Tocabe is America’s first Indigenous fast casual restaurant chain. With two brick and mortar restaurants and a roving food truck around the Denver area, co-owners and chefs Ben Jacobs and Matthew Chandra have been changing the game when it comes to Native food. Their vision of a nationwide chain of indigenous-inspired menus brings a measure of hope and positivity to one of America’s most forgotten and depressed communities. Natives across America are in a desperate need of a win and Tocabe gives them a place to find it.
We sat down with Ben Jacobs to talk about what it’s like spending the better part of your twenties struggling against entrenched cultural stereotypes while opening up two restaurants starring a food culture with little connective tissue to the mainstream American culinary scene. Spoiler alert, it’s not easy. But Jacobs and Chandra are making their dreams a reality while shedding much-needed light on Indigenous culture.
Jacobs lives according to an ethos of positivity and making sure his life and work represent a net positive in his community, culture, and food. And that’s something we can all learn from, with the added bonus of a delicious rack of bison ribs on the side. Let’s dive in.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Tocabe.
My business partner (Matthew Chandra) and I, built our concept off of a concept our parents had opened in 1989 in downtown Denver called Grayhorse: American Indian Eatery. That opened when I was six years old. It was a very similar presentation as ours, except for they were in a food court so it didn’t really have its own space. It was just a walk-up counter. Then Matt and I decided to develop it further and incorporate it into its own space that had its own feel, its own décor, design, voice, but also to expand upon the menu.
When did you launch the new concept?
That opened in December of 2008, so we’re almost nine years in now. It’s evolved into two brick and mortar units, a food truck, and now we’re working on another expansion.