Denver’s Native American restaurant Tocabe ships meals to reservation

The minds behind Denver’s Native American restaurant are taking their culinary skills directly to Indian Country, with a new program aimed at providing healthy meals to tribal members.

Co-owners Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra first opened Tocabe, An American Indian Eatery, at 3536 W. 44th Ave. in 2008 as “the only American Indian-owned and -operated restaurant in metro Denver specializing in Native American cuisine.” A second outpost is in Greenwood Village at 8181 E. Arapahoe Rd. in Unit C. It opened in 2015.

Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair officially expanded the company in 2021 as Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace – an online marketplace selling Native and Indigenous ingredients.

“All of us saw the supply chain just being decimated through COVID, and people not having access to food, and we’re like, ‘Well, now we know what to do,’ ” Jacobs said.

Their latest endeavor aims to reach the kitchens of tribal members with the launch of their Direct-to-Tribe Ready Meal program, which will provide 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, describes his ultimate goal as eventually distributing to other tribes, too.

A first shipment of 2,200 meals, which use ingredients from Native businesses and people, kicked off the program about two weeks ago. The fully-cooked food arrives ready to heat, and will go to participants of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, which serves income-eligible households on reservations and other select Native American families.

“This is like the culmination of everything that I’ve really wanted to do through most of my life, to be honest,” Jacobs said. “We can make generational impact on multiple levels through feeding people.”

Colorado is home to two federally-recognized tribes: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, both in the Four Corners area. A number of tribal nations resided in or had territory extend into what became Colorado, including the Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Pueblo, Shoshone, Comanche, Kiowa and Navajo.

Jacobs grew up in Colorado’s capital city after his mother secured a job at the Denver Indian Center. “We never left because Denver has a large Native population,” he said, attributing that fact to the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which pushed Native Americans to select cities, including Denver, from reservations.

Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace sells products including Navajo roasted blue corn mush, grass-fed bison filet medallions, wild chokeberry syrup, wild rice flour, elderberry balsamic vinegar and more. The menu at the Tocabe restaurant features Indian tacos on fry bread, cured bison ribs and stuffed fry bread, among other options.

“Our kind of mantra that we go by is, ‘You thrive, I thrive, we thrive,’ ” Jacobs said.

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