Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

A popular Native restaurant in Colorado is addressing food insecurity with its new online marketplace concept.

Some items for purchase include Navajo roasted blue corn mush, Red Lake Nation wild rice and — if you’re cooking for two — there’s a bundle of grass-fed bison.

Denver’s Tocabe is offering to donate an item to community organizations and community members for every two items purchased through its online market.

Tocabe was on the ICT newscast earlier this year in a feature titled, “A year into the pandemic.”

Co-founder Ben Jacobs, Osage Nation, modeled the restaurant after one his parents opened in 1989 called Grayhorse: An American Indian Eatery.

“We consider ourselves an ingredient-driven restaurant because we're not Osage specific. We are open for anyone to come in but also want to make sure that we are welcoming of all Native and tribal communities,” Jacobs said. “As a friend once said, we're a community-driven experience.”

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He says the Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace is working to strengthen the Native food supply chain.

“People helped us get to this point, if it wasn't for a lot of support of us and what we do and the people that work here and the efforts that we put in, we wouldn't be able to give back,” Jacobs said. “We're just perpetuating what people did for us. It feels fantastic.”

The restaurant launched its online marketplace in June and is working towards adding more to the marketplace — which ships items nationwide.

“It's an amazing feeling, I would say, just to know that people are interested in Native ingredients, Native food production, food sovereignty and to be able to support that and, you know, lend our hand to it is awesome,” Jacobs said.

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They plan on adding ready-made meals to the marketplace that will be available in individual and family sizes, Jacobs said.

“That's kind of the next big thing. And it's just gonna take us a while to develop because it's a lot of logistics but we're getting close. So we're really excited about that,” Jacobs said.

Oven-ready meals will be made with ingredients from the marketplace in the restaurant and will be frozen and shipped nationwide as well.

Tocabe is the only Native-owned and operated restaurant in the metro Denver area specializing in Native cuisine. It has two locations.

The marketplace is one of several resisting the industrialized food system by providing Native foods to the masses.

Another example is Sweetgrass Trading Company which offers food products and handcrafted items from across Indian Country on its online market. It’s a subsidiary of the Ho-Chunk Trading Group and funds a Native Scholarship Program.

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