Even as the U.S. economy struggles for resurgence, hundreds of thousands of undaunted Native Americans are pursuing their dreams. The most recent Census data tells us there are nearly 237,000 Native-owned businesses in this country that have rung up $34.4 billion in receipts. In this new biweekly series on Indian Country Today Media Network, we will profile the inspiring stories of these Native business owners, who work tirelessly and fight the good fight every day in the marketplace.
Name: Jan and Marty Wortman
Title: Owners of the Historic Requa Inn in Klamath, California
Type of business: Bed-and-breakfast
How long in business: 2.8 years
Original investment: $875,000
Advice for other business owners: “Forgive yourself for making mistakes because you are going to make a ton of them!”
When Jan Wortman was growing up on the Yurok Indian Reservation in Klamath, California, she and her family used to drive by the Historic Requa Inn and say, “Wouldn’t that be neat if we owned that place someday?”
Someday finally arrived, at least for Jan. She and her husband, Marty, bought the Inn back in February 2010 after relocating from Portland, Oregon. “When my daughter Geneva moved home to the reservation, we decided to move back, too,” she said. They were looking for a business, and, as fate would have it, the inn was up for sale. “The asking price was $1.2 million. We got a steal for $875,000.”
The sentimental value, however, is priceless. The 98-year-old bed-and-breakfast, which sits on the banks of the Klamath River in the middle of Redwood National Park, is also on the Yurok reservation. Requa is a Yurok word meaning mouth of the river. “This has been our home for time immemorial,” Jan said. “My grandparents met at a dance hall across the street from the Requa Inn in 1917.”
The 10,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom inn needed some freshening-up when the Wortmans took over, and two of the rooms were completely out of commission. “We renovated those rooms right away, and just by doing that, we increased revenue by 20 percent the first year,” Jan said. So far, they’ve invested about $50,000 in renovations; the biggest expense was a $14,000 coat of paint on the outside.
During high season, the innkeepers employ 15 people, mostly locals from Klamath, of which 10 are Natives. Marty, a non-Native, works full-time at the Lucky 7 Casino in Smith River as a maintenance supervisor, then pulls another shift at the inn fixing faucets, patching holes and whatever else is on the “Honey-Do List.” Their daughter Geneva, who works full-time at a nonprofit organization, helps her parents when needed. The Wortmans’ son, Thomas, is head chef at the inn’s restaurant, Bailey’s.
“We started offering dinners, and people really, really love the food,” Jan said. Dining accounts for about 15 percent of total revenue, she added. Thomas cooks organic, locally harvested food to help support local farmers, and puts his unique spin on traditional Yurok recipes. With the Klamath River in their back yard, salmon is a staple on the menu. “They’re hauling out 35-pound salmons out of the river, and that’s what my guests have for dinner!” Jan enthused.
Guests visit from all over the world. “It’s really unusual to go one night during peak season where we don’t have someone from another country,” Jan said proudly. Word has spread about the Requa Inn and its down-home hospitality. In 2010, it earned a Fodor’s Choice distinction from Fodor’s Travel.
What Jan likes most about running the Requa Inn is sharing her tribal heritage and stories with guests, and seeing how happy they are to be there. “Every day you see that excitement in their eyes because it’s so beautiful here. You can’t help but always be in a state of gratitude and abundance,” she said.
And Jan plans to run the inn under the family name as long as good fortune allows. “My family has been on this hill, falling in love and having babies for generations and generations, so I would love for that to continue on,” said Jan. “We joke that if we ever get tired of running the inn, we’ll end up with a 10,000-square-foot house on the banks of the Klamath River.”
Spirit of Enterprise is a biweekly series spotlighting Native entrepreneurs.