WAGNER — After years thinking, Kip and Amelia Spotted Eagle finally pulled the trigger.
Since settling in South Dakota more than a decade ago, the Spotted Eagles considered a variety of business ventures, only for someone else to swoop in before they could make a move. But by the end of February, the couple will open the doors on a venture too perfect to pass up.
Growing up in Washington state, Kip began frequenting coffee shops in high school. Coffee is woven into the culture in the northwest, as people pile in daily to work, decompress or share a laugh. South Dakota largely does not share the culture. So, when he returned to Lake Andes, and eventually Wagner, the son of renowned activist Faith Spotted Eagle, struggled to find a good spot for coffee.
The Spotted Eagles long saw cries for a local coffee shop in Wagner, and after seeing a drive-up coffee shop for sale in Wayne, Nebraska, they drove down and decided it was time to make a move.
On the drive home, they pulled over and prayed their offer would be accepted. It was, and by the end of February, the Spotted Eagles plan to open Grind House 46 in downtown Wagner.
“My wife asked a question that inspired this whole movement,” Kip said. “She was like, ‘What are you going to leave the kids?’ I’ve worked all over the place and did all these awesome things, but never in the back of my head was I thinking I need to fill my IRA. Maybe this is my shot, maybe this is that chance to invest it in other places and leave something for my kids.”
Upon moving to South Dakota, Kip worked a wide range of manual labor jobs and the physical toll led him to finish his degree in American Indian Studies with an emphasis on historical preservation and became a teacher. He then earned a position as the Tribal Historic Preservation Director for the Yankton Sioux Tribe, all while thinking of a business to attach his name to in the future.
After purchasing the building and moving it to Wagner, where it is housed on land leased from the YST. There are fewer than five businesses in Wagner owned by tribal members, but the Spotted Eagles are adamant that Grind House 46 is fulfilling a need for the entire community.
“We’ve been getting nothing but positive feedback, because it’s coffee — everybody loves coffee,” said Amelia, who is a teacher in Lake Andes. “It kind of calms my nerves jumping into this so quickly. We’ve been getting a lot of support from the Native community, but also the non-Native community, which is something we’re not used to because we don’t put ourselves out there much. Sometimes it is nerve-racking trying to get everything together, but then we think about all the positive encouragement.”
The Spotted Eagles trained with a roaster in Nebraska, which will aid in providing different brands and types of coffee during Grind House 46’s start-up phase. But the types of coffee, smoothies and Italian sodas will be diverse.
They hope to incorporate American Indian roasters in the future, while Kip has been creating a variety of his own new ideas and has used members of the community to help taste the product that will be offered.
Hours are tentatively scheduled for 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but it could change based on demand and data. A study by the National Coffee Association found that 40% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 consume coffee each day and some local students have encouraged Grind House 46 to be open after school.
“It’s trial and error. I’ve had more caffeine than I’ve had in a long time just from trying different roasters in the past two months,” Kip said. “It’s not my taste that really decides it. I have a pretty good handle, but I’ll give samples — I’ll ask people in the community. I bought an espresso machine and I’ve got people pulling in my front year and I’m running out lattes to find what they think.”
Kip hopes the business is eventually successful to the point where it becomes his career, but he will continue to work for the YST for the time being. He still plans to be a vital part of the operation, working the early-morning rush hours before heading to his day job. However, he also plans to employ three other kids, providing them the opportunity to train and learn how to be part of the workforce when they enter adulthood.
Although the Spotted Eagles are focused on providing a service to the community and capitalizing on tourist traffic during the summer, Faith Spotted Eagle beamed with pride when asked about her son’s new business, particularly after her tribe was stripped of 3,000 acres of land when Fort Randall Dam was built in 1952.
“(Kip) graduated from high school in Spokane, but every summer he came home and spent time with his grandpa,” Faith said. “He’s very much tied to the culture and knows the language. I’ve had my own consulting company and my own gift shop and they always say when you have children that grow up with businesses, it seems doable for them. He’s always talked about doing a business and the moment was right.”
Amelia is also passionate about the prospect of a family-owned business. Growing up as a member of the Ponca Tribe in Enid, Oklahoma, she described living in poor conditions. Although she completed a bachelor’s degree in education and is on track to earn a master’s in May, no one in her family has owned a business. Now she has the chance to pass one to her children, now ages 7 and 2.
“Nobody in my family has owned a business,” Amelia said. “It’s important for me to give something back to my children. It’s also important for them to know that when we drive by the coffee shop, they’re going to know that’s theirs. They’re going to be happy and be proud that’s ours. Ultimately it’s not our coffee shop, it’s our kids’.”