What started as a passion project for Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra during the pandemic has since become a full-time job.
The owners of Tocabe, An American Indian Eatery, have decided to close their Greenwood Village restaurant at 8181 E. Arapahoe Road on May 27 and convert it into a production and packaging facility for its online marketplace and recently launched Direct-to-Tribe Ready Meal program.
“It’s been difficult running a restaurant four days a week and a marketplace the rest of the three days,” Jacobs said. “On Sunday, our team is in, knocking out prepared meals, then we’re filling on Mondays and Tuesdays, and immediately turning around for the restaurant again, and the amount of stress built into that is tough.”
Tocabe’s Greenwood Village location first opened in 2015. Fans of their 24-hour cured bison ribs, Indian fry bread tacos or Iko’s green chili stew can still satisfy their craving at their original Denver location at 3536 W. 44th Ave., which opened in 2008 as “the only American Indian-owned and -operated restaurant in metro Denver specializing in Native American cuisine.”
Jacobs and Chandra started Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace – an online marketplace selling Native and Indigenous ingredients– during the pandemic as an alternative way to get food in people’s hands. And this year, they started the Direct-to-Tribe Ready Meal program, providing monthly meal deliveries to the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota over the next two years.
Jacobs, who belongs to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, said they’ve delivered 5,500 meals so far with another 1,100 going out next week. The fully cooked food arrives ready to heat, and goes to participants of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, which serves income-eligible households on reservations and other select Native American families.
“It came out of COVID because we saw a lack of resources in not only Native communities, but also rural, lower-income and disadvantaged communities,” Jacobs said. “So we immediately took it as our mission to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The beauty about our marketplace is that nothing we use is imported. If another pandemic, supply chain issue or natural disaster arises, it doesn’t impact what we do, we can always make sure we get our hands on ingredients, and they’re not stuck on shipping containers, sitting outside of a harbor.”
Tocabe’s marketplace and restaurant sources its ingredients from Native farmers, ranchers, producers, and caretakers. And now that they’ve got a full-time dedicated space to produce and ship orders, Jacobs hopes they’ll be able to start distributing food to a few more tribes throughout the country this year.