Willingness, tenacity and genuinely respecting each other have helped the McEntee family build success and nurture Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, which is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.
One summer night on Newport’s historic bayfront, Mo’s Seafood and Chowder’s big garage door was open, letting in a cool breeze and the sounds of Yaquina Bay and its visitors.
Gabrielle McEntee, Mo’s co-owner, was filling in for staff and sweeping the floor. An acquaintance walked by the restaurant and asked her why she was doing it.
“I should sweep my own floor. And then I’m going to mop it,” Gabrielle said. “We don’t have people for this tonight. I am the people.”
Gabrielle, her mother, Cindy McEntee and her brother, Dylan McEntee, also a co-owner, have been “the people” for Mo’s, an Oregon Coast institution, since each was 12 years old.
Cindy started out as a shrimp picker, Dylan, a crab picker. The three know how to do everything running a 76-year-old restaurant requires, from helping in the kitchen or waiting tables, to unloading trucks, running financials and, yes, cleaning.
“I think if you’re not a Swiss Army knife of knowledge and ability, then you’re not a lot of help,” Dylan said. “You have to be willing to step in and make it work. That’s the job. That’s running a small business and a family business.”
Cindy, who is retired but still sometimes active in the business, agrees. “You do everything in a family business. That’s the description,” she said. “Sometimes that includes psychological help for the staff. They have a problem, and you’re the person they need to talk about it with.”
Willingness, tenacity and genuinely respecting each other have helped the McEntees build success and nurture Mo’s, which is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. Mo’s now has eight locations, a food truck, catering gigs and bustling sales for its chowder base. The family is passionate about hard work and customer service, and being nimble in a tough business has helped them thrive.
This longevity, harmony and dedication to the business is why Mo’s Seafood and Chowder has been awarded the 2023 Dean’s Leadership Award in Family Business by Oregon State University’s Center for Family Enterprise.
“It’s an honor to receive the award,” Gabrielle said. “I hope that we can inspire other families to keep going. Family businesses are not run-of-the-mill businesses. They’re special.”
Mohava Marie Niemi (aka “Mo”) opened the first Mo’s Seafood and Chowder with her business partner in 1946. From the start, she worked hard and had the charisma and focus on customer service that made the loggers and fishermen who were her first customers feel at home.
Over the years, as the restaurant became a cultural staple on the bayfront, Mo’s fed and entertained celebrities like Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, who were filming “Sometimes a Great Notion” in Newport, as well as Senator Robert Kennedy, who liked Mo so much he invited her on the campaign trail.
“My grandmother set the tempo and the philosophical ground for the business,” Cindy said. “It was always very simple: Make sure the food is honest and that you’re good to your people and to your crew. Be totally conscious of your customers and the people who are serving them. I grew up this way and so did my kids.”
Carrying on Mo’s legacy is something the family is proud of, even if it comes with the caveat that customers and community members are acutely aware of changes to any of the restaurants’ menu items.
“When we do make a change or do something different, everyone has an opinion about it,” Dylan laughed. “If you’re just a regular restaurant nobody would care. Mo’s is like our child to take care of, but it’s also the Oregon community’s child, too.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, not only did the McEntees rally together to keep the business alive, they were able to take stock of where they’ve been … and where they’d like to go.
“When we were sheltered in place, we had time to assess and brainstorm everything about our lives, plans and ideas,” Gabrielle said. “I think Covid really put into perspective what hard work means and what it can deliver for you. It’s really all about the customer and working with them.”