Tudor Montague is brewing opportunity on his reservation
Running a business

Tudor Montague is brewing opportunity on his reservation

In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting indigenous-owned small businesses, their stories, and their journeys to success. Check the Small Business Stories hub all month for more inspiration. 

Name: Tudor A. Montague

Location: Fort Yuma Quechan Reservation

Business: Spirit Mountain Roasting Co.

Spirit Mountain Roasting Co.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

I have always had a desire to start my own business. Once I found a few things I was truly passionate about, I decided to go for it. I fell into a rabbit hole of roasting after spending many years homebrewing. I was taking a class and the discussion turned to roasting barley to darken the grain. It was a similar process to coffee roasting, and at that point, my interest was piqued.

Once I decided to give coffee roasting a serious try, I purchased a small, two kilogram coffee roaster, transferred some of the basic principles I knew from homebrewing to roasting and taught myself how to roast. Once I had the concepts down and started receiving good feedback from friends and family, I created the brand and started the business. Shortly after, I moved back home to my reservation. I wanted to grow the business there to provide economic opportunities and a space for the community to feel welcome and enjoy delicious specialty coffee. Eventually, I was able to secure a small business loan and built my small roastery, purchased a larger production roaster, and took formal training with professional roasters in northern California.

Spirit Mountain Roasting Co.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

Being a small business owner, you must wear many hats to get the business off the ground and keep it running. It’s not just about the thing that you are creating or the service you provide, it’s also about understanding financing, accounting, permitting taxes, and so on. It’s like an iceberg—what customers see is only a small portion of what truly makes the company exist and function.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

There isn’t really a “road map” or instructions on what to do, or what steps need to be taken in order to be successful. Yes, there is some general information out there, but each journey is different and so much of it has to be figured out on your own. 

How does running your own business make you feel? 

I feel proud to have made it this far, considering not only the normal challenges of surviving through the startup phase and beyond, but that we made it through the COVID experience. We had just secured our small business loan and completed construction of the roastery when the shutdown happened. We suddenly lost all of our wholesale accounts within a week. We had to quickly pivot to our online store which became our lifeline to keep the business going. So, to make it through that makes me feel proud.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome?

Right now, it is keeping up with new accounts and the need to grow our production capacity.

How is your business handling recent inflation and supply chain issues?

It has been hard because every aspect of operating the business has become more expensive—the price of green coffee, freight, storage of the raw materials, and packaging. All have increased in price. One of our goals has been to keep the price point of specialty coffee relatively accessible to a broad range of customers because we feel more people should be able to experience it. So we have absorbed a lot of the cost increases and haven’t raised our online prices much, if at all, in proportion to the overall cost increases.

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff?

Finding good people to work for you can be difficult, so when you find good staff, treat them right. Take time to teach them your philosophy and why you are doing what you do. They reflect who you are as a company. If you treat your team right, they will want to do their best and become a part of the family, so to speak. Don’t take them for granted.

What challenges do you feel are unique to indigenous small business owners?

Many indigenous small business owners have had to find their way into the industry on their own. Especially if the business owners are coming from a rural community, they may not have had the chance to be introduced to anyone in the industry they are navigating. I was lucky to be introduced to a program hosted by New Mexico Community Capital called the Native Entrepreneur in Residence (NEIR) program which paired me with a mentor that introduced me to some coffee professionals. At this point, I was able to make leaps and bounds in navigating the specialty coffee industry.

How do you engage with the community and how do they engage with or help your business?

We have a small community, so it is easy to connect with many here on the reservation. I am working with our casino and local convenience store, so we are able to make our fresh roasted coffee available locally. We hire community members to help with production and make deliveries here in the community. I am working with our school district to help teach the students about growing their own food and working on developing a composting program with the school cafeteria which will include some of our coffee chaff and used grounds in the process. 

What are your proudest moments? 

Moving back home to grow the business, hiring community members, and teaching a new set of skills to the younger generation. Being able to mentor others who are just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey.

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

We are going to open a small café here on the reservation next year. At some point soon I am hoping to build a full-scale roastery and café/restaurant that will incorporate locally-grown produce and traditional foods on the menu. The building will utilize sustainable materials and be partially off-grid. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

The memory of my mother and being here in my community. Knowing that there is so much potential here gives me the fuel to keep going, even on the toughest days. Being able to look out on the horizon and know that my ancestors have occupied this land since time immemorial. They never gave up, so how can I?

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My ancestors have occupied this land since time immemorial. They never gave up, so how can I?

What advice would you give to other business owners just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Seek out those in your industry that you think may be able to point you in the right direction. Don’t be too hard on yourself, we have all made mistakes and that’s ok. Keep moving forward.

What’s your “power song” and why?

“Lion Order” by Jesse Royal and Protoje. The rhythm and tempo of the song pumps the energy up and the message is about the “pride” or group of friends and family that stick together and look out for each other through thick and thin.

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