Steven Toya esp.
The Dibe Biccino crew from left to right: Jody Manuelito, Toby Manuelito, Klee Benally, Princess Benally, Yves Kinney, Leslynn Begay, Lyncia Begay, Crystal Kinney, and Steven Toya esq. (Not pictured: Shelby Ray)

A Bold Blend: Navajos Behind Dibe Biccino Create Buzz With Traveling Coffee Shop Cooperative


Company Name: Dibe Biccino
Type of business: A traveling coffee shop
Owners: Leslynn Begay, Lyncia Begay, Klee Benally, Princess Benally, Yves Kinney, Crystal Kinney, Shelby Ray and Steven Toya
How long in business: Since October 2012
Advice for other business owners: “It's clear that capitalism is not working in our communities, so we encourage other entrepreneurs to implement alternative business models that are more just and complementary to sustaining culture and the environment.”

Take one espresso machine, add 10 good-hearted entrepreneurs, pour them into a worthy cause, and what do you get? Dibe Biccino, a traveling coffee shop founded by some enterprising Navajos, based out of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The idea to sell coffee percolated from the need to raise funds for Outta Your Backpack Media (OYBM), a grassroots, community-based organization through which Dibe Biccino’s founders met and work as volunteers.  At OYBM, indigenous youth are mentored about the need for media justice in our communities, and taught how to tell their unique stories through free filmmaking workshops.

“We want to buy the building where OYBM operates,” says 28-year-old Princess Benally, a founder and spokesperson for Dibe Biccino who makes her living as a program coordinator for Northern Arizona University.

With that one espresso machine and an original $2,000 investment in  coffee, grinders, a canopy, a generator, a 275-gallon water tank, cups and sugar, Dibe Biccino was up and running in just 45 days, selling organic Chiapas Mexican coffee at their first stop, the 2012 Shiprock Fair, or Northern Navajo Nation Fair, in New Mexico.  Since then, the group has traveled to three other fairs to sell their coffee, and to date, have brewed about $4,000 in profit.

While no one in the group has ever started a business before, they are using a unique business model that seems to be working well. “It’s a worker cooperative,” said 25-year-old Steven Toya, another founder and campus photographer for the University of Flagstaff. “Everybody who is part of Dibe Biccino owns it and runs it, so we all have a voice.” Toya said that after the agreed-upon profits are donated to the OYBM building fund, the group decides how much of the remaining profit goes back into the coffee enterprise, and how much they keep for themselves. “We do make some money, personally. But not as much as you would think.”

True to their mission to support worthy causes, Dibe Biccino brews only organic coffee from Chiapas, Mexico, to help support an indigenous group fighting the government there. “The Zapatistas are resisting the North American Free Trade Agreement which they believe will further increase the distance between the rich and the poor people,” explains Benally.

And what would a cup of great coffee be without a delicious pastry to go with it? At the Shiprock Fair, Dibe Biccino also sold cinnamon rolls and cookies made by Jessica Luna, a Navajo baker in Tuba City, Arizona, who doesn’t have a storefront, but is also a hard-working business owner who the group wanted to support.

So what exactly does “Dibe Biccino” mean? “Dibe” is the Dine’ word for “sheep,”  “Bi” means “they,” and “ccino” is a shortened form of “cappuccino.” Literally, Benally says, “it’s almost like saying ‘the sheep’s cappuccino,’” which makes no sense at all. “We just thought it sounded fun.”

The entrepreneurial coffee klatch hopes to open its own local shop in Flagstaff someday – and possibly on the Navajo reservation, too. As another co-founder and artist Lyncia Begay says: “It’s a wonderful feeling to help yourself and your community. You hear a lot of people saying, ‘You can’t.’ And when you do something like this, it’s empowering and you think, ‘Oh, I can do many things.’”

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