From Sheep to the Customer: An Entrepreneur and her Food Business
By Kaitlyn Benally
Native Grill serves “Navajo soul food” to travelers along Highway 89 and to their loyal customers in Cameron, Arizona. Alfreida Littleboy and her mother started their business in 2013 and pursued their business license in 2016. Since they opened, progress has been great and the journey has been a very educational learning experience. When they first started, Alfreida and her mother worked together to run Native Grill and their days usually began at four in the morning to prepare foods on the menu. They have the same menu they began with from the beginning, but have cut back on some items. Alfreida says when they try new foods on the menu, there is not much positive feedback so they end up removing the item. The most popular items on the menu are grilled lamb and dumpling stew. As time went along, Alfreida figured out ways to cut back on preparation time and labor hours. Eventually, she hired additional employees and that allowed her to free up time in her schedule. She also learned about office work, paper work, and how to prepare taxes. Everything was a new adventure for Alfreida as she had no experience running a business, but now that she has learned the ropes of running a business there’s no stopping what more she and her family can accomplish.
To modernize their business, Afreida and her family have completed renovations inside the trailer such as installing new floors and repainting the walls. They have also added shade outside, bought a new grill, constructed a gazebo with picnic tables, and bought picnic tables with umbrellas for the tour company. In addition, they have built a storage place for their inventory and attached an office to it. Native Grill has also given back to the community with the profits created. Last year in 2019, they bought the Thanksgiving meal for Cameron Headstart. That same year, they hosted a Christmas party for Gap Headstart. They bought all of the kids presents and paid for everything including their dinner.
Furthermore, Alfreida was able to obtain contracts with G-adventures thanks to the assistance of Planeterra and Tony Skrelunas in 2019. G-adventures is a tour company out of Canada that partners with Planeterra which is a nonprofit organization out of Canada. Alfreida served the tour groups breakfast in a hogan complete with cultural stories so the group could receive a full Navajo experience. After the tour, lunch would be served at home or at the gazebo. That was a busy year for Alfreida and her family due to running Native Grill and keeping up with tours provided by G-adventures. Each year, their business sales have increased exponentially. They get so many customers and have built a loyal local customer base.
This year, Alfreida had contracts up to December with G-adventures and was in the process of acquiring two more contracts. One contract was from the United Kingdom and the other from Canada, but these failed to happen because of the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the Navajo Nation closed all of the national parks on the reservation and the Navajo Nation lockdown went into effect. Everything with the tour company stopped because there is no international travel with the United States. For these reasons, Alfreida’s business had to completely shut down. All the tours were canceled with G-adventures and the other two contracts were put on hold. Next year, they plan to open in March if the Navajo Nation lifts the lockdown order and tours start up again.
However, Alfreida has to take into consideration how the reopening of the business will impact her family. It is based upon the education of her kids and whether or not schools will continue online learning next year. She is responsible for helping her kids with their online school work from 8 am to 2 pm, and that is usually when they operated their business. If she has to dedicate her time to their children's education, then it is going to be harder to operate their business at the same time. She might have to hire another person to operate the business. Alfreida and her family have taken their Native food business to another level, and Native Grill is a positive example of what hard work and dedication can achieve. The Navajo people have preserved through many hardships, and the coronavirus is one such hardship that we must get through together. Many local businesses need the support of their community now more than ever.