Skoden Coffee reopens under new ownership
Tucked between several shops and eateries is a small coffee shop filled with the aroma of coffee beans and the warmth of a second home.
Two artistic Navajos build a safe, warm, and inviting space for the Navajo people on the reservation.
Daniel Tullie and Natasha John returned to the Navajo reservation in the summer of 2022 to build a new safe space for all Navajos to feel welcome. Skoden Coffee, a small business, opened last summer in 2021 in several locations under the ownership of Bleu Adams.
According to Tullie, Adams started the business back in 2021 in Utah, where the business grew, and the location in Window Rock opened in July 2022.
After months of business, Adams decided to sell the business for unknown reasons and alerted Tullie of the sale. According to Tullie, he asked many friends to collaborate with him to operate the business; he says that the shop helped to give him a reason to return to the Navajo Nation.
Tullie was raised in Phoenix, where many of his siblings and other family members still reside. He attended Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, where he met his future business partner Natasha John.
Tullie and John reconnected in August after nearly a decade without communication to collaborate on their new dream. Both business owners have big aspirations for their businesses.
“I came out to the reservation in April. I just got tired of living in the city, and my rent went up like $400 in a year,” Tullie said. “I want to live here; I want to be out here. For me out here, there’s got to be something that keeps me out on the reservation. I love coffee (and) I love the culture around coffee.”
Tullie is Kiyaa’áanii and born for Ta’neeszahnii, his cheii is Tótsohnii, and his paternal grandfather is Tó’aheedlíinii.
The two do not know the meaning behind the business’s name, but it’s speculated that it’s a business that offers coffee and resonates with Natives.
The surrounding area of the duo’s business is often littered with Navajos gathering together in the small Ch’íhootso Indian Market Place. Additionally, the wintery weather has covered the concrete walkways in the marketplace with a fresh coat of snow.
Inside the coffee shop is an atmosphere that feels like home. The space’s coziness is almost overwhelming, with the near-constant smell of cinnamon and cleaning products aided by the open-door kitchen in the back of the room.
To the left of the entrance is a high-rise table with a printer, a photo of the Navajo comedy duo James and Ernie, several plants, and a small poster for the business. On the right side of the establishment sits several pieces of furniture, including small high-rise tables and a small seating area with two chairs.
“The price was affordable, and it was a really good opportunity,” Tullie said. “I think the both of us collaborating on this would be a really good thing for the community. Especially because we both have creative backgrounds.”
The owners have a background in graphic design. However, Tullie penned most of the business flyers shared on social media via Instagram. Social media presence is important to the two as it helps to expand the reach of their business and bring in new customers from different areas of the reservation and the country.
Additionally, Tullie and John like to use Facebook specifically because it is a way to reach an older audience easier.
“I really want to be present in a lot of places where maybe people can’t travel to come here,” John said. “We want to bring great food; we want to bring great experiences, and that’s what I am wanting to put forth and to invest into the business.”
Investing in the future
After they acquired the business in November, the two separated for some time as John traveled internationally to Germany, where she and her partner reside.
During this time, Tullie stepped into the business owner and operator position as he experimented with recipes from the previous owner, improved the existing menu items, and created new ones.
“Neither of us are cooks, neither of us are baristas, but we are both creative, and we can make anything happen,” Tullie said.
A notable menu item at Skoden is the blue corn donuts that Tullie created during his shifts. Additionally, Tullie continued to invest in the business’s future as he purchased a donut maker and a pizza maker at a discounted price to improve their menu options.
According to Tullie, the coffee items on their menu are mostly Navajo tea-based. After he opened the shop, the neighboring business, Scott’s Food Stand, gave him some tea. The two owners continue to look for a supply or a solution to their shortage in the winter.
Tullie says he does not see neighboring businesses and other coffee shops as competitors but as separate businesses that accomplish their specialties.
The owners plan to keep their location in Window Rock open because of the community, and it is an opportunity for all the citizens in the area. However, if the business does become successful and grows, they hope to open more modular stations scattered throughout the Navajo reservation.
“I just want to create moments that feel like home,” John said. “Because I am queer, I also want it to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ relatives on the Navajo Nation, especially our trans relatives as well. That is incredibly important to me.”
In the future, Tullie and John wish for their business to continue flourishing and become a comfortable space for Navajos to grow in the community.
“Accessibility is really important for us. We are so grateful that people come,” John said. “We are already getting so much traction, and people are saying that they came from Farmington (and) there was somebody who came from the Bay area just to come in to try out some of our coffee.”
Skoden Coffee has participated in two business showcases and continues to expand and improve on the process that they have made thus far.