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SALT LAKE CITY — Bleu Adams doesn't consider herself much of a "people person," which is why she knows she picked the wrong profession to be in — a profession she enjoys nonetheless.
Adams runs her own restaurant. She said she named her business after herself, calling it the "Black Sheep." With tattoos and a nose ring, she said she's always struggled to fit in.
Adams spent years on the Navajo Nation reservation, where her family lived in a traditional one-room home, called a hogan. Her family later moved to Provo when Adams was 11 years old.
"There was no running water, no electricity," she said of growing up on the reservation. "My oldest brother, it would rain, and he would put a bar of soap in our hand and shove us out in the rain, and that's how we would shower."
Despite the challenges, Adams says those were the best years of her life and shaped her into who she is today.
"My mother would make food — pies and burritos — and we'd take them around and sell them," she recalled. "And that's how we survived for a couple of years."
Adams built on her experiences, and now runs two successful restaurants — one in Provo, and one in Sugar House. Part of earning that success came from being extremely cautious, remembering what it was like to get by on so little.
"It took me about six years from when I wrote my business plan to actually opening," she said. "During that time, we would go to restaurants that had closed down and bought discounted equipment and put it in storage."
Now, along with her brother, who's the head chef in the kitchen at Black Sheep, Adams has made a life out of selling a unique blend of Native American-inspired food to people who may have never tasted it before.
"We're almost mythical," she laughed. "We're almost mythical creatures, here on our own land."
Adams said her people often struggle to build businesses and aren't represented well in the world of restaurants.
"Native Americans have contributed 2/3 of the world's agriculture," she said. "We've influenced every cuisine out there. This is a way to kind of get us back. Get us a voice."
And she's channeling her success back to the place where she grew up. Adams is spending her profits on setting up a place on the reservation — a business incubator called "IndigeHub," where others can learn how to use computers and get their businesses going.
"I want to create a place where people can go and have access to state of the art equipment — computers, iPads, and programs, everything from Word to Adobe Photoshop," she said. "And get mentorship on how to use that, and basic skills like how to write a resume, all the way up to how to write a business plan."
We're almost mythical. We're almost mythical creatures, here on our own land.
Adams says many on the reservation often struggle to get on their feet because much of the area lacks the necessary infrastructure businesses need. Her goal is to take what she's learned from the restaurant business and use it to teach others.
"My parents were always very giving," she said. "They taught us 'You don't succeed without your people benefiting from that success.'"
And that success is bringing big opportunities. The James Beard Foundation in New York, a renowned non-profit culinary arts group, is flying Adams to Boston for their "Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program," so she can learn from and help teach aspiring restaurateurs.
"It's an entrepreneurial workshop tailored towards women entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, and women chefs," she said.
A major accolade — one Adams couldn't be more proud of.