SIOUX CITY -- After working as a server at practically every restaurant in town, Lena Dunbar knew hard work, imaginative menu items, and excellent customer service were the key ingredients for success in the food industry.
Those were the things that she brought to the table while taking over management of the former Madonna Rose Café.
Originally named after Madonna Rose Thompson -- the late mom of its owner -- the quaint 4006 Morningside Ave. eatery is now called Madonna Rose & Anna Lena's Uda Bread Café.
"Anna was the name of my grandmother," said Dunbar, who has been running the restaurant since earlier this year.
A member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Dunbar bounced around in the foster care system before eventually reuniting with her birth family.
"The bread 'uda,' which means 'good' in the Omaha language," Dunbar said.
Tiring of working at other people's restaurants, Dunbar eventually turned a fry bread recipe into a small business of her very own
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"First, I was making uda bread for friends and family out of my home kitchen," she explained. "Then I started selling it and outgrew my small kitchen."
That was why Anna Lena's Uda Bread Café hooked up with Madonna Rose, a Peters Park restaurant specializing in made-to-order breakfast and lunch specials.
Since taking over management, Dunbar has completely overhauled the morning menu. While diners can still get a wide assortment of breakfast scramblers and build-your-own omelet platters, they can also order Anna Lena's Uda Bread Breakfast sandwiches.
A person's choice of ham, bacon, sausage and egg is served between the fry bread, which Dunbar continues to form by hand on a daily basis.
"I could use a mixer," she said, "but the bread turns out better when I do it by hand. I really get to add more love that way."
Indeed, customers have their choice of Uda bread or toast for most breakfast meals. This trend towards Dunbar's signature fry bread continues at lunchtime and dinner.
For instance, a Hot Beef sandwich, a French Dip sandwich, and a Jalapeno Popper burger (hand-pressed beef patty and pepper jack cheese) gets extra pizzazz when served with freshly-made uda buns.
"People rave over our Native tacos," Dunbar said of the tacos made with ground meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on an uda bread tortilla shell. "The tacos used to be only available around pow-wow time. now, it's available all the time."
With so many savory items, does Dunbar have anything for diners with a sweet tooth?
One of the cafe's best-sellers is its uda bombs, which has blueberries, strawberries and cream cheese served inside of her uda bread.
"These uda bombs are very addictive," Dunbar said, adding she made choose additional fruit-filled and Nutella-filled bombs to the menu in the future. "You can't eat just one."
Over the past few months, Dunbar and her employees have brought plenty of sweat equity into the restaurant.
Boasting new flooring, booths and seating, Madonna Rose & Anna Lena's Uda Bread Café now has a sleek and comfortable décor.
More importantly, the eatery now has a leader who is committed to the business.
"When I was growing up, I would dream of having my own business but figure it wasn't in the cards for me," Dunbar said. "Then, this opportunity came around at the right time."
Customers can now see a framed photo of Dunbar's grandma on the wall of the dining room.
Dunbar also has extra incentive in seeing Madonna Rose & Anna Lena's Uda Bread Café succeed.
"My 14-year-old son Kayden helps out on the weekend and he is my biggest fan," she said. "Kayden said he never thought the first boss he'd ever have would be his own mom."
"I'm so proud of my family," Dunbar said with a smile. "I'm so happy that they're also proud of me."
(Correction: A previous version of this story appearing online and in print Sunday stated that Dunbar knew her grandmother. Her grandmother died before she was born. Dunbar's fry bread is an homage to Native families. Dunbar's recipe is completely her own creation).