Native American entrepreneur raised on grandma’s fry bread

Native American entrepreneur raised on grandma's fry bread
In 1993, Lisa Little Chief and her mother would stay up late every summer evening, sewing muslin bags and packaging the family's secret recipe, handed down from Unci (grandma) Alice Little Chief.

This dedicated grassroots process continued throughout the summer of 1993 until enough fry bread was sold to purchase the muslin bags in bulk. Now, with 14 years under her belt, two grown children and one doctorate degree, Sioux Fry Bread Mix has evolved into Little Chief Specialty Foods and markets its specialty fry bread recipe to thousands of customers across the United States.

"From the time I was 6 years old, I was always creating products to sell to our neighbors," said Dr. Lisa Little Chief Bryan, owner and founder of Little Chief Specialty Foods.

Today the company is headquartered in Vermillion, SD and serves a little over 15,000 customers a week at 2,200 distribution outlets in markets along the northeast coast, northwest coast, midwest states and Texas. The business plan includes sales strategies that cater to both the retail and wholesale markets.

According to Bryan, the fry bread mix can be used in a variety of ways with all kinds of food groups and that is what makes it so marketable.

"It's not just for Indian tacos, although that is one of the most popular uses," Bryan said. "Some customers have used it for fry bread pancakes or fry bread pizza, but we always encourage all customers to be adventurous in making new dishes with the fry bread and then sharing those ideas with others."

With unemployment rates on the reservation ranging from 35-percent in the summer and as high as 75 percent in the winter, the need for entrepreneurs like Bryan and small businesses like Little Chief Specialty Foods is at an all time high for Indian country.

"Increasing educational attainment levels and new business startups on the reservation are two critical factors that could impact the high unemployment rates in Indian country," Bryan said. "Native American entrepreneurs existed long before our current modern age entrepreneurs."

According to some research, a variety of barriers that exist for small business startups on the reservation, are not the same ones that exist in areas off the reservation.

"I believe the most important component to starting a business on the reservation or in Indian country is access to capital," Bryan said. "But there are many other components to starting a business, such as having great ideas, developing a solid business plan and building a strong team, however, without access to capital a business really cannot begin."

Within Indian country today, many tribal governments and tribal colleges are working together to develop entrepreneurial centers, in hopes of growing their own entrepreneurs and spurring economic development on their respective reservations.

One such partnership is Sitting Bull College and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Dakotas.

"I believe tribal colleges like Sitting Bull College play a very important role in preparing future Native American entrepreneurs," Bryan said. "Providing entrepreneurship education to students in the disciplines of marketing, finance, management and business law are key components to growing our own entrepreneurs."

According to a recent inventory completed by the Tribal Business Information Center at Sitting Bull College, a little over 125 small businesses operate on the Standing Rock Reservation, with close to 80 percent of those businesses being product oriented and 20 percent service oriented.

"Both types of businesses (product and service) have the potential to succeed on the reservation, but success depends on a variety of circumstances," Bryan said. "Such as location, population, competition and several other business related factors."

Bryan currently holds the position of Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of South Dakota-Beacom School of Business and she recently spoke to a group of 100 business leaders, faculty and staff during the Circle of Friends dinner program, sponsored by Sitting Bull College.

The Circle of Friends program was held Monday, April 23 at the Prairie Knights Casino & Resort, just 12 miles north of Sitting Bull College on Hwy. 24 / 1806.

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