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Kalle Benallie
ICT

A coffee shop on the Walker River Indian Reservation in western Nevada is doing more than helping their customers live a healthier lifestyle, it's also integrating the idea of rez economics.

The Next Evolution owner and Walker River Paiute Tribe citizen, Andrea Martinez, said their coffee beans are supplied from Star Village Coffee, which is owned by Joel Zuniga, a citizen from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

“We established a really good relationship with (Zuniga) and he has been supplying us with our coffee since opening,” Martinez told ICT. “I just really think that it’s important for Natives to support Natives especially in business. We were never meant to make it in the world we live in today, but seeing these up and coming Native businesses — it’s inspiring to me.”

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Since Next Evolution’s opening in October 2020, community members have told Martinez about how their A1C’s glucose levels, for diabetes, have gone down, they’re walking more, they have less frequent headaches and their inflammation is down.

She said she knew the pre-pandemic health climate was not ideal so she wanted to open up the shop to be the place where healthy options were offered. But the pandemic revealed the need to promote health and wellness more than ever.

“Being a trailblazer in this type of business it’s overwhelmingly exciting and it’s a lot of work but I hope there can be more shops like this on reservations especially,” she said. 

(Photo courtesy of Andrea Martinez)

To her, coffee shops are universal. They’re comfortable for people to go inside and order because they know what to expect. But in Next Evolution’s case, customers “look at the menu and see there’s so much more to offer.”

It wasn’t her dream to open up a coffee shop. It was intended to be a hobby but she soon realized the positive impact that it could have. Throughout the shop there is Native art and signs with positive words.

“Everyone’s soul is searching for balance, peace and love. And sometimes it’s consciously and sometimes it’s unconsciously, so I want people to experience that,” Martinez said. “My philosophy is people over profit and if I can impact one person’s life a day in our community that’s all that matters to me.”

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Martinez added right now she’s focusing on keeping their prices low due to inflation and continuing to serve customers.

“If I’m not doing the work, I don’t know who else is going to do it,” she said.

Star Village Coffee – located about 90 miles northwest of Next Evolution — is in the process of working toward the grand opening of their first retail shop on Aug. 29. 

They share the same viewpoint as Martinez about rez economics, as defined by them as “the study and practice of economic processes based on tribal customs and cultural nuances of the Rez.”

“We love the health-conscious model that she’s trying to implement there. One of our primary objectives with Star Village is of course to partner with many Native businesses, not even just Nevada, but throughout Indian Country,” Zuniga said.

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Five of his family members help operate the business.

“I couldn’t conceive of this any other way. So getting them into the fold was very natural,” he said.

Now they’re looking to start training and hiring people from Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and other tribes in Nevada. There are about 20 federally-recognized tribes in the state. And approximately 1,796 businesses that are Native-owned.

“We’re looking for baristas, cashiers and people to do jobs in the roasting facilities — people to handle the roasting, the shipping, packaging and labeling,” he said.

(Photo courtesy of Joel Zuniga)
(Photo courtesy of Joel Zuniga)

Star Village Coffee has a roasting facility located on the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Verdi, Nevada, about 15 miles west of Reno. The tribal council allowed them to use the facility.

“That’s where we do all of the roasting for all the retail shops that we sell to and e-commerce stuff and some of the larger contracts,” he said.

He attributed Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s support for the success of their first year.

Star Village also supplies to two other Native-owned businesses: Bison Coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon and a shaved ice stand. As a whole, they are roasting on average hundreds of pounds of coffee beans a week.

“We always claim that Star Village embodies this ethos of Indigneous entrepreneurship. The hope is to not only recruit tribal people and have jobs for our own people within companies owned by us, and the idea is to circulate these profits throughout our neighborhoods especially because we understand the impact that that could have.”

Within the next six months they hope to consult with tribes, particularly tribal casinos, for their cafes. They would help source coffee-making equipment, training staff, be a roasting source, help create a menu and assist with interior designs.

“I would love to work with other tribes and assist them in the (development) of cafes from the ground up,” he said. 

Star Village decided to transition from making the coffee to opening up a shop because their mobile events showed the demand for their specialty drinks. They used ingredients endemic to their area from the Great Basin that has chokecherry, sage and pine nuts.

Zuniga said he hopes to see some tribally-owned casinos to take Star Village Coffee’s model of using ingredients that are regional to their area and people.

He added how it contrasts the European coffee model with their cortados, cappuccinos and lattes.

“Yes, we love all those things but –because of our brand and our company– we like to put our own stamp on it,” he said. 

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