UArizona program to help Fort Yuma coffee roaster grow his business on reservation

A University of Arizona program is helping five Native Americans grows their business, including a coffee roaster at Fort Yuma.
Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 6:11 PM MST
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YUMA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The University of Arizona has a special program, Native Forge, investing in Native American entrepreneurs. This year, they’re mentoring five small businesses in Fort Yuma. Spirit Mountain Roasting Company is one of the businesses in the mentorship program. “I buy coffee that’s either produced by indigenous growers in Central and South America or women cooperatives,” Tudor Montague said.

Montague is the owner of Spirit Mountain Roasting Co. He first started roasting coffee in 2015 in Mesa. He began selling coffee online and received a lot of demand. “If I want this to grow, I want this to grow back home on the reservation. So I made this decision. It was a big decision to quit my day job,” he said.

He took the risk and moved his small operation to Fort Yuma, where he was raised. His goal was always to grow his business on Quechan land and provide jobs for community members.

Since his move, he’s opened a coffee shop on the reservation and now employs six people. His coffee can be found at Cafecito Yuma, the local casinos, and nationwide, as his online business is thriving.

Demand for his coffee is high, but he only has one roaster. The Native Forge program will help with mentorship and also open the door to possible investors who can help his business grow. “I want to have a full-scale roastery that I want to build here on the reservation, which will allow me to increase my production capacity,” he said.

He also has hopes to incorporate food or open an eatery at his shop. It’s his vision and entrepreneurial spirit that the University of Arizona is looking to empower through its program. “What services, resources can we provide for the chances of these businesses being successful on the reservation,” said Levi Esquerra, Native American advancement and tribal engagement.

He said they worked closely with Quechan tribe leaders to identify the five businesses they would be mentoring in Fort Yuma. “We’re always looking for ways to strengthen tribal economies,” he said.

He said one of the mentors is from Fort Yuma. “This is something people have asked for. They want to be mentored by people that look like them, speak their language,” said Esquerra.

He said the Quechan tribe already has a great business mindset. The tribe was recently awarded a grant to start a business development center. It’s expected to open soon in the same building as Montague’s shop. “Inspiring others in the community, if you see something happening in the community, you might see it and say, ‘Hey, I have an opportunity too,’” said Montague. Through his determination and the mentoring of the program, he knows his business will only continue to grow.

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