If you are reading this post, you may be very familiar with Tocabe – who we are, what we do, and maybe you even know why we do it. We have a huge family of friends, fans, and community who have helped us get where we are today – and this makes up a big part of our soul as a company. The other option is that you are just learning about Tocabe now, and this post will be your introduction to our vision, and our brand. Either way, I hope you walk away feeling a bit more intimate with the Tocabe brand, and excited to learn even more about who we are and our passion for American Indian cuisine that we wish to share with the world.
A Little Introduction
First things first – I’ll introduce myself. I’m Allison, and I do all of Tocabe’s marketing. I don’t own the company, so I have the benefit of an insider/outsider view of Tocabe, and I can brag a little more freely than the owners might. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Tocabe grow as a restaurant and a brand for the past seven, almost eight years. You see, two of my closest friends, Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra, are the co-owners of this unique establishment. From the very beginning, before the doors were opened, I was able to witness their dedication, passion, and love for this restaurant, and for the native cuisine that they hoped to bring into the spotlight and out of obscurity. On top of that, my husband Ted, who is a lifelong friend of Ben and very longtime friend of Matt joined the Tocabe team in 2011 and now runs the original location. Tocabe has become a part of our lives, and I am so proud to share my view of it with you.
Tocabe opened in December of 2008 after a labor of love – I remember Ben and Matt removing the plaster themselves to expose the brick on a large wall in the original North Denver location. (That’s just one example of the crazy dedication it took to open the restaurant, right in the midst of the national recession). From there the company has grown and changed in many exciting ways. A second location opened in Greenwood Village in 2015, the catering business blossomed from both locations, a food truck joined the family in 2016, and countless community events, partnerships and celebrations have occurred along the way. The restaurant has been featured on several popular television shows, including Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and Taco Trip with Aaron Sanchez.
What It’s Really About
All the history and background is great, but that’s not really the purpose of this post. I want to get at the real meat of why Tocabe exists. What is it that drives Ben and Matt, and the rest of the Tocabe team to keep going and innovating? A couple of words come to mind, and you’re likely to hear them a lot when we talk about Tocabe. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Native food first, local second
- Being awesome
Of course, as a restaurant, food has to be at the center of everything we do. It has to be good. It has to stay true to the techniques and traditions that we have learned from our elders, teachers and travels. It has to be crave-able. But when you talk about the food at Tocabe, it sparks a deeper and more unique passion – you can hear it when Ben and Matt talk about it during interviews and amongst one another. This food is different. This food has something more to it. It is a deep desire to highlight an indigenous cuisine; the techniques, ingredients and traditions echoing the first American cuisine, that has eluded the mainstream for hundreds of years. This desire to elevate, educate, and bring native foods into the conversation of modern day cuisine is the driving force behind Tocabe. Because food is an essential part of a people, and we believe the native people of America deserve a place to showcase that food, and their culture.
Beyond this, Tocabe has taken great pride and care in sourcing ingredients, whenever possible, from native sources as a first priority, and then looking to local sources. Today’s trend of “local first” is something we believe in, but here at Tocabe it is of first priority that we partner with native food producers and share their talents in our restaurants as much as possible. From our olive oil to many of our ancient grains and beans, we believe that supporting other native businesses and food producers as a vital part of what we do.
While focusing on the food, Tocabe has equally focused on community. What is community without a dish to share at a large table? For Tocabe, community extends far and wide, across Colorado and out to native communities across the country. Ben and Matt have traveled and met with Native chefs and elders throughout the country to learn techniques, ingredients and stories in order to help create a voice for native foods direct from native communities. The restaurant has hosted countless meetings, celebrations, fund raisers and concerts over the years – cementing it as a spot where the native community feels at home and welcome.
In everything we do, we strive to innovate and make our customers, partners, and crew feel awesome. To describe the business as “innovative” may seem strange when we strive to honor and share time-honored recipes, ingredients and techniques. However, we believe that bringing these traditions out from the inner circles and family table to share them with the wider community is innovative. Along with that, our desire to help the community, create partnerships, and continually evolve and improve is truly innovative in the world of typical fast-casual eateries. And we are very proud of that.
Finally, education is a pillar of what we are trying to do at Tocabe. This blog is just another extension of how we aim to further educate people on native food, cooking, and culture. To bring American Indian food out of obscurity, we must teach people about what it is, and why they should care. (Besides that it’s delicious!) Tocabe aims to educate the community whether that’s a customer just walking in for the first time, or the wider community that can be reached here online or on the shows where we have been lucky to be featured. It may seem a bit strange for a restaurant to be so invested in education, but it truly is at the heart of our mission.
As you can see, Tocabe is a unique restaurant. Our goals are lofty and our heart is big. Ben and Matt have set a vision that is both exciting and commendable. And the food is mighty good, too.I hope you learned a bit about Tocabe, and I hope you return to the blog as we continue to share, educate and inspire.