SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (ABP) — A coffeehouse on isolated Native American land is proof that a specialized business can succeed on a reservation in the middle of nowhere.
Just ask Belva Matthews. She was honored Sept. 7 as one of South Dakota's premiere entrepreneurs — for running a parsonage-turned-coffee-shop where faith is more valuable to her than profits.
For years, Matthews dreamed about creating a place where meaningful conversations about life and faith could occur. She thought a coffeehouse might be just the answer.
But Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota seemed the least likely place for such a specialized business to succeed. Mathews said she often wondered if a coffeehouse could survive in Shannon County, one of the poorest counties in the United States.
Higher Ground coffeehouse has done just that for more than three years. Situated in the former parsonage of Pine Ridge Gospel Fellowship Church, where her husband, Leon Matthews, serves as pastor, it won the 2007 Magnificent Seven cultural entrepreneurship award. The award is sponsored by the South Dakota Hall of Fame, South Dakota Magazine, Kilian Community College, McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service, and the Kelley Center for Entrepreneurship-Dakota Wesleyan University.
But civic associations aren't the only ones who recognize Matthews' good work. Together with her husband, Leon, Matthews has worked with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's rural poverty initiative for several years.
Known as Together for Hope, the initiative has partners in 20 counties working to reduce poverty.
What makes Matthews' coffeehouse unique, she said, is that it's not just stimulating the local economy. It's helping inspire a community, showing locals that good things can happen even in a poor area.
“[The coffeehouse] is a place that constantly encourages that there is hope and dreams can come true,” Matthews said. “I want to show that there is beauty even still on the [reservation].”
Matthews credited church members from First Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., with helping Higher Grounds succeed. Church members contributed money and labor toward creating a business space out of the former parsonage of Pine Ridge Gospel Fellowship Church, where Leon Matthews serves as pastor. Once nearly dilapidated, the building now has a cozy indoors sitting area, a large deck and flowers.
“What better way to witness to your neighbors than to share God's love in such an inviting atmosphere?” said Susan Omanson, the associate pastor at First Baptist. “[The coffeehouse] is a visible symbol of hope and transformation that is so needed on the reservations of South Dakota.”
Matthews said she wants the coffeehouse to grow, to be a safe space for conversations about faith, and to serve as an example that others can make business happen, too.
“I never set out to make a name for myself but just to help my reservation and help my hometown,” she said. “It's not me that has done this at all. My faith in God has played a huge part.”