The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Brewers sector is Jake Keyes.
If anyone owns the romantic version of a startup, it’s Jake Keyes.
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Keyes converted a passion into a bona fide business. But getting there involved a dark twist.
Keyes, a member of the Ioway Tribe, and owner, brewmaster, and head of the sales department at Skydance Brewing Company in Oklahoma City, grew up dirt poor in Little Axe, Oklahoma. Raised by a single dad with a knack for home brewing, Keyes had a tendency of “getting nosey and messing up a couple of batches when his dad wasn’t looking.” So, his dad taught him to brew at age 12, and by age 20, Jake “fell in love with the business.”
“My dad and I always dreamed about opening a brewery,” Keyes recounted. But that dream was dashed when his father quickly succumbed to multiple sclerosis at age 56.
But not before Jake “found his dad’s old beer recipes in a book, brewed some up, and took one up” to his ailing father. His dad liked it so much that Keyes took it to a home brewing club that encouraged him to enter a Dallas competition.
Keyes won that medal, so he learned via a phone call. But it was another phone call that day that changed his life. “By the time I got to my hotel room, a second call relayed that my dad had passed away. I decided then and there to open a brewery, and not procrastinate like my dad,” Keyes recalls.
Skydance Brewing Company — the first Native-owned craft brewery in Oklahoma City — opened in late 2018. Currently housed in a co-op, Keyes has a 2020 plan to expand in the Oklahoma market where he wants to pay homage to his Native heritage.