Kal Hamze will tell you he’s living “a true American dream.” It’s hard to argue with him.
The owner of Kal’s Automotive Center escaped civil war in Lebanon to come to America in 1987. Within seven years, he had graduated from Northeastern University with a pharmaceutical degree -- paying his own way by pumping gas at a station in Danvers -- and had bought three Shell gas stations, including one in Dracut.
In 1993, he bought the Shell station at Lakeview Avenue and Pleasant Street, though not the land on which it sits. With an eye toward expanding, which he could not do at that site, he bought the land at 1543 Bridge Street, the former Roussel Marine, in January 2013 and continued what he calls his “passion” – working with cars.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Kal said.
In honor of National Car Care Month, Kal’s Automotive Center is Dracut Economic Development’s April 2023 Business of the Month.
Kal and his wife, Nancy, have raised three children, ages 26, 25 and 22, put them through Dracut schools and are still helping them continue their college educations.
“We work for them,” Kal said with a smile.
Kal’s car career really began as a child in Lebanon.
“I’ve always loved cars, since I was a kid,” he said.
That love led him first to working at gas stations and service centers to later owning them.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I love to come to work every day.”
Kal wanted to expand his operation in Dracut but was constrained first by the fact that he didn’t own the land and second by the fact that there was little room for expansion anyway.
“Even though I owned the business, I did not own the property,” Kal said. “I wanted to expand but that space was too small, so I found this property. It’s almost more than double the space I had there.”
As usual, Kal was in the right place at the right time for the Bridge Street site. David and Leona Roussel had owned Roussel Marine at that location since 1968. After close to 45 years running the store, they were thinking about retirement.
“I still remember the day I came here,” Kal said. “I said to David Roussel, ‘Dave, it’s time for you to retire. I’m buying your place.’ It was perfect timing. His wife was here, and they both looked at me and said they were just talking about putting it on the market that morning. I told them, ‘Don’t put it on the market. Call me when you’re ready to sell.’
“That was in February of 2012. I bought the place in September of 2012. It was a good move. Sometimes it’s worth it to ask the question.”
When he bought the Bridge Street land, he decided to focus on general repair and leave the gas pumps behind.
“We do everything,” Kal said. “I don’t say no to anybody. Oil changes, brakes, transmissions -- everything to do with cars.
“About 90 percent of my customers followed me here from the Shell station. If I were to say the business has more than doubled since I moved here, it wouldn’t be an understatement. I realized that if you’re doing business in good faith, people see that. That’s the truth.”
His website, kalsautomotive.com, lists the following services: oil and filter changes; new and rebuilt transmissions; tune-ups; tires, mounting and flat repair; engine repair; computerized wheel alignment; engine replacement; pre-purchase inspections; engine performance check; maintenance inspections; computer diagnostics; brake and lamp inspections; air-conditioning service and repair; exhaust system repair; electrical system diagnosis and repair; brake and clutch repair; preventative maintenance inspections; factory-scheduled maintenance; suspension and steering repair; shocks and struts; heating and cooling system service and repair; mufflers; and transmission service and repair.
Yup, that pretty much covers it.
Kal also has a license to sell cars, but he said he’s too busy fixing cars to sell them right now.
OK, about that pharmacy degree.
“Halfway through pharmacy school, I bought my first gas station in 1992 in Salem, Mass.,” Kal said. “In 1993, I bought the second station in Dracut and then I realized that free enterprise was the way to go because I cannot be strapped behind a counter 12 hours a day.”
Goodbye, pharmacy. Hello again, automobiles.
“This is my passion,” he said. “I have a fantastic group of guys working for me.”
Kal’s wife also works with him, doing pretty much everything around the office but fix cars.
“I could not do it without Nancy,” Kal said.
Call Kal’s at 978-957-9830 or visit kalsautomotive.com.