When Mohava Marie Niemi, Newport’s crusty, big hearted chain smoking mother died in 1992 at the age of 79, she left behind much more than a successful business and a trunk full of colorful anecdotes. Her greatest legacy, perhaps, was the work ethic she instilled in her family, which survives to this day.
The Early Days
Mo’s entry into the business world began in 1940 when she and her father bought the Bay Haven Inn on Newport’s salty waterfront. In 1946 they sold the tavern when Mo joined her friend Freddy Kent, to start a café called “Freddie and Mo’s” (a few years later when Freddie became ill, Mo bought her friend out, thus sealing the legacy of Mo’s.) The newly divorced mother of two growing sons found it necessary to take a second job, so she became an announcer at local radio station KNPT, where she did a neighborhood talk show, a job she kept until the mid-seventies.
Mo married a second time in 1955. Her new husband, Kaino “Dutch” Niemi, was a Finnish fisherman with whom Mo had a happy thirty-six year marriage.
In the early years, it was Dutch’s lucrative fishing venture aboard the F/V Sea Lion III that helped make ends meet at the restaurant. Later, when Dutch turned the wheelhouse over to a younger crew, he could be found every morning at a table in Mo’s commiserating with his old fishing pals, solving the problems of the world and smoking his trademark stogie.
The combination of Mo Niemi’s warm, hospitable personality and many unforgettable events gave the “little joint on the waterfront” its unique charm.
Early one morning a woman returned to her car parked outside the restaurant, put it in drive instead of reverse, and crashed through the front of the café. Mo far from disgruntled, put her arm comfortingly around the woman and said, “Well, we’ll just put in a garage door so you can drive in anytime you want.” To this day, the garage door on the front of the restaurant is raised on nice days and turns Mo’s into an instant sidewalk café.
The Rich and Famous
Mo liked the majority of the people she met, and she did meet many people over the years, including the rich and famous. It was her giving way to come down to the “joint” during the dinner rush and play hostess. She’d see the line of people waiting for a table, then go straight to the cook and say, “Give me a plate of Halibut, and some of those oysters,” which she would then pass out to the hungry people standing in line. “Here,” she’d say, “You’d better try some of these.” In this same way she entertained dignitaries such as Governor Tom McCall, Senator Mark Hatfield, and Representative Les AuCoin. Once news commentator Paul Harvey walked in and asked, “is there a Mo here? I’m supposed to meet her.”
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda, Lee Remmick and the entire cast and crew of “Sometimes A Great Notion,” the movie made from author Ken Kesey’s novel, became friends of Mo’s while filming in Newport. Mo, herself, was in a scene which took place in the Bay Haven Inn, renamed The Snag in the film.
Senator Robert Kennedy, who came through Newport on his presidential campaign tour in May of 1968, liked the chowder so much he took a couple of buckets with him on the plane and even invited Mo to join them for the trip to Los Angeles. She politely declined, and then bitterly regretted her decision. Shortly thereafter Kennedy was shot to death after a campaign speech at the Ambassador Hotel.
Growth and Expansion
The summer of 1968 also earmarked the opening of Mo’s Annex, sister to Original Mo’s, across the street and overlooking Yaquina Bay. Four years later in 1972, Mo’s West at Devil’s Punchbowl in Otter Rock opened.
By the mid-seventies, Mo was taking a less active role in the chowder business and was beginning to leave the nuts and bolts of management to her granddaughter, Cindy McEntee, who had been working in and around the restaurant since grade school. About this time the idea of packaging chowder base and selling it frozen to retail outlets was born. Today not only can you buy the frozen base in many grocery stores, you can also order Mo’s fresh clam chowder base on-line, to be shipped anywhere in the continental U.S.
Since the early days, the atmosphere of Mo’s has remained unchanged. Only the two stories of chowder factory, packing and shipping facilities added to the rear give a hint to the widespread popularity and demand for Mo’s Clam Chowder. The Chowder Factory produces about 500,000 pounds of clam chowder a year, some packaged and shipped to grocery stores and the rest delivered fresh to all the Mo’s Restaurants.
In the late seventies and early eighties, Mo’s expanded to Lincoln city overlooking Siletz Bay, Florence on the Siuslaw River and Cannon Beach with its ocean view.
Mo and her restaurants have been and continue to be written up in dozens of newspapers and magazines around the United States. In 1999 Mo’s Clam Chowder was a featured entrée at the first luncheon ever held in the Smithsonian Institute, which celebrated “Best American Regional Foods.” She was very proud of the notoriety, but most of all grateful for the restaurants’ popularity, and she gave back graciously to her community. Mo gave of herself completely, promoting “Newport the Friendliest,” with her time, energy and money. That legacy continues to this day in her granddaughter Cindy McEntee. For her “outstanding development of her business and her contributions to the community” Cindy was awarded the 2001 1st runner up, National Small Business Person of the Year from President George W. Bush. Cindy continues to run the business today along with the help of her daughter Gabrielle and son Dylan. In January of 2005 Cindy published a book, Mo’s On The Waterfront, Tradition Turned Legend to honor the life of her beloved grandmother and to celebrate the business she created over 55 years ago.
A trip to the Oregon Coast is not complete without a stop at Mo’s. We look Forward to serving you!