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Teen-ager dishes up a big scoop for Hawthorne's sweet tooth

October 16, 1986|JULIO MORAN

Like most teen-age girls, 17-year-old Milly Djukic enjoys ice cream, chocolates and even old-time favorite confections like bubble-gum cigarettes, Teaberry gum and wax Coke bottles filled with juice.

But unlike most teen-agers, Milly doesn't just eat them, she sells them.

With a loan from her parents and savings from previous jobs, the young entrepreneur opened Bon Bons, Etc., an ice cream and candy shop, about five months ago in the 14000 block of Inglewood Avenue in Hawthorne.

"I think it is terrific," Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce President David E. Simon said of Millie, who he believes is the youngest business proprietor in Hawthorne, if not the South Bay. "I would encourage more young people to risk their time and money to provide a product or service to the community. And if they do it right, they may make some money at it."

The 600-square-foot shop--with its black-and-white checkered tiled floor, white walls and pink trim, with three oversized crayon balloons hanging from the ceiling and pair of black-and-purple plastic palm trees nestled in the back--seems out of place, squeezed between a plant store and a diesel parts and repair shop in an industrial area of the city.

But actually it is a good location, Milly said. Workers from the auto repair shops stroll by, as do youngsters from several nearby schools, including Hawthorne High, which Milly left in the 10th grade after suffering from agoraphobia: the fear of being in open or public places.

(Milly eventually overcame her fear with therapy, and in 1984 passed a proficiency test and received the equivalent of a high school diploma. She credits her ambition in part to her will to overcome agoraphobia.)

The location is also ideal, she said, because the building is owned by her father, which made it easier to negotiate a favorable lease. She said she pays him $500 a month rent.

Milly, a slender, typical teen-ager who enjoys dancing, roller skating and partying with friends, said she decided she wanted her own business after beginning studies at El Camino College last year.

"When I started taking classes, I realized that that was not what I wanted to do," she said. "I wanted to learn about business by having my own business."

Milly decided to sell ice cream and candies because there was not a business exactly like that in Hawthorne. "You have See's Candy or you have Haagen-Dazs ice cream, but you don't have any place in Hawthorne that sells both candy and ice cream," she said.

"There's no place like this near here," said Sandi Zurawski, who brought her son Paul, 6, and two of his buddies into the shop the other day. "This is a treat for my son," she said, keeping an eye on the boys as each took a cup of ice cream and began gobbling it up.

Having decided on a product to sell and having her mother's support, Milly, who lives in Hawthorne with her parents, faced a bigger obstacle: getting her father's approval.

"It took a week and a half to get him to agree to the idea," she said.

But although initially reluctant, Milly's father, Petar, was something of a mentor to Milly. He came with his wife to the South Bay in 1964, nearly penniless as an immigrant from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Now he runs his own foreign car repair shop in Hawthorne.

"I think I got some of my business sense from my dad," Milly said.

Her dad returns the compliment.

"I bet you that some day she will own her own restaurant," he said. "I'm very proud of her. She's a very ambitious girl."

She apparently is also a shrewd businesswoman.

She started out selling imported gourmet chocolates, including a $20-a-pound Belgian variety, but dropped them quickly after realizing that her predominantly blue-collar clientele preferred less expensive confections.

Her biggest attraction, however, is her ice cream. At 50 cents for nearly a half-pound scoop, she is offering about twice as much at half the price of some competitors.

She confides that she started giving out such large helpings because she didn't know how to use the scooper. "The first scoops came out big and I just felt I had to keep giving out the same size," she said. But she quickly added, "Besides, big scoops bring in the customers."

The big scoops are also part of the reason she does not expect to turn a profit on the business for two years.

Milly said many of her suppliers become wary when they see how young she is. Others, she said, have tried unsuccessfully to take advantage of her.

This past summer, for example, her air-conditioning system broke down and she called to get it repaired. She said she was told it would be a week before someone could be sent to fix it. Fearing that her merchandise would melt and sensing that the company was trying to bully her, she did the only thing she could: "I called my dad and he called them and they came the next day to fix it."

Milly, who turns 18 on Nov. 5, said she plans to finish her education and hopes to become a chef in her own restaurant. And although marriage and family are a big part of her ethnic background, she said she doesn't have time to think about those things right now.

"There is so much I want to accomplish," she said. "I don't know if I'll have time to get married."

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