A new food truck on Pine Ridge is serving up traditional food. The business offers a taste of the reservation to tourists and fresh meals to locals.
A glossy black food truck sits on a gravel lot outside of a convenience store. An image of a blue buffalo runs across the side next to bold white letters the read ‘Tatanka Trail Burgers and More’. Employees inside lean through a window and listen for customer’s lunch orders.
Trina Janis is a co-owner of the business. She opened the truck with her partner in late April.
“The whole concept was we wanted to provide fresh, made to order food with high quality, good ingredients that were healthy.”
Janis says they feature specialty items each week. A sign advertises the Tuesday specials—Indian tacos and ate tanka burgers.
“The most popular item on our menu is the Geo Philly. And our Phillys are all made with choice prime rib that we cook every morning—deli sliced thin. But the Geo Philly was actually designed by my son. It has bacon, mushrooms, onions and a special cheese sauce and then it’s put on a hoagie bun with the Philly meat. We didn’t know that this was going to happen but it ended up being like a customer favorite.”
The Tatanka Truck menu serves several dishes made with buffalo meat from South Dakota. Co-owner Donnie Ghost Bear says buffalo is leaner than beef. He says many people on the reservation don’t have access to fresh, healthy food because of the poor economy.
“Well, a lot of people know about buffalo meat, they know about the health benefits of it. And we want to try to promote and make it available for people to have a choice to eat healthier. Not only our Native American people, but people of all races.”
He says the business provides job opportunities to Native American people and affordable meal options to the community. They also plan to travel to surrounding cites with the truck, serving foods like fry bread and buffalo.
“To promote the Native American heritage and the buffalo and the connection that we have. You know, the buffalo’s been a survival animal for our people for forever—housing, food—every part of the buffalo is used. In the process we hope to educate people to that too. To let them know this is who we are and this is what we want to do—we choose to do this—is to bring buffalo meat into the cities which will produce choice for people and change for some at an affordable cost.”
Ghost Bear says starting the truck was a difficult process. He says they had to build a clientele fast to meet the costs of operation.
“In order for this business to work, we’ve got to hit the ground running. We’ve got to be a success from day one. Because in a normal loan situation, you have your operating cost in there. You have everything you need for six months to a year. We weren’t afforded that. So we came in here knowing that we was going to struggle. The food is great, everything’s great. It’s just that we have to do some really unique management here.”
Ghost Bear says if business takes off, they hope to open a permanent space on Pine Ridge. Eventually, he says, they plan to travel around the Black Hills so tourists have a chance to try traditional Native American food.