Campus & Community / Magazine Feature / People

Alumni open Native American eatery

When close friends Ben Jacobs (BA history ’05) and Matt Chandra (BA digital media studies ’05) decided to start a restaurant together they already had the perfect business model to build on.

Although many have compared their restaurant to Chipotle, 25-year-old Jacobs says that he and 26-year-old Chandra modeled Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery, after Greyhorse, a restaurant owned by Jacobs’ parents 20 years ago.

Like Chipotle, Greyhorse had an assembly line style prep-table which Jacobs and Chandra chose to emulate because, Jacobs says “we like that people can see the options available and see that the food is fresh.”

Unlike Chipotle, Tocabe has fry bread, a staple developed 70 years ago by Native Americans living on reservations. Jacobs and Chandra make their fry bread from scratch according to authentic Osage recipes handed down to Jacobs from his mother and grandmother.

Tocabe, which means blue in Osage, opened its doors on Dec. 18, 2008 at 3536 W. 44th St. So far the American Indian taco and the stuffed Indian taco, which include fry bread and a choice of meats and toppings, have been the most popular menu items.

With clean, modern décor, TVs and offerings of draft and bottled beer, Jacobs and Chandra have sought to further distinguish Tocabe from typical fast food restaurants by making it more welcoming and comfortable.

“Just because the food is fast,” says Jacobs, “doesn’t mean we want people to leave fast.”

So far the atmosphere and cuisine created by the young entrepreneurs has earned them praise. With prices topping out at $7.75, Jacobs and Chandra believe even cash-strapped consumers will continue to enjoy Tocabe’s affordable fare.

Even as they take on some of the more unpleasant aspects of owning a restaurant, like putting in between 85 and 90 hours each week, Jacobs and Chandra remain elated with their vocation and have even initiated plans to extend their business downtown.

“I always felt that creating my own opportunities in life is the best way to go about it,” says Chandra, who contends that the stress of day-to-day operations has yet to sour he and Jacobs’ friendship.

“Its good because we know we have each other’s back. If I’m off one day Ben will pick up the slack, if he is another day I got him covered.”

After two months in business Tocabe has already made an impression on the Denver restaurant scene but Jacobs and Chandra agree that the best part of their current success has been exposing Denver to Native American food and providing a service to the Native American community.

“I love that the Indian community finally has a place to gather,” says Jacobs, “because food brings people together.”

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