Sue and Gary Raccine’s business journey kicked off when Gary spotted an ad in the local newspaper for a snack shop in a local strip mall in Cut Bank, Montana, just outside of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. 

The married couple, both members of the Blackfeet Nation, spent several months applying for loans from area banks, only to be rejected. 

“No bank in the area would finance us,” Gary said.

Then he ran into Patty Gobert (Blackfeet), loan administrator for NACDC Financial Services Inc. Inc., a Native CDFI serving Native Americans throughout the state of Montana with loan products and technical assistance.

“Patty said, ‘Hey, did anything ever happen with the business you wanted to buy?'” Gary said. “I told her that I had just, in fact, gotten off the phone with another bank an hour before, and they rejected us. So Patty said, ‘Why don’t you come on down to NACDC and let’s see what we can do.'” 

Browning, Mont.-based NACDC launched in 2010 and began lending in 2011 with a revolving loan fund. It became certified as a Native CDFI in 2012.

Today, the Native CDFI offers a range of business loans, credit builder loans, home and car loans, as well as technical assistance. Its revolving loan fund tops $13 million with more than 700 loans, including dozens of small business loans. 

NACDC Financial Services Executive Director Angie Main (Fort Belknap Gros Ventre Tribe) said that while the CDFI aims to help its clients become worthy borrowers at mainstream financial institutions, many choose to continue working with NACDC and even build their credit.

“A lot of people have stayed with us, mainly, I think, because our staff is Native American, and we can relate to our borrowers,” Main said. 

Gary and Sue purchased the snack shop for $60,000 with financing from NACDC Financial Services in 2014.

Five years later, they returned to the CDFI when a greater opportunity came. The Big Sky Cafe — a full-service restaurant that had become a staple in the small Cut Bank community — and the building it was in was up for sale. 

The more than 100-year-old building had been empty for a year and a half. Above the cafe, it had two apartments. In addition to the purchase price of $100,000, renovations to bring it up to code would require an additional $75,000. 

“We went to NACDC again to talk to them about it. We didn’t talk long when they said, ‘We’re going to back you,'” Sue said. 

Gary and Sue emphasized they knew little about the restaurant business. The snack shop served easy-to-prepare food, using equipment like microwaves, a steamer, and a hot dog roller. They knew the cafe would be a much bigger undertaking. 

“They [NACDC Financial Services] jumped on the bandwagon with us; they were very willing to help,” Gary said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where we would be today. They really helped us, from the beginning until now.”

Gobert said that Gary and Sue’s character and work in the community played a big role in evaluating them as borrowers.

“I’ve known Gary for a long time, I’ve always been impressed with his integrity, and he has always been a hard worker,” Gobert said. “He was always out in the community, doing things and had leadership qualities that stood out. He was always going above and beyond for the community.”

Gary and Sue developed a business plan and gladly collaborated with NACDC Financial Services to improve it before qualifying for lending. Gobert said that the willingness to put ego aside and create the best business plan can be what sets some potential borrowers apart.

“They had a dream, and they were pursuing it, and we had the opportunity to help them obtain it — to reach for the stars for them,” Gobert said. “They were open to adjusting their ideas and open to other ideas to make it work. That is what has to happen.”

Today, The Big Sky Cafe is four years old and is a gathering place for the community. They serve classical American fare, like burgers, prime rib, and grilled cheese. NACDC Financial Services continues to walk alongside them, checking in often and offering technical assistance where needed. Recently, NACDC helped them analyze their cost structure, rewrite their menu and adjust their prices. 

“They have been committed since day one; they jumped right in,” Main said. “We wanted to champion them, and in turn, they always champion us, too. It’s a team effort and we are all a part of the team.” 

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Difference Makers 2.0 is a new yearlong series that highlights how Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) work alongside their small business clients to accelerate change and create economic opportunities in Native communities. Join the Native CDFI Network and Tribal Business News as they shine a spotlight on the people accelerating economic change in Indian Country. Read the stories here and be sure to tune into the Difference Makers 2.0 podcast.