safe for them. We are also USDA-licensed, so we have an inspector that comes out also and checks all the animals and makes sure that everything is clean and safe. They have to have regular immunizations and de-worming and things like that.”
The zoo has also had several ad- ditions since its opening, including a bone dig, fossil area and a play- ground.
Gates said she hopes to make more additions to the zoo in the future. “We’ve been adding on ever since the day we got started. So it’s been just a gradual process. I’m not sure what’s next. Probably a butterfly house, I’m not real sure. Every year we try to add a little something.”
Other potential additions include a garden, weekend bon fires, primitive camping and nature trails, she said.
Admission is $5 per person. Chil- dren 1 year old and under are admit- ted free, as well as those with a mil- itary ID. Regular season hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday. For more information, call 918-816-6506 or visit the Peek-A-Boo Petting Zoo on Facebook.
MUSKOGEE – When Cherokee Nation citizen Mandy Scott took ownership of the Harmony House tearoom in 2017, she kept things business as usual.
“I have the same wait staff. Some have been here five, six, seven years. The kitchen staff is exactly the same. Everybody has pretty much stayed on since I’ve taken over,” she said. “Everything has just been really smooth and a good transition from the previous (owner) to me, and it’s just been great.”
Scott said she always dreamed of owning a restaurant, and once Harmony House became available, she approached the previous owner without hesitation. “I’ve always kind of wanted my own restaurant, and this was a perfect opportunity for me, just for its history here. It’s a very prestigious landmark for the city of Muskogee. I’m a dreamer, and I believe if it’s something you want to do, you at least need to try it.”
Scott said the building is more than a century old and functioned as a home, bank and church before being converted into a tearoom lunch spot. “It’s a tearoom where ladies from all ages come in and have lunch with their best friend or mothers or daughters. It’s definitely a woman’s atmosphere, but we have a lot of men that come in here too because our food is just so good.”
Harmony House is known for menu items such as hot chicken salad and its namesake club sandwich, though Scott said the “top” item is the grilled chicken sandwich made with chicken, cheese and homemade honey mustard dressing on homemade pita bread.
Daily specials are also offered. “Every day you get a special. It comes with soup or salad and you get a dessert included with that,” she said. “Everybody has their special days where they want to come in on ‘their’ day for their favorite.”
Harmony House also has offerings for those with a sweet tooth. “Our cupcakes are offered every day and then cinnamon rolls. Bread pudding every day as well, and then we have a pie every day. One of the top-selling (items), besides cookies, are lemon bars, and those are made fresh every week. Those are kind of our staple desserts, and then I try to add in some other kind of bar, like a monster bar every now and then,” Scott said.
Friends Kristie Testerman and Martha Hogner have eaten at Harmony House every Tuesday for the past 12 years.
“We love the food, the atmosphere, the people,” Testerman said. “I think it’s the only kind of tea house or tearoom-type restaurant that is left in Muskogee. The old owner started it, and then when Mandy took over, nothing changed. The transition was good.”
Testerman said she’s a fan of the homemade curly fries, as well as the burgers and desserts.
Hogner, who also brings her husband to Harmony House, said she has her favorites dishes, too.
“You can’t beat the cookies and their dessert,” she said. “Their bread pudding is to die for. We also like the special, the hot chicken salad, and we just learned to love the Katie’s Creation. That’s our new favorite. Service is great. Everyone is very friendly.”
Harmony House is also certified with the CN Tribal Employment Rights Office, and of its 13 employees, at least half are Native American, including the two top bakers.
“Over half my staff are Native American, so that’s important to me as well,” Scott said. “It’s important because I feel like we’re unique. We are not, per se, traditional Cherokee food, but we do have a different type of food that would be good to incorporate in any party or event that Cherokee Nation would have, especially for our desserts.”
Harmony House is located at 208 S. Seventh St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Cherokee Eats highlights Cherokee-owned eateries and their specialties. Send suggestions to <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.