2014 GRANTS SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER CLIENT OF THE YEAR
La Tinaja, “The Watering Hole,” Nourishes the Community
La Tinaja Restaurant and Trading Post was reinvented and opened for business by Ira Vandever just over a year ago. A Navajo restaurant, community center and one-time drinking haunt of Billy the Kid, it is located south of Grants, NM on the Trail of the Ancients between the Ice Caves and El Morro National Monument. At La Tinaja, which means “the watering hole”, the Vandevers also grow and serve fresh organic produce, along with locally raised poultry and meats.
In service to their community, La Tinaja is much more than a restaurant. Their community garden produces fresh vegetables that are picked, cooked and served to their customers. They also purchase a large amount of what is served from local farmers, hoping to revive a culture rich in agriculture and sustainable living. Local textiles and artwork is also offered for sale or trade. La Tinaja’s outdoor amphitheater is also a regular site where free Music Is Medicine music lessons are taught to the youth of the community. There is also a ceremonial arena where traditional tribal performances, dances and bonfires take place. Tourists and locals alike are treated to the traditional stories and foods of the Navajo, the largest remaining indigenous tribe in the world.
Ira Vandever and his mother Mary went to NMSU Grants SBDC for help in all aspects of opening and operating the new business. Clemente Sanchez and Gerrie Ortiz were instrumental in helping launch the restaurant, while offering advice and technical support throughout the first year of operation. With no prior business experience, Ira and Mary relied on the expertise of the SBDC staff to keep them on course during this first year of start-up challenges.
La Tinaja has already opened a second site, Tinaja Express, in Grants, NM. The plan is to expand and hopefully franchise the Express concept of a limited service restaurant or sandwich shop in communities near and far. Trip Advisor and Yelp have La Tinaja ranked as a five-star experience, and CNN Travel Magazine just featured La Tinaja as a top destination where travelers can experience authentic Navajo culture and cuisine. They have been featured in the Gallup Independent and the Cibola County Beacon as a must-visit New Mexico destination.