First-Ever Coffee Roastery on Fort Yuma-Quechan Land Is “Indigenous From Seed to Cup”

The Coffee Shop by Spirit Mountain Roasting Company, located on the banks of the Colorado River in the Fort Yuma-Quechan (pronounced Kwatsáan) Tribe’s land, is closing soon for the day. The Quechan people, who have been living along the river since time immemorial, have been unable to find healthy meals due to the nutritional barrenness. Tudor Montague, a Quechan citizen with a background in environmental science, opened Spirit Mountain, the community’s first coffee shop about a year ago.

The Quechan people have been living along the river since time immemorial, partly in Arizona and partly in California. Tudor grew up seeing the lack of opportunity and recognition for what they do, which led him to open Spirit Mountain, the community’s first coffee shop. The coffee shop offers a rotating selection of in-house roasted beans from Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, and elsewhere, as well as stickers, T-shirts, and mugs. He ships across the country and internationally. Phoenix’s 12 West Brewing uses Spirit Mountain coffee in their Midnight Run stout.

Spirit Mountain is not just about roasting and brewing coffee, but also about being an example and a mentor for youth. He wants to be an example and help youth see that they can build something here on the rez. He has had help building up his business from Native FORGE, a University of Arizona-affiliated program that supports and mentors Indigenous entrepreneurs. Native FORGE seeks to close the equity gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous business owners.

Local tribal members may be initially attracted to Spirit Mountain’s chipotle cold brew or the chicken salad sandwich, but once they read the welcome message — Kanák ak, Kaaféy kasíim! Or, Sit down, Have some coffee! — above the espresso machine in Quechan and English, “it might inspire something.” With Spirit Mountain Roasting, Montague wants to touch the community in multiple ways: offering fresh and healthy coffee and food, attracting diners from Yuma and elsewhere, and inspiring the Quechan people. With few jobs on the reservation besides the casino, the school, and health center, Montague wants Spirit Mountain to be a trailblazer for Indigenous entrepreneurs and enterprises.

Turnit Mountain Roasting sources its beans and all of its other materials from almost exclusively Indigenous or women growers and producers. One of their slogans reads: “Indigenous from seed to cup.” Tudor sees the project as “part of steering growth and inviting people in.” He hopes this attracts more people to other businesses, such as Koteen’s Barber Shop that shares a roof with Spirit Mountain.

Native FORGE is an offshoot of FORGE, a University of Arizona program that focuses more broadly on supporting start-up businesses and entrepreneurs from various communities. The program’s mission is to “cultivate a thriving ecosystem that honors Indigenous heritage, promotes sustainable development, and champions economic self-determination.” Aleshia Howell, senior program coordinator at the Office of Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement, said the spirit of entrepreneurship is different within Arizona’s Indigenous communities.

The coffee shop Spirit Mountain Roasting Company, owned by the Fort Yuma-Quechan Tribe, is a community-focused business model that has attracted five Quechan employees. Tudor, who grew up on the Quechan reservation, moved away for college and worked for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for 15 years, focusing on wildlife management. His time in Kansas opened up his tastes in craft brewing and coffee roasting, and he realized that he could help bring healthy eating back to his community.

Tudor believes that people who leave the reservation typically don’t come back, so he felt it was important not only to return to his roots but to bring what he learned with him. He describes his tribal lands as having an almost island feel to them, with a slower, more relaxed pace of life. However, the poverty rate is high, and food prices in the greater Yuma area have gone up, and the overall quality of the food isn’t good. Tudor wants to bring something special here to the reservation, which can continue to serve the community and draw people from Yuma coming over.

The cafe opened in June 2023, though Spirit Mountain has been roasting and selling beans since 2015. Tudor sees in Yuma the “potential for measured growth.” The coffee and food at Spirit Mountain would “bring some dollars into the community,” but also added that it’s nice to have that river as a boundary. He sees the cafe as a testing ground to eventually open a full-scale restaurant.

One of the basic obstacles here on the reservation is the lack of business infrastructure spaces. Tudor ended up building his own roastery, retrofitted from an old trailer, 20 minutes down a low-traffic road from the coffee shop. In the backyard, beyond the few windbreak trees, stretches a sea of dirt fields all the way to the dust-hazed horizon and the Chocolate Mountains in the distance.

Doing it all from scratch has been hard, but it has offered him invaluable insight that he’d like to be able to share with other business-minded Quechans. Tudor wants to open franchises some day, planting new Spirit Mountain coffee shops across Arizona. For now, he wants to get through the year, keep honing his roasting and business skills, and make sure his fellow Quechan people have delicious coffee in the morning.

Thuts Uribe, a citizen of the Quechan tribe, was born and raised on the reservation and started drinking coffee at a young age. He has been working at various coffee shops throughout Yuma for the last nine years, taking an interest in “looking at other parts of the world to see how they make their coffee.” Now, Tudor has the opportunity to follow his passion and work in and for his own community at Spirit Mountain.

Read More @ Arizona Luminaria

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