Thursday, February 22, 2018

Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Café owners Putt and Jill Thompson stand in front their business, which they have run together since 1985.Jon Fighter, kitchen manager at the café, sprinkles flour over an Indian taco before flattening it out and boiling it in oil.

‘The business built on fry bread’

Indian taco from Crow Agency café spotlighted by Oprah Magazine
Down the road from Little Bighorn Battlefield, the Indian tacos start cooking at 7:30 a.m. Described by manager Rhonda Elhard as “the business built on fry bread,” Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Café produces more than 10,000 of these tacos per year from its teepee-marked spot along Highway 212 in Crow Agency.
As oil bubbled from a metal container in the café on afternoon, kitchen manager Jon Fighter removed a mound of dough from a cookie sheet and placed it on a bread board, then took a handful of flour and sprinkled it over the dough. Flour makes the dough easier to knead and flatten with a rolling pin, before it’s boiled in oil and topped with meat, cheese, beans, vegetables and sour cream.
“I get it about tennis ball size, then I tuck and roll it with my fingers, like so,” Fighter said as he worked to fill an order for a busload of visitors. “Don’t forget to put a hole in the middle. It keeps it from rising too much.”
The café’s Indian taco was spotlighted this summer in the July issue of O, The Oprah Magazine for their article, “The Best Thing to Eat In Every State.” Sharing a place on the Montana entry with Ford’s Drive-In in Great Falls (“its obelisk-like sign a beacon of nostalgic delight”), the article calls the Trading Post’s fry bread “a deep-fried, puffy disc of goodness.”
“If you’ve never had Native American fry bread…do so on hallowed ground,” the entry states. “Custer Battlefield Trading Post Café in Crow Agency serves it up as a taco bursting with beef and beans.”
Trading Post personnel were unaware they had been chosen by the magazine – owned by media mogul Oprah Winfrey and Hearst Communications – until they were notified by the staff via phone call.
“They had gone through the state, picking food they thought was unique,” Elhard said. “They asked us if we’d want to be in their magazine. Of course, we said yes.”
The café has offered Indian tacos since its start in 1985 and maintained the same recipe – when its suppliers changed the flour or beans, café owners Putt and Jill Thompson noticed and made them change them back. According to Putt, he wants to lock in the “fresh and homemade” taste and fluffiness that has helped keep them in business over the decades.
And customers keep returning. Four years ago, the café had a seating capacity of 43. Now, it seats nearly 200: ninety-five inside and 100 on the outdoor patio.
“We do get a lot of repeat customers because we are on the freeway,” Putt said. “Sometimes they’ll call ahead and say, ‘Hey, are you guys open? We’re coming from Spokane, we want a taco and we want to make sure you’re open.’”
Putt said he feels the Trading Post & Café is plugged in with his immediate community, as well as the rest of Montana. If he doesn’t have a product at the café or trading post, he said, he will recommend nearby storefronts like the Battlefield Express Center in Crow Agency.
He and Elhard also encourage people to continue traveling along Highway 212 to sites such as Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. With this route, tourists stay in Montana for a longer period and spend money in the local area. Plus, he added, they get to see a natural monolith that makes its nearby competition pale in comparison.
To help customers both local and out-of-state, Elhard continued, she “expanded” her knowledge on special sites to see in Montana.
“If people come to Montana, we’re responsible for making them like it,” Putt said. “We want them to feel like we care about where you came from and where you’re going to. We’ll give you a map, we’ll speed your trip up, we’ll make you see something you’ve never seen before.”
Information about Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Café is available on Facebook or by calling (406) 638-2270.