In Navajo culture, says Hope Peshlakai, “a woman needs to learn how to make frybread.”
Her grandmother made it by feel: warm, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.
“Growing up on the reservation, I loved going to grandma’s for hot food,” says Peshlakai. “She didn’t have much, so she showed her love through cooking.”
Peshlakai, who’s 41, had the basics down by the time she married her husband in 2006 and moved from the Navajo reservation to the Valley. Five years later, Peshlakai learned that one of her neighbors in Mesa needed financial assistance. She decided to help the only way she knew how: by selling Navajo tacos.
On the reservation, selling food is an easy way to raise money, Peshlakai says. A group comes together and each person provides an ingredient or component of a common dish, which is usually Navajo taco (fry bread, beans, lettuce, cheese, onions, and tomato). They make the dish and sell it at fundraisers. In Mesa, her Navajo tacos were a hit. And afterward, a friend who had property on Power Road in Mesa offered to let Peshlakai set up tents and tables and sell her food on the side of the road.
That operation eventually turned into something more regular.
“We did it out of necessity,” says Peshlakai, mother of six. “We were broke. My husband was a college student at the time and we’d use the money to buy school clothes or Christmas gifts for the kids.”
After 10 years of selling her food from a roadside stand, Hope Peshlakai has decided to open her own restaurant, Hope’s Frybread, in Mesa. The restaurant is scheduled to open in November on the northwest corner of Main and McDonald.
The menu will include traditional Navajo tacos; burgers (two patties, cheese); and something called Asian Persuasion (teriyaki chicken, grilled pineapple slices, fresh cabbage, and sriracha). Peshlakai will also offer fry bread desserts such as s’mores, peanut butter and jelly, and her favorite, honey and kosher salt.
The traditional Navajo tacos are her grandmother’s recipes. “She passed before I was old enough to ask her recipe questions,” says Peshlakai. When she finally pieced together the beans recipe, “I sat there and ate it in tears. With these recipes, I’m sharing my grandma.”
She says she wants the brick-and-mortar operation to be a place “where we can share our stories, our culture, and our family recipes,” says Peshlakai. “We don’t want to be too fast. We want you to feel like you are coming home to eat or going to your best friend’s house. I find joy feeding people.”