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Friday, October 9, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Real Family Values Made Mom's A Success

A single mother and college dropout, Denise de Jong was not prepared to lose her job back in 1985. That really hurt.

Then she got the break she needed.

Her house burned down.

The insurance proceeds helped her buy a small ice cream shop in the University Village and turn it into Mom's, a popular restaurant in the northeast Seattle mall.

With no formal business experience, de Jong arranged for a bank loan, worked 18-hour days, seven days a week, and now has a success others have tried to copy. De Jong is looking to open a second location.

De Jong decided to call the place Mom's for several reasons, one being a joking reference to the old line that people should avoid eating at any place called Mom's.

Mom's opened in 1985. During de Jong's first full year, she grossed $234,000, nearly twice what the old Victorian Parlor did in the same space.

In those early days, de Jong paid herself $300 a month and plowed profits back into the business. There were no cash reserves to cover mistakes or downturns. De Jong praises her sister for helping to take care of her kids, who work occasionally in the restaurant.

In 1990, de Jong doubled her leased space and sales kept pace.

While many restaurants have suffered during the recession, business remains brisk at Mom's because of its quality food at reasonable prices, service and its location in a more affluent area, says de Jong. She does little advertising, relying instead on repeat business and word of mouth.

Last year, Mom's reached $454,000 in sales and is expected to pass $500,000 this year.

The menu is simple. Soups are made from stock prepared at the restaurant. Turkey is sliced from whole birds roasted at Mom's. The most popular item is the Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread ($4.25). De Jong gives her recipes to anyone who asks.

On weekends, people stand in line for a chance to eat the restaurant's thin pancakes, made from an egg-rich recipe de Jong got from her grandmother, and cooked on a massive iron griddle. De Jong says she hates thick pancakes and only twice has a customer ever complained that a pancake lacked the proper girth. One customer so loved the pancakes that he drew a colorful "Pancake Angel" that now adorns the menu.

Other favorites are the old-fashiond ice-cream sodas. Mom's starts a soda with an ice-cream-and-syrup paste, "a dying art," she says.

De Jong is watchful for competitors who might lure customers away. Her heart sank awhile back when she discovered a nearby restaurant offering a menu with similar prices and food. Some customers tried the competitor, she says, but came back because they liked Mom's service better.

De Jong has built the business to the point where she can afford a vacation. The fact that she can leave the restaurant for a couple weeks and return to find it running smoothly is a sign of her management success. That earned her a compliment from her stepfather, Elliot Marple, founder of the popular regional publication, Marple's Business Newsletter.

Even with success, de Jong can't loaf. She still drives the truck to pick up groceries, a 20 percent saving from the cost of having the goods delivered.

"As a small-businesswoman, I have to take care of things myself," she says. "I run this place like I run my kids, `Hey, you didn't pick something up.' " But, like a real mom, de Jong knows the value of positive encouragement. She writes little "love notes" to employees who've done a good job.

"I get as much pleasure from this place as I do from my close friends. It's a family," she says.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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