Arrowhead Foods owner Martin Pilcher stands outside of his newly opened grocery store in Whiteclay, Nebraska, near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Josh Morgan/Rapid City Journal)
Josh Morgan/Rapid City Journal
Arrowhead Foods owner Martin Pilcher stands outside of his newly opened grocery store in Whiteclay, Nebraska, near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Native-Owned Grocer Draws Crowds to Whiteclay for Chicken, Not Booze

Mary Annette Pember
2/1/16

Terry Two Bull’s guacamole is so good that people are willing to lie for it it. Two Bulls is also the “chicken guy” at Arrowhead Foods, the first Native owned business in Whiteclay, Nebraska, near the Pine Ridge reservation in neighboring South Dakota.

Martin Pilcher, Lakota from Pine Ridge, who bought Arrowhead Foods in December, recently described the guacamole incident. “A lady called up and asked if we had any guacamole left. It’s really good and people like it; we had one container left. She asked me to save it for her and I said I would,” Pilcher recalls.

Unfortunately Pilcher didn’t get the woman’s name, so when a lady showed up near closing time asking if there was any guacamole left he asked her if she was the one who had called.

“She kind of paused for a minute but then she smiled and said, “Why, yes, I am the one,” he said.

“Not 15 minutes later the lady who had actually called came in asking for the guacamole. It was kind of embarrassing and she was unhappy but we just laughed about the lady who lied to get the last container!” Pilcher said.

Martin Pilcher, left, and his son Dominic, middle, ring up and bag groceries for Teresa Blacksmith on January 11 at Arrowhead Foods. (Josh Morgan/Rapid City Journal)

Most of the media attention for the tiny town of Whiteclay has focused on alcoholism and dependency issues noted an article in the Rapid City Journal about Pilcher’s purchase of Arrowhead Foods.

Indeed Whiteclay is notorious for its high alcohol sales to residents of the neighboring Pine Ridge Reservation. According to ICTMN, the reservation was first declared dry when it was formed in the mid-1800s. Bootleggers almost immediately set up shop across the border in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on the southern border of the reservation.

RELATED: Oglalas Ask Courts to Cap Whiteclay Beer Sales

Whiteclay has been at the center of discussions about the high rates of alcoholism and associated social and public health issues on Pine Ridge for many years.  Activists seeking to draw attention to the high alcohol sales have repeatedly marched on the town.  According to the Rapid City Journal, Whiteclay, with its dozen residents and four liquor stores, sell an average of 13,000 cans of bear each year. The sales are almost entirely made to residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, famously noted, “Whiteclay can be said to exist only to sell beer to the Oglala Lakota.”

But now Whiteclay might also exist to sell Terry Two Bull’s fried chicken and guacamole to the Oglala Lakota. “We sell, at a minimum, 200 orders of chicken per day,” noted Pilcher.

The customers as well as the eight employees of Arrowhead Foods are all Native, according to Pilcher.

“In the past, Whiteclay has been all about beer sales and people on the street, the only real picture that the world gets to see. They don’t’ see the good things that are happening in Whiteclay. It’s not all beer and drunks,” Pilcher told the Rapid City Journal.

Arrowhead foods does not sell alcohol; Pilcher has no plans to do so. “This is a grocery store; we are family oriented,” he said.

Pilcher’s family is pitching in to work at the store. His wife Rhianon, sons Domnick and Julian, as well as his brother Lyle, are all helping out.

Jennifer Martin and Lyle Pilcher make fresh deli sandwiches for customers on January 11 at Arrowhead Foods (Josh Morgan/Rapid City Journal)

“It’s been going good so far. We are trying to keep things priced right. We got it nice and clean and bright in here. People are saying they like that it is Native owned, too,” Pilcher noted.

Pilcher had worked at the store several times in the past as a favor to his friend, Jason Schwarting, the previous owner.

“One day Jason asked me if I wanted to buy his store. He owns the bar next door and I think it was too much for him to run two businesses.” Pilcher recalls.

Raising the money to buy the store was a challenge. “When you grow up in Pine Ridge, you don’t have a lot of skin in the game,” he noted wrly.

Fortunately, Lakota Funds, a community development organization, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, a Native finance group, and The First National Bank in Gordon, South Dakota, worked with Pilcher; he officially took over on December 3, 2015.

The staff, which also worked for Schwarting, has stayed on. “They (the staff) are my backbone,” Pilcher noted.

Arrowhead Foods has a Facebook page where customers can check out daily deli and grocery specials. Customer reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with a rating of 4.8 out of 5.

“I will be calling you today to order 100 pieces of your delicious fried chicken for next Friday. We have a Riding Free Women’s Program at Wanblee. I know the ladies will enjoy your chicken for lunch,” said Linda Foust Grajewski.

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