Written by The Business Journal Staff
A.J. Rassamni, Owner
Great American Car Wash in Fresno
What we do: Full-service car wash.
Education: Went to school for electronic engineering, but education has been mostly on the job.
Family: Wife Sharon and sons Mark (17) and Alex (15).
How did you first get involved in the car wash business?
I first came to America in 1985 to Houston, Texas, and in 1987 I moved to California to go to school at nights. I worked at a car wash and the business was called the Great American Car Wash. After working for one week, I said, “Wow what a business!” I made a goal that in 10 years I would own that business. To make a long story short, within 10 years, I owned the car wash I was working at.
Has the car wash business been very stable through the recession, Rassamni?
Are we in a recession? Yes, we are in a recession. But the recession is an opportunity to take a step back and say, “OK, what can we do to improve our customer service? What can we do to improve the quality? What can we do to improve the speed? What are the customers’ complaints and what can we do to get rid of those complaints?” Normally when we’re in a good economy, any business is thinking it is making money and it will last forever. And it’s not. But this is an opportunity to take a step back and go back to the basics and help you realize what made you successful to begin with.
In your mind, what is the American Dream, Rassamni?
I was born in Liberia in Africa, but when I was 5-years-old, I moved to Lebanon. In Lebanon there are about 4 million Lebanese, and about 15 million live outside Lebanon. So to make money, the Lebanese leave Lebanon. Everyone since they were kids hears about the American Dream. When people immigrate, you only hear the successful stories. You never hear the stories where people do not succeed. So the American Dream was I’d go to America and I’ll succeed. That’s why people come here. We come here knowing we’ll succeed with no clue that we cannot succeed, because no one told us that. So when I came in 1987 and said I would own the car wash, all I had in my pocket was $3,000 and the car wash was $1 million to buy. I had no clue that was something that possibly might not happen. But in 10 years on the dot, I owned it. Because from the first week of when I said I’m going to own this car wash in 10 years, I never saw myself as an employee. I always saw myself as the owner. So I started thinking and acting as the owner.
What was the inspiration for these murals that adorn the exterior of the building, Rassamni?
It is really something emotional for me, because I believe people take it for granted that they’re American. They don’t realize how lucky they are. For me, I look it as I could have gone anywhere else in the whole world, but I chose to become an American. So I tell that to my kids and I remind them of it all the time and I tell them, “You cannot take for granted you are American. You do not know how luck you are.” So I always tell them how other countries are and it is special to be an American. That’s why I kept the name The Great American Car Wash. Then I got the idea; we always honor the veterans that were killed in action. So I said, “Why not honor the veterans that are still alive today and are giving back to the community?” That’s how we came with the first mural. The only way I can put these veterans’ pictures up is if the parents come forward and say, “This is my son, this is my daughter, can you add it to the mural?” There will be a person from Buchanan that will be added soon. And as people come forward and ask to add their son or daughter, we are more than happy to do it. And I urge family members that have had their son or daughter killed in action that they would like to memorialize them on this wall to please come forward.
What was your first job growing up, Rassamni?
My first job was in Houston in 1985. I worked three jobs while I was going to school. I worked as a doorman, working at a department store and doing valet parking.