The Cheyenne River Youth Project has announced that it will temporarily close its Keya (Turtle) Cafe at the end of this month, with the last day of regular service scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27. The nonprofit youth organization will devote the next few months to upgrading the cafe; it will host a grand reopening celebration in May, just in time for the busy summer season on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation.
According to Molly Vetter, CRYP’s social enterprises manager, upgrades will include new equipment, an innovative menu, and a robust e-commerce option for those who wish to make online purchases from the Keya Cafe and Keya Gift Shop.
“We’re going to be adding two new freezers, as well as new equipment for food preservation and our coffeehouse operations,” Vetter explained. “We’re looking forward to presenting an entirely new menu with even more farm-to-table produce, and we’ll be offering traditional Lakota dishes on a regular basis.”
All the upgrades are made possible through a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, and they are part of a new business plan for the 3-year-old cafe, which is a critical element of CRYP’s social enterprise initiatives. These initiatives also include the Keya Gift Shop and the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market.
Because it is a social enterprise, the Keya Cafe is different than any other dining venue on the Cheyenne River reservation. When customers shop at CRYP, they’re directly supporting the culturally appropriate, innovative, enduring programming that has effectively served Cheyenne River’s youth and their families for two generations. As Vetter noted, it’s a dining experience that allows customers to play an active role in lifting up the Cheyenne River community.
“Our goal is to develop sustainable revenue streams to support CRYP into the future,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “But our social enterprises are so much more than that. They ensure that our Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center is the vibrant community gathering place we envisioned when we opened its doors more than 10 years ago. And, they’re dynamic working classrooms, thanks to our teen internship program.”
The Social Enterprise Teen Internship Program allows young people to learn critical job and life skills, receive essential training and certifications, and gain valuable work experience that will serve them well as they enter the job market. Garreau and Vetter confirmed that these internships will continue throughout the spring months, despite the cafe’s seasonal closure.
“Our teens will still be able to learn how to be baristas, staff a commercial kitchen, operate the cash register, create effective product displays, conduct inventory and manage e-commerce,” Vetter said. “In fact, this spring is an ideal opportunity to apply for an internship, because participants can focus exclusively on learning and developing their skill set.”
CRYP will announce a date for the Keya Cafe grand reopening this spring; starting this year, it will be a seasonal operation from May to October. Staff will be reaching out to the community in the coming weeks to get feedback on desired products and services.