Havre woman recognized for small business savvy

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By Peter Johnson -- Tribune staff writer

HAVRE, Mont. - Jean Zabrocki works long hours at the Havre Taco Treat restaurant that she bought and remodeled three years ago. She has a friendly, easy rapport with her growing customer base and cooks a few specialties that drive them in.

For those traits and doubling business sales, Zabrocki, a member of the Chippewa-Cree tribe, was named the Small Business Association's minority small business person of the year for Montana.

She was presented an award Jan. 30 at the Taco Treat, 235 5th Ave. in Havre.

Joe LaPlante, director of the Small Business Center in Havre, said he nominated Zabrocki because of her outstanding business skills.

''Jean started from ground zero and really built up her business by putting in a lot of hard work and time,'' he said. ''She revamped the business, and it's taken off.''

LaPlante, a regular customer, said Zabrocki's homemade tacos and super nachos are unique and really good.

''I've never won anything before, so this is nice,'' said Zabrocki, 51, a Helena native. ''I hope I'm setting a good example for other Native Americans and women who want to go into business. I've worked hard and am achieving success.''

She had extensive experience working as a meat cutter, grocery and deli clerk and restaurant cook in Helena and Havre. She went into business for herself in 2004.

Here's how: Zabrocki, who was a cook at Taco Treat for eight years, learned the owner wanted to sell.

Zabrocki and her husband, Mark, bought the business with $5,000 in savings and a Bear Paw Development loan.

''We cleaned the place up, painting inside and out, re-carpeted and replaced tile in the bathrooms,'' she said. ''And I put an emphasis on good quality meals.

''The public liked it and started filtering back in,'' Zabrocki said, noting that sales have more than doubled.

She estimated she puts in at least 60 to 65 hours a week at the restaurant.

It was hard initially to hire and retain good workers, she said, ''but I've got a real good crew now who take good care of our customers.''

Zabrocki has grown the business in three years from one full-time employee to three full-time and four part-time employees.

Courtesy of Great Falls (MT) Tribune. Web site: greatfalls tribune.com.