Cherokee Nation citizen Tyler Choate, of TTA Construction, is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business owner who has built multiple CN and custom-built homes since starting his business in 2012. COURTESY
TTA Construction sees success as TERO vendor
This Cherokee Nation New Construction home being built is one of more than 100 homes constructed by the CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business TTA Construction, owned and operated by CN citizen Tyler Choate. COURTESY
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Tyler Choate grew up learning the construction business from his father. He eventually parlayed those lessons into a successful business called TTA Construction.
Choate’s construction venture, however, didn’t have an easy start. After the recent economic recession took a toll on his father’s business, he started doing pipeline work. When that didn’t work out, Choate’s first business venture was selling portable buildings, which didn’t last.
Being out of business and work, Choate built his way back into the construction world in 2012. He collected tools and equipment to start a business, and the CN’s Tribal Employment Rights Office certified him as a vendor.
One of his first jobs was helping construct the South Ridge apartments in Tahlequah.
“I literally drove down, walked into the job trailer and ask the guy ‘do you have anyone that’s hanging you all’s dry wall?’” Choate said.
While working at the apartment complex, Choate discovered he won a CN contract to hang dry wall in 30 tribal homes.
From there, Choate’s business grew. He spent days working jobs and driving to job sites handing out business cards. When he came home, he caught up on paperwork.
In the first year, Choate’s business made approximately $50,000. However, it’s doubled in revenue each year since.
“The first year I made $50,000 and I’d have to pay people out of that and buy tools. I barely just survived. But I managed to pay my credit card bills that I had taken out to buy tools,” Choate said. “Every year since then we’ve doubled our revenue. So hopefully we can keep doing that.”
In 2016, TTA Construction was named the Construction Company of the Year at the tribe’s annual TERO awards banquet.
“We’re 100 percent Native American-owned, and I’m pretty proud of being Native American-owned,” he said. “I feel like in this part of the country there’s actually more doors open to me because Cherokee Nation has such a great influence.”
Choate said his company in 2016 built 50 CN homes and that it’s built more than 100 homes in the past few years. His business also constructs custom homes.
As a construction management business, TTA Construction provides services such as general contracting, design build, pre-construction, sustainable and green construction, facility maintenance, emergency services and repairs and specialty projects.
Choate said he wants to grow TTA into a multi-million dollar business and take on entire construction projects.
For more information, call 918-773-7127 or visit www.ttaconstruction.com
TAHLEQUAH – Seasoned and newly emerging Cherokee artists gained business information during a Native Artist Professional Development Training on April 4-5 at the Cherokee Arts Center.
The First Peoples Fund hosted the training as part of its community workshop program, and its goal is to help Native artists become successful entrepreneurs. The FPF provided the course materials while Cherokee artists Matthew Anderson and MaryBeth Timothy taught the training.
“Most of us don’t have that business mind, and so First Peoples Fund comes in and helps us with that,” Timothy said. “I know with me, when I took the First Peoples Fund training here it just opened my eyes to so many things that I wasn’t sure of. Now that I realize that we have so many resources, I’m not afraid to go out and look and ask for help, and I think that’s really important for a lot of artists around here."
Training topics included creating a business plan, writing for grants and loans, marketing, crafting a successful portfolio and balancing time between operating a business and being an artist. Each participant was also asked to give a presentation at the training’s end.
“It’s a chance for them to step outside the box,” Timothy said. “Some of them have never done that before, and so we give them a little guideline and it shows how to present yourself because part of this whole thing is not just selling your art, you’re selling yourself.”
Cherokee Nation citizen Isaiah Soap, who completed both training days, said he attended to learn from established artists.
“It’s hard to start, especially being a Native artist and getting your business out there, but the people here are really nice and great with helping,” he said. “I think it will help out a lot of artists around here that took the training because I know they’re already well established, so it was good to get their knowledge.”
Soap said he comes from a line of artists specializing in beadwork and realized he wanted to make that passion into a business while attending Northeastern State University. “When I was in college at NSU is really whenever it hit me that I could make money while I was in school because I didn’t have a full-time job, and it would have been a lot to do. It would have been more stress if I had gotten a full-time job, whereas my beadwork was like a stress reliever from school and then I could still make money doing it.”
During the training, Soap pitched his artwork and began setting goals.
“The training definitely helps us to know where we want to go from where we are now,” he said. “In the training we were taught to set some goals for like five years from now or 10 years from now and where we see ourselves as an artist. It also gave us a lot of insight on how we can promote our work and the clientele that we have and how we can set up our work.”
FPF President Lori Pourier said the national program began in the 1990s and that the community training in Tahlequah is made possible because of its “Teach Back” component.
“MaryBeth and Matthew are there to do their ‘Teach Back’ because they’ve already gone through the training, and now they’re testing it to see if they want to continue doing it and working with the curriculum,” she said. “Several folks down in that area have gone on to be a trainer and then those folks usually train within the tribe or within the state. I think we have 50 or more certified trainers now across the country from Maine to Barrow, Alaska, to Cherokee Nation.”
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.firstpeoplesfund.org" target="_blank">www.firstpeoplesfund.org</a>.
VIAN – Less than a mile from Interstate 40 and 5 miles from Lake Tenkiller, two Cherokee-owned businesses are thriving in Vian.
Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are the idea of Cherokee Nation citizens Suzanne Sullivan and Callie Prier, who are also mother and daughter.
“We opened this store (Morning Sky Boutique) a little over three years ago, and we carry clothing, jewelry, shoes,” Prier, the daughter, said. “And we have another building, Evening Shade Mercantile, and it’s home and gift.”
Prier said her family worked together to make the idea a reality.
“Well, originally we bought Morning Sky Boutique, which was the old Vian Sundry Store and many things before that. My mom and I purchased the building. My husband remodeled the building,” she said.
Prier said they started with just clothing and jewelry on a smaller scale.
“We got good responses from the community and tourism and all that,” she said. “So, a year after we purchased Morning Sky, we purchased Evening Shade Mercantile, and we’ve made that into the home and gift side so the boutique could be women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry and things like that.”
Prier said it was her mom who knew about the tribe’s Small Business Loan program.
“They (CN) actually helped us a lot,” Prier said. “We got the small business loan quickly, and they have been super helpful with anything we needed afterwards.”
Sullivan said she knows the area well. Born in nearby Sallisaw, she’s been a community volunteer and organizer in Vian for the past 30 years. Sullivan said the advice and information she received from Commerce Department Executive Director Anna Knight and Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelly was crucial to her and Prier before making the decision to open the businesses.
“They, along with (the) Commerce Department’s Steven Highers, have so much wisdom and knowledge of the area and just how things work. We work really, really hard to find items that are interesting and unique, while varied in price range. We think we have something for everyone here,” Sullivan said. “We’re getting ready to start a new men’s line, but we already carry men’s products. We carry some Pendleton and Ted Baker and some Gentlemen’s Hardware, but we’re really excited about just getting approved to carry Patagonia. Plus, Callie just picked up a line call The Normal Brand.”
As for women’s brands, Morning Sky Boutique carries Sympli and Joseph Ribkoff, Comfy and others.
“We carry a lot Johnny Was women’s wear. In jewelry, we have French Kande and Love Tokens and many others. We also carry children’s Kickee pants,” Sullivan said.
Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are located at 106 S. Thornton St. They are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information, call 918-773-5000 or visit <a href="http://www.morningskyboutique.com" target="_blank">www.morningskyboutique.com</a> or search Facebook.
FORT GIBSON – Cherokee Nation citizen Jon Griggs and his friend, Alex Miller, co-own Limitless Nutrition, which recently opened as a one-stop nutrition shop.
The two former basketball players said they’ve always been into fitness, which led to an interest in nutrition and a desire to open a nutrition store. Griggs, who is also a real estate agent, said he learned of a storefront rental listing and he could not “pass it up.”
“We talked about doing a business together for about seven years. We initially thought about opening a gym, but over the years we realized the importance in fueling your body the right way. Your physical and mental output is heavily dependent on your nutrition intake,” Griggs said. “So our purpose is to provide a healthy solution to anyone interested in improving their health, fitness, mental or physical performance or overall self-image.”
Limitless Nutrition is located at 1205 S. Lee St. It offers everything from fitness advice and supplements to nutritional smoothies, shakes and teas, Griggs said.
He said they offer pre-workout supplements, proteins, multivitamins, fat burners, natural herbs, energy teas, all-natural skin care products and nootropics, a brain booster for focus and energy. He also said they carry supplement brands to cater to costumers. “We are pretty unlimited to what we can get and what we can carry. If we don’t carry a certain product you’re looking for, we will get it for you.”
However, to set it apart from being just a supplement and vitamin store, the team partnered with PowerBlendz, a health and wellness company, to add a made-to-order smoothie bar.
Griggs said the smoothie menu consists of meal-replacement, energizer, fat-burner, protein and recovery shakes, as well as shakes geared toward cutting carbs and calories. They also have ingredients to make pre-workout and post-workout drinks made with real fruit, he said.
“We don’t use any artificial flavoring. We provide pure protein and zero-sugar products, so our products have less calories per serving. You can get a full serving of greens from our organic greens supplements, and we can add fiber supplements too, so basically you can get like a full multivitamin shake,” Griggs said.
Instead of a grab-and-go facility, he said they want to provide the community with a comfortable atmosphere where costumers can enjoy their drinks and complementary Wi-Fi. In addition to seeing the business succeed locally, Griggs said they hope to expand to Tahlequah and across the state. They also are developing fitness plans for those needing guidance, as well as providing delivery services for smoothies and nutrition drinks to Fort Gibson and Muskogee businesses.
“A lot of people are doing the meal-replacement shake for lunch, so if a business wants to order our shakes or even a teas we will deliver it to them,” Griggs said.
He said they are looking to partner with high school and college sports teams, too. “We would provide them with products to help with performance and recovery, like hydration products, amino acids and protein drinks.”
Griggs also said they offer a 5 percent discount to students and CN citizens, as well as military, police and firefighter personnel. Business hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information call 918-777-3315 or follow Limitless Nutrition Fort Gibson on Facebook.
LOCUST GROVE – The Cherokee-owned SSLG Trading Group celebrated the grand opening of its family-owned housewares resale business with a ribbon cutting on March 5.
SSLG stands for Susan (Standingwater), Stephanie (Standingwater-Cutrer), Lawrence (Standingwater) and Gabriel (Cutrer). Located at 524 E. Main St., it’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Standingwater-Cutrer and her father, Lawrence, are Cherokee Nation citizens who worked with their spouses to open the business, which started from the back of a truck and has upgraded to a storefront.
The store merchandise sells at lower-than-retail pricing, she said. “At the start of it we bought palletized general merchandise from a warehouse in Arkansas, and it was from major retailers, and we were able to buy it at a decent price. So I decided at that moment that everything I was going to offer for people to buy was going to be half or less (than retail).”
Its merchandise includes kitchenware, tables, television stands, dressers, cell phones cases, books and clothing that one can find in Wal-Mart, Costco, Cato’s or Bill’s Sporting Goods, she said.
Standingwater-Cutrer added that the business stemmed from wanting to add diversity to the town’s business sector.
It will also serve as a resource for people in need. Standingwater-Cutrer said SSLG is networking with the Pryor Area Resource Alliance, a nonprofit organization, to help people pay rent or utilities to buying food or help those in need of substance abuse rehabilitation by connecting them to resources.
“I want to be an example for the kids. We’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Or trying to,” Standingwater-Cutrer said. “I’m just trying to be obedient and do what I feel in my heart that I need to do.”
She said the community has been supportive of her family’s business and efforts, and there is “not really a competition” between businesses. “Everyone’s wanting to better the community.”
She said local residents have also wanted to help the business in some way such as being a cashier or helping with inventory. “We have people that have different talents that want to help us fight what we’re striving for. Everyone else is seeing the bigger picture.”
In addition to getting the business thriving, Standingwater-Cutrer said she and her family are looking to add 1,300 square feet of space to the existing 500 square feet where the store resides. Another goal is to become CN Tribal Employment Rights Office certified as an Indian-owned business.
“It all started with a couple Cherokees on their homestead. I actually have a lot of pride in being Cherokee. We actually just want to bring networking, diversity and being a resource,” Standingwater-Cutrer said.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Two Cherokee Nation citizens were recently announced as participants of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma’s 2018 Leadership Native Oklahoma class.
Amber Anderson, a University of Oklahoma Health Services Center research epidemiologist, and Brandi Payton, a CN Cooweescoowee Health Center administrator, join 41 other 2018 LNO participants.
According to the AICCO, the LNO is a “leadership opportunity” for business and governmental leaders in Indian Country to broaden their networks and sharpen their understanding of self-governance and self-determination.
“I am very appreciative and excited to be selected for this year’s cohort of Leadership Native Oklahoma. Past program participants have shared some of their experiences and I am looking forward to collaborating with Native leaders throughout the state,” Anderson said. “Most importantly, my hope is that I will come out of this program with new knowledge, relationships, and skills to better equip me in my effort to help improve the health of our Cherokee people and Indian County.”
Payton, who in 2015 helped open the Washington County-based Cooweescoowee Health Center, said she’s also dedicated to the betterment of health for the American Indian population, and it has become the focus of her professional life. She’s also taken interest in tribal sovereignty and policy after finishing a fellowship in 2016 with the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C.
“I am honored to be afforded this opportunity. I feel that participating in LNO will further develop my leadership skills as well as will enhance my knowledge outside of my field,” she said. “I look forward to networking with and learning from some of the finest in Indian Country in hopes of continuing to serve my community to the best of my ability.”
This year’s LNO course will include seven monthly sessions of team building and educational sessions, including a two-day “Indianpreneurship Course.” The LNO class will also include professionals with a diverse selection of backgrounds and skill sets in hopes of building a bond unrivaled by other organizations across the state.
“The value of LNO is especially important for the group to be introduced to tribal policy, sovereignty, and commerce,” AICCO President Bailey Walker (Chickasaw) said.
The AICCO is an organization in which American Indian businesses, tribal leaders and other businesses can come together with innovative ideas that will promote and enhance the success of all American Indian people.
“LNO is a unique opportunity to foster cohesiveness from a group of tribal leaders and future tribal leaders. The hours spent together will create a bond between the participants based on respect and interaction to identify, evaluate and implement projects that are of value to Native American businesses in Oklahoma, said AICCO Executive Director and LNO Chairwoman Annetta Abbott (Choctaw). “The LNO program continues to grow and has received a great response from the participants and the tribes.”
STILWELL – After graduating college in Colorado, Joe Fletcher returned to Oklahoma looking to make his next move.
He noticed some barbecue trucks popping up in Arkansas in towns such as Fort Smith and Fayetteville. This made him want to try this new-style eatery in Oklahoma, which led him to start Okie Joe’s BBQ in 2005.
“We had seen them, kind of, this new-style thing, so we decided we’d build one and just try it and see what happened,” he said. “So we actually started up in (West) Siloam (Springs) and stayed there about a year and moved back to Stilwell, where we didn’t know if it would make it or not, and 13 years later here we are.”
Fletcher said Okie Joe’s menu began with items such as brisket sandwiches and baked beans, but has expanded to include other smoked choices.
“We have a Super Okie Baked Potato now where we take a baked potato, open it up, pile it full of meat, cover it with cheese. We have our Okie Joe sandwich. That’s our signature sandwich. It’s got all four meats on it: a slice of bologna, a link cut up and then a little bit of beef, a little bit of pork,” he said.
From its humble beginnings in a trailer, Fletcher has made Okie Joe’s a place you can enjoy no matter the season by adding a deck and a place to eat when the weather is inclement.
“When you come in it’s still a little bit hot or cold on the deck depending on the weather,” he said. “So it’s a place you can come in the spring or the fall and all the screens are open on the deck so it’s like being outside on a porch.”
With Okie Joe’s continuous growth, Fletcher is planning to add a drive-thru window and a larger kitchen space later this year.
“We have a lot of business in the evening. No one wants to get out of their car to take their food home, so we think a drive-thru will help this business,” he said. “So we’re going to go ahead and add a drive-thru and a small kitchen where we can add a few more menu options but still keep the rustic atmosphere that we have today.”
When eating barbecue at Okie Joe’s, Fletcher said there’s “no stranger” that walks through the door.
“We’re a small community here in Stilwell. It is a tough place to make a living, but we have the respect of our customers. We treat them right,” he said. “There’s no stranger when they come in the door. Everybody’s treated well.”
Okie Joe’s BBQ is at 210 S. Second St. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information, call 918-696-4637.
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