Published December 10, 2018
DENVER — It takes more than simply having tasty ingredients to have a recipe for successful restaurants. The owners of Tocabe, an American Indian eatery in Denver, understood that concept as they made sure each registration bag handed out to attendees at the National Congress of American Indians 75th Annual Convention and Marketplace had a small promotional card inside.
The card advertises the Tocabe restaurant, located four miles from the hotel, and informed attendees that Tocabe’s food truck would be outside the Hyatt Regency on Tuesday and Thursday during the convention for those who could not venture out to the restaurant.
On Tuesday, the Tocabe food truck was in the parking lot across the street from the Hyatt Regency. The aroma of frybread and natural seasonings provided a festive atmosphere for the conventioneers longing for American Indian food as they waited for their lunches. The food truck’s menu included Indian tacos with braised-shredded bison, ground beef or grilled chicken, lettuce, pinto beans or black beans, sweet corn salsa, mild or hot salsa and sour cream served on frybread. Also, on the menu was a delicious green chili stew.
Owners Matt Chandra and Ben Jacobs
Some attendees made their way out to the flagship Tocabe restaurant in Denver’s Berkley neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. They found its serving line to be like a Chipotle restaurant, which allows patrons to view the freshly made ingredients that can be added to their selection. The menu offerings include braised shredded bison, chicken, bison ribs, wild rice and frybread. Tocabe’s frybread is fl ash fried, which is a quick process to brown and fl uff the bread with less a tablespoon of cooking oil absorption.
Tocabe is one of a few restaurants in the United States that feature American Indian fare. Opened in 2008, Tocabe had its origins from Grayhorse : An American Indian Eatery, established in downtown Denver in 1989 by the Jacobs, an Osage family. Tocabe’s co-owner Ben Jacobs grew up in his family’s Grayhorse restaurant and decided to open his own, using some of the recipes to create a unique American Indian cuisine. Tocabe means blue in Osage. By 2011, Tocabe was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.” After receiving national exposure, Tocabe’s sales volume exploded.
Hanging on the wall to the right of the counter at Tocabe, where patrons order their food, is a large map that was produced by the Census Bureau showing where American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are located. Other items on the wall give subtle hints of the establishment being an American Indian eatery, such as American Indian art that provides exposure to local Native artists. “We have always attempted to be more than a restaurant, meaning we are designed as a community-driven experience. Of course, we serve food, but we also serve our greater community. For example, we try to source food from Native food producers,” says Jacobs, who has incorporated the indigenous food movement’s concepts into his recipes served at Tocabe.
The restaurant is clean and barrier free, which also contributes to successful restaurants.
Tocabe braised shredded bision
The American Indian food fare offerings are well received in Denver. Tocabe has a catering menu designed for everything from office lunches to family meals. In addition, people can select from for higher-end meals for weddings, rehearsal dinners, and other special gatherings.
In March 2015, Tocabe opened another location in Greenwood Village, near the Denver Tech Center. The food truck is utilized year-round at various locations, setting up shop at special events or catering to the downtown crowd. The company employs 35 employees, many of whom are American Indians.
Successful recipes and business practices have turned Tocabe into a successful restaurant enterprise with a bright future.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the current edition of Tribal Business Journal.