The Cherokee Nation’s Kawi Café is now serving up its signature Cherokee blend coffee in downtown Tahlequah, while giving budding entrepreneurs firsthand experience running their own business.
A ribbon-cutting was held Thursday at the café, which the Cherokee Nation opened last month in a 1,096-square-foot section of the renovated former Cort Mall.
“At Kawi Café, we can educate tribal citizens in a real, hands-on business environment, starting with a business plan and moving into inventory, marketing, scheduling, customer service, payroll and taxes,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Getting that essential training and experience will aid these potential entrepreneurs into taking the next step of launching their own startup businesses that will create jobs and commerce in our communities.”
While the café offers customers coffee, cappuccino, latte, soup and panini in a quaint coffee house setting, customers won’t necessarily notice what the café offers its employees.
Those who work at Kawi Café are Cherokee citizens wanting to start their own business or run a business one day. About nine trainees at any one time work four-month stints in the café learning how to run a business, while spending one day a week working on their own personal business plan. Many participants hope to apply for a Cherokee Nation small business loan after the program ends.
“The Kawi Café is a fantastic, real-world example for our trainees to come in and get plenty of hands-on experience before attempting a startup on their own,” said Cherokee Nation Commerce Executive Director Anna Knight. “Education is essential for a new business to be successful, and any successful Cherokee-owned venture is a success for the Cherokee Nation as well.”
Michael Fuller, 24, of Tahlequah, is starting a business to sell kits for A-frame hydroponic greenhouses so homeowners can grow their own organic vegetable gardens. Working at the Kawi Café, he’s made decisions on what food and beverages to include on the menu, pricing and ordering of supplies and materials.
“With everything I’ve learned through the classes, I’ve also been able to budget the money I’ve earned from working in the café to start my business,” he said. “Having started from the ground up, it’s really opened my eyes to what it takes to own a business and run it correctly from the beginning.”
The Cherokee Nation Commerce Department estimates the café’s yearly revenue to be $91,000 in the first year and as high as $114,000 by the third year. Some of the startup funding came from an Administration for Native Americans grant.
Cherokee Nation Commerce helps build the economic security of Cherokee citizens and communities. In the past 18 months, Cherokee Nation Commerce has provided $2.7 million in small-business loans to more than 40 Cherokee-owned businesses. Those loans have helped create or retain 223 jobs in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. Commerce also holds several training classes and workshops throughout the year.
For more information on Cherokee Nation Commerce programs, call 918-453-5536. Kawi Café is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (918-458-6114).