The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has voted to award the operating contract for Pine Ridge's sole grocery store to Buche Foods, replacing a company that has run the Sioux Nation Shopping Center since it opened 50 years ago.
When Buche Foods opens for business in Pine Ridge, it will have four grocery stores in the state. Mission, Wagner and Gregory are the locations of the others, according to its website.
"It just seemed like a real good fit for us," RF Buche, president of Buche Foods, said in a phone interview.
He said the company operates on the Rosebud Reservation and has been interested in bringing its services to Pine Ridge for several years. The company also has convenience stores — called Gus Stops — in Lake Andes, White River, Wagner and Mission. The business was started by Gus Buche, the great-grandfather of RF Buche, in 1905 in Lake Andes.
The tribal council voted 10-4 on Nov. 9 to award the new contract, said Richard Greenwald, a representative for the Pine Ridge District.
The vote was about whether to award the contract to Buche Foods or Hi-Way 20, the current operator of the Sioux Nation grocery store whose lease is set to expire, Greenwald said.
"They just wanted to give somebody the opportunity to produce something better for the people," he said of the tribal council's vote.
Greenwald said he voted to retain Hi-Way 20 after receiving a petition with 2,000 signatures from his district that supported the business.
"I'm OK with Buche trying something different, but at the time I had to go with my district," he said.
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Buche said he's not sure if the store will continue to be called Sioux Nation. He said he'd like to incorporate "Buche Foods" into the name while also making it clear that the store serves the Lakota people. It's "their store," he said.
Buche Foods is set to take over operations Dec. 31. Sioux Nation should remain open during the transition, but if it can't, Buche Foods will provide free transportation to a nearby town so residents can buy groceries, the company said on pineridgeanswers.com.
Buche Foods has hosted events on the reservation so people could learn about the company and how the transition will work.
All employees will keep their jobs and current hours, the website says. The company suggests it will offer lower prices than the previous operator and that it would like to open more stores on the reservation. It says it will donate to the local community and stock organic, natural and local food and produce.
Aaron Cohn, CEO of Hi-Way 20, said his father opened the grocery store 50 years ago.
"The tribe just decided to go in a different direction," he said of the vote.
He said he hopes to open a grocery store elsewhere on the reservation after receiving support from local residents. "The community wants us to," he said.
Sioux Nation was temporarily shut down by the tribe in 2012 after an Indian Health Service inspection revealed 11 “critical” violations in the meat department, including employees mixing spoiled hamburger with fresh hamburger and repackaging it for sale. It re-opened after the problems were addressed.