For The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — Restaurant owner Carrie deKubber’s life is proof that those willing to work hard can still achieve the American dream.
Starting 20 years ago as a hostess and dishwasher at a Washington burger restaurant, the 38-year-old deKubber today owns the Everett version of the same restaurant, Bob’s Burgers and Brew.
How she got here is mainly a story of hard work, passion and determination, the latter being traits she said she needs to help her succeed in the business.
“Because this is my life,” she said. “I mean, everything that I’ve ever worked for is wrapped up in this. And so I’m definitely passionate and it’s got to work… And I feel like I have the determination and perseverance to do what it takes to make it work.”
Those who worked with deKubber on her purchase of the Everett Bob’s think so, too.
“We just saw her as very capable and somebody that could take over the business and be successful at it,” said Jay Duffy, of JJMD, Inc., the partnership that sold the restaurant to deKubber.
“She has extraordinary passion for the thing that she does and this was a long-time dream of hers,” said. C.J. Seitz, director of the Small Business Development Center in Bellingham.
DeKubber turned to that center as a resident of Whatcom County.
An extension of Western Washington University, the center is the largest in the state and serves some 500 clients a year, Seitz said.
Seitz is so certain of deKubber’s competence that she scheduled the Everett Bob’s for a tour last month by Congressman Rick Larsen, as an example of the work the business center does to help grow the economy.
“She is just a super-hard worker,” Seitz said of deKubber.
She grew up among the berry fields of Whatcom County, deKubber said, where her father worked as a mechanic on a berry farm and later moved into selling berry harvesters.
So it’s not surprising that her first job was picking berries.
After high school she followed some of her friends to the original Bob’s Burgers and Brew in Lynden and restaurant founder Bob Kildall hired her on as a hostess/dishwasher. That was in 1997.
“And so I started working there and then I really enjoyed just customer service,” deKubber said. “And the restaurant atmosphere is, I don’t know, it’s kind of fun. It’s kind of chaotic sometimes and there’s just always something different happening, so it keeps it interesting.”
While at the Lynden store she worked her way up to server and then bartender, later moving on to the Fairhaven Bob’s to bartend.
Meanwhile, Bob’s was growing and in 2004, the chain’s first franchise store opened in Burlington.
It was Duffy’s partnership — JJMD, Inc., which he said stands for Jay, Jon (Rickert, a family friend), Mike (Jay’s brother) and Dad (Jay’s and Mike’s father)—that bought the franchise store, Duffy said.
DeKubber, who knew a fair amount about Bob’s Burgers and Brew by then, was hired to help open the Burlington Bob’s.
“She knew a lot more about the restaurant than we did at that time,” Duffy said, and she became one of their “star performers.”
She started out as a server, deKubber said, and later also worked part-time as a manager before eventually learning to do office work.
At the time she was a breakfast server, finishing her shift at 1 or 2 p.m. and asking if there was anything else she could do to help.
“And that was initially where I was like, I want to own one of these some day,” deKubber said. “Well it was in that model, it was bigger, I don’t know what it was—it was the flow, or the atmosphere was different. I loved it.
“And so that kind of is where the spark happened.”
And yet the Burlington Bob’s came about almost by chance, Duffy said. The partnership owned a large convenience store/gas station north of Burlington and was thinking of buying a restaurant, when Rickert met Kildall’s son-in-law while both were refereeing high-school basketball. The son-in-law mentioned Kildall was thinking of a franchise and things progressed from there, Duffy said.
After Burlington, JJMD, Inc. went on to purchase the Tulalip franchise and then opened the Everett store in 2010, Duffy said.
When they decided recently to scale back on their investments, the Everett Bob’s was the logical choice because it was the furthest south, he said.
And knowing that deKubber was interested in someday owning a Bob’s, she was a logical choice as well.
“You have to wear a lot of hats,” he said, of the restaurant business. “So it’s helpful that she’s been around the restaurant for a long time.”
Everett is the seventh Bob’s Burgers and Brew at which deKubber’s worked, including a stint as general manager of the Birch Bay restaurant, she said.
She also worked as a corporate trainer for Bob’s for a time and that varied experience really helped when she went to talk to the bank.
“So it was really cool that all that hard work actually paid off,” she said. “And it mattered. I mean, yeah, you have to have some money, but that resume — man, it made a difference.”
The deal was finalized last December and today deKubber owns Bob’s Burgers and Brew, 1611 SE Everett Mall Way, one of several franchise restaurants that grew from the Lynden burger joint Kildall founded in 1982 with the motto “Only the Best.”
The Everett Bob’s is the first franchise store to be sold while already in operation, deKubber said.
The sale had to be approved by Kildall, but that wasn’t difficult.
“He knew me,” she said.
Between the corporate-owned — run by Kildall and family — and franchise models, there are now 13 Bob’s in Washington and deKubber is thrilled to call one her own.
“I mean, I never went to college,” she said. “So this is amazing.”
DeKubber is also the only woman owner of a Bob’s, but said her gender’s never gotten in the way. And she is honored to continue Kildall’s legacy, she said.
“It’s similar to if you have a family business and you want to continue that on because you respect that person that started it,” she said. “That’s kind of my feeling for him.”
Ownership is not without hurdles, however, one being name recognition.
While Bob’s Burgers and Brew restaurants are well-known in Whatcom and Skagit counties, deKubber said, they are less well-known in Everett and vicinity.
So she is working on ways to bring customers in and keep them coming back for more.
Hamburgers, chicken burgers and various sandwiches, as well as beef, chicken and seafood plates and salads dominate the menu, but starting this month, deKubber is adding vegan/vegetarian options exclusive to the Everett Bob’s.
“They say in a group of five, if one’s a vegetarian, they go where that person can eat,” she said. “And I don’t want to be excluded from that.”
She’s also done some staff retraining, including on kitchen prep and on more efficient ways of serving a table, aimed at improving the total customer experience.
“You know, I believe people work hard for their money and they deserve to get a good meal and good service,” she said.
A busy Friday night that went more smoothly than staff had expected, as well as customer comments on improved food quality and staff morale, showed the retraining is paying off, DeKubber said.
And she also listens to her employees, encouraging their suggestions with an open-door policy.
“You know, because they’re in there every day doing the job,” she said. “So now that I’m in that owner position, I really try to get their feedback on how we can make things more efficient.”
She’s been married for 10 years but her children are her 42 employees, she said.
She has high standards for them because, as children represent their parents “out in the world,” her employees represent her to their customers.
“And we want them to keep coming back,” deKubber said. “I mean, I want this to be a place that people tell their friends and they want to keep coming back.”