Seminoles boost beef business
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Less than a year after the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida finalized its $965 million purchase of Hard Rock International, the tribe has announced a new business venture: branded beef products.
Seminole Beef, branded in the tribe;s signature black and yellow logo, is a commercial brand of beef the tribe hopes will soon be widely available across the country. The first customer, appropriately enough, is the tribe's own restaurant at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., where Seminole Beef hamburgers sell for $2.95 each.
Seminole Beef was unveiled March 10. Although sales are restricted to Florida at the moment, the ultimate plan is to sell the beef in Indian casinos, restaurants, hotel chains, U.S. military bases and major supermarkets across the country, the tribe said in a press release. Steaks and other cuts of beef will follow.
The unveiling came a month after the Interior Department's Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development announced in a signing ceremony Feb. 11 that the Seminoles and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut had entered an agreement ''to establish a relationship of cooperation and coordination to promote and encourage business transactions, joint ventures, and other collaborative economic development initiatives'' with each other as well as with ''other tribal and Indian-owned businesses.''
The OIEED initiative seeks to match federally recognized producer tribes and Indian-owned businesses with purchaser tribes, helping tribes explore opportunities to collaborate economically and connect participating tribes with federal procurement opportunities and commercial markets worldwide.
''This signing ceremony celebrates a historic step in Indian country's economic development,'' Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Carl Artman said in a prepared statement. ''I applaud the leadership shown by the Mashantucket Pequot and Seminole people in their approach to creating a tribe-to-tribe economic circuit where resource rich, cash poor tribes can be linked to tribal-and Indian-owned businesses struggling to find markets for their goods and services. When tribes have the ability to chart their own success, economic prosperity is possible, and that is a goal we can all support.''
Richard Bowers Jr., president of the Seminoles' board of directors, said the collaboration would ''provide the buying power that will help other, less fortunate tribes in the country.''
Currently, the Seminole beef comes from the tribe's own ranching operation. The tribe raises more than 16,000 head of cattle on around 40,000 acres on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations. The ranches collectively are among the five largest cattle operations in the state. A computer chip is planted in each animal's ear to track them on the ranch and record their individual health histories.
The tribe plans to use other sources of beef as the demand grows, tribal spokesman Gary Bitner told Indian Country Today.
''Because of the potential for this to grow very quickly, they believe they will need a number of sources for the beef, but ideally it's all going to be from Indian country ranchers. I think a lot of the people involved in this project are really excited about it because it's an opportunity for tribes to partner in a worthwhile economic development opportunity.''
Previously, the tribe sold its cattle by auction. Now the tribe is taking control of the operation from the ranch to the plate. Being able to control the production process from grazing to table will enable the tribe to ensure quality and help control costs.
''I think the beef will be in high demand quickly because of the quality and the costs. The Seminoles cut costs by cutting out the middleman, where too much of the profit goes anyway,'' Bitner said.
The tribe has always taken care in raising its animals, Bitner said, and has raised cattle ever since the Spanish were driven out of Florida in the early 1800s. Tribal members rounded up the cattle that were left behind and began ranching.
New York-based ARK Restaurants, which operates seven fast-food facilities at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, is currently the major purchaser of Seminole Beef. The beef will be distributed through Cheney Brothers of West Palm Beach.
The Seminoles have a partnership with McGreevy's Mid West Meat Co., a fourth-generation, family-owned American Indian meat-processing company in Wichita, Kan.
Timothy McGreevy, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, said the majority of the employees in his small, certified 8(a) minority-owned company are American Indians from various tribes. He is partnering with the Seminole Tribe's business development division.
''As a Native American, it's very exciting for me to bring the tribes together through this venture,'' he said. ''My ancestors are looking down at me with pride.'' His grandfather, Emmett McGreevy Sr., and grandmother, Helen Fallis McGreevy, started the business in 1930.