SD woman specializes in specialty foods

By Emily Arthur-Richardt
Aberdeen, South Dakota (AP) 4-08

When Lisa Little Chief Bryan decided to start her own business, she knew it was important to keep her family close by.

Little Chief Bryan is part owner of Little Chief Specialty Foods based out of Aberdeen. The business is made up of two other companies: Little Chief Fry Bread and the Native American Tea Co.

Jet Co., an Aberdeen financial company that specializes in venture capital and emerging businesses, is the other part owner.

“My husband and I discussed it,” Little Chief Bryan said. “It was important to me to have a company based around family values and ethics. We always talked about the importance of having family around.”

And they have been.

Her son, Clayton, does most of the sales and promoting. Daughter Laura spends a great amount of time attending business meetings with her mom and learning about the business – despite her young age. And son, Cliff, and Little Chief Bryan’s mom, Louise Schmidt, participate in a lot of the in-store demonstrations. Little Chief Bryan’s husband is a rancher in the Presho area.

“Both companies started with the idea of selling to the specialty stores,” Little Chief Bryan said. “Now, we’re trying to go to the mass market.”

While Little Chief Fry Bread company was started by Little Chief Bryan in 1993, she just purchased late last year the Native American Tea Co., which was started 18 years ago in Aberdeen.

All the tea is manufactured and shipped from offices in Aberdeen.

“We really liked the product,” Little Chief Bryan said. “I think it’s important, no matter what we do, to stand behind the product. It wasn’t hard in this case.”

In addition to Little Chief Bryan and her family, the company has five employees, including Operations Manager Jyl Aman and Production Manager John Aman.

The tea sells big in the New England states, California, Washington and Oregon, Little Chief Bryan said. It’s also popular in Italy, Denmark and Japan.

The fry bread mix is marketed through five major food distribution companies nationwide.

Little Chief Bryan started that side of the business from her home in the early 1990s. Until just recently, the business was home-based and run from Spearfish. Now, the fry bread mix, which comes from a recipe from Little Chief Bryan’s great-grandmother, is outsourced to a company in Illinois. Production is done there.

“We feel very optimistic about the future with both products,” said Little Chief Bryan, who grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in western South Dakota. “Now that we’ve opened the door to some different areas, we just want to keep going.”

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