Salvatore “Sonny” Fazio got started in the carwashing industry back in 1949, as the owner of a full-serve carwash in the Boston area. His involvement soon shifted to the “supplier” side of things when he founded Sonny’s Enterprises, Inc. in 1978. Sonny said he never thought he would manufacture equipment, but he needed to keep busy after his sons, Paul and Michael, took over his carwashes. He would test out the equipment at his sons’ locations and made sure every piece and part were perfect. Along with Paul and Michael, Sonny and his wife Gloria, had two other children, Barbara and Marie. Sonny passed away on April 17, 2013 at the age of 86. His obituary read: Anyone that knew Sonny knows his life revolved around three things: His family, his friends and his work. There was no room left for anything else. The following is a piece Paul Fazio wrote as well as additional comments from those who worked with him and knew him well.
By Paul Fazio
It was in January that I was told about the passing of John Jurkens ― to me a true icon in the industry. I sat down with dad and we began swapping stories about John and I realized I needed to send Joel, his son, a message of what his father meant to me and my father. As I sat in front of my computer the words flowed because it was easy for me to write exactly how I felt and to convey what my father had told me about how he saw John. When I was asked to submit a piece on my father to the magazine I told Debra I had no clue where to begin.
I have been taking the calls, reading the emails, cards and texts coming in from people to give their condolences to my family. I had a chance to see many of dad’s friends at the ICA show in April that took place within days of his passing. Some of the conversations were very simple and to the point. Others made the three days of the show very difficult. I’m glad I went and had that time to share so many memories with all of you that knew him so well – his carwash family. I think it has helped me deal with the loss. What surprised me wasn’t the volume of those that contacted the family one way or another, but the fact that each person had a story of how dad (and in some cases mom and dad) had impacted their lives. These stories went well beyond washing cars. These were stories being told by many of the surrogate parents that they saw my parents as. Stories time and time again about the teaching, example setting, goal driving, life changing experiences that tied these people to my parents. Stories about how Sonny was there when they needed a boost, how he spent hours on the phone with them teaching them not just about the business but how they could accomplish anything. Stories by many of the women that wrote me of the love that they know my father had for my mother and how they cried together as he would tell couples at the factory or at the trade shows stories of that love. Some went so far as to tell me it changed their relationships with their husbands. I received letter after letter about how “I am a better person after having known Sonny (and Gloria)”. And even more surprising is they all told these stories quoting my father verbatim. WOW!
I wrote in dad’s obituary “Anyone that knew Sonny knows his life revolved around three things: His family, his friends and his work. There was no room left for anything else.” He lived for those three things – not necessarily in that order! Carwashing was his life. If you knew him, you know just how true that is. To say he had a passion for it would not even come close. He loved it and he loved the people that loved it. They were indeed his family. He loved going to the shows. Since my mother’s passing 8 years ago there were two things that kept him going. First there was his extended carwash family. Several called and wrote him regularly to make sure he was doing okay. Ben Alford, an operator in Louisiana and longtime friend, called dad every Saturday right till the end. It amazed me that two men with such different backgrounds could become so close. Both men described the relationship to me on separate occasions as being brothers. All I know is those calls were a big part of what got my father out of a deep depression when mom passed and made him want to live again. The second thing was his love for telling his stories– especially to those going through the CarWash College. For those of you that went on a factory tour with Sonny, I am willing to bet it was an experience you will never forget. On the tour he would tell what I considered to be the most inappropriate stories to the students of carwashing’s past history. He knew I hated it when he would tell those stories. He would laugh when I would say to him “you can’t say that stuff” and he would respond with “I’m 86 years old ― I can say anything I want.”
Dad was old school and very black and white in his opinions. He had no trouble letting you know exactly what he thought. He had no patience for bologna. Helping people made him happy. He loved seeing the industry grow. He told me when I took over in 1991 that if I didn’t continue to help people that he would take his name off the building – and he meant it. He loved telling me I was becoming more like him every day. He knew that made me crazy.
We had a very small family only gathering to say goodbye to dad as he requested. Dad told us that he wanted Mr. Carnivale there ― one of dad’s friends for about 65 years. He spent countless hours with dad these last few months. We each took turns telling stories about dad and then it was Mr. Carnivale’s turn. He is 91 years old and one of the last of dad’s “old gang”. He fought back his tears as he told us how much he loved dad and that for him life would be hard going forward without his best friend. He then hesitated and said … “but if he told me those same carwash stories one more time I was going to kill him.”
So four months after writing a letter of condolence to Joel for the loss of his father, Joel then found himself writing one to me. In my opinion John and Sonny are part of the roots that made this industry what it is today. These guys lived and breathed this stuff every minute of every day. They were never satisfied and continued to push forward looking for that perfect car. They did it their own way. They were true entrepreneurs. They touched a lot of people. They made a difference. They will truly be missed.
Love you dad. Tell mom I love and miss her too.
Competitors at first, but then good friends
By Herman Berk of Herman Berk LLC
I knew Sonny Fazio from day one. He was always very tough competition. At one of the early carwash shows, before we had a word to say to one another, I was at some manufacturer’s party, and in walks Sonny. It seemed like he wanted to start a fight with me. I’m not sure why. Well, needless to say, we became great friends after we kissed and made up. Besides being friendly competitors, we socialized with our wives. To really know Sonny is to like Sonny. I loved Sonny! My wife and Gloria spoke often on the phone. Whenever Gloria was in Manhattan with Marie and Barbara, they went for lunch together. We were all great friends.
One day, after a bad run, “Sonny Sez” (that was how we put it): I’m going to pay what I owe you and quit. I said, don’t do that, who will I fight with. Sonny has a great secret weapon: Paul Fazio.
I really miss my friend, Sonny Fazio.
When there is a carwash parade in heaven, I nominate Sonny Fazio to lead the parade.
A true leader
By Robby Banks, operator of Embassy Autowash
He was very instrumental in my early years in the carwash industry. He was a mentor. He was my “godfather”. Every year at the ICA conventions we jokingly reminisced about the early days of being placed all the way in the back corners. My how times have changed but that’s what building a body of work is all about. It’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up over time, over a lifetime to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with latest achievement, the latest gold star because the one thing I know about Sonny’s body of work was that its never finished. It’s cumulative! It deepened and expanded with each day because he would give you his best. The leaders we revere and the businesses that last are generally not the result of popularity or personal advancement, but of devotion to some bigger purpose. That’s the hallmark of real success! I am very grateful to call him my friend.
A helping hand
By David Dalesandro of Jet Brite Car Wash
I owe everything to Sonny. I was a new, struggling operator out of Chicago. Had a little dinky carwash and I needed new equipment. I met with Paul and Sonny, and in that meeting I learned more information than I could have asked for. Sonny helped me choose the equipment I needed. If I couldn’t afford it, he told me to take and I could pay him back when I was able. I was able to sell that carwash and then build three more. All thanks to him. Sonny treated me like I was his son. I now have three successful carwashes and more are on the way, thanks to him.
Comments sent to PC&D
There will never, ever, never be another Sonny Fazio. He leaves a legacy of humility and dedication to our industry that will never be matched. He was the creator and founder of the Sears & Roebuck of the industry. He was the "common man's manufacturer" because he started with nothing in the sewing business to operate his first car wash. I'll never forget our last trip together, touring Houston car washes, he hugged me goodbye and said, "Thanks for being my friend.”
– Jimmy Branch, 50th president of the ICA
Dave Lippitt and I met Sonny in 1960 at the Lynn carwash and Sonny was washing cars and his sister Marge was running the liquor store at the exit of the wash. We thought what a great way to make money, selling booze and washes. Sonny was a great guy and a true carwasher (probably had webbed toes). He will be missed by all who knew him and those who had not had the pleasure of knowing him. He was a major cog to our industry and will be sorely missed by all.
– Bill Jurkens
He was a wonderful man. Always upbeat and honest. He was a huge presence in the car wash industry. He will be missed by all.
– Bruce Milen, president of Jax Kar Wash
I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with Sonny at the plant a couple of years ago. What impressed me the most was his passion for the car wash industry and how to build things. Not just big new things, but his pure delight in making the small tools and equipment that are needed to assemble all the equipment. Even though I only spent a couple of hours with him, he taught me to be passionate about everything. And to always try to do it better. Just good, is not good enough. God Bless Sonny and his family. Our industry lost a good man.
– John Bleymaier
Sonny made the world and the carwash business a better place, He will be missed.
– Donnie Hinton
I am so, so sad to hear about my friend. I had the privilege of meeting Sonny at the Carwash College in 2006. Being the only female at the time, he would come over for a morning hug and conversation. I made several trips to the college and we kept in touch over the years at different car wash functions. He shared many stories of his Gloria and his children. Eventually he met Mike, my husband, and would tell us to take care of each other. The industry will miss the icon, but I will truly miss the man. Love you Sonny!
– Sheri Silva
I could of spent all day listening to his incredible stories, and he probably would have taken all day telling me his stories had I let him. I always felt that I was buying more than equipment, I was buying into the Sonny's family. Thanks for everything you will be greatly missed
-Scott Egolf, Scott's Car Wash
We will miss him.
I first met Sonny about 20 years ago. He had a great sense of humor, so much so that at the beginning I thought he was a little flaky. Boy was I wrong! After a while I discovered that he was dead serious about changing the car wash equipment manufacturing industry. He definitely set the industry on its ears. He provided great value to us the operators of car washes and he did it with humility, honesty and good humor. Sonny, I'll miss you.
-Henry Weinschenk, president of Express Carwash, Charlottesville, VA
Very sad to see a "founding father" of the industry leave us. I'm keeping the family in my prayers.
I had the pleasure of knowing Sonny almost 30 years, I ran his Lynnway location (yes the one in the picture, you have all seen). he taught me a lot about the carwash industry and customer service. that's why my title is Student, I was his Student. God Bless you Sonny, you will be missed.
– Steve Milan
My condolences to the Fazio family. Sonny was a warm person and certainly helped mold the car wash industry to what it is today. He will be missed.
– Carmelo Cunsolo, Colonial Car Wash, Fort Myers
Met him at carwash college as he always joined us at dinner. Great guy, great stories, and very proud of his products and his family. We've come a long way from wrapping a metal chain around the front bumper then pulling the cars through the tunnel. But, it must have been an amazing experience to create a new industry as he did. Rest in peace sir.
– Eric, owner of Captain Kleen Speedwash
I have worked for, with and beside the Fazio family since 1977. Sonny was the most passionate person in the industry i have ever known. When you walk away from a conversation with Sonny you walk away with eyes WIDE OPEN and wanting to better yourself and your wash. You become an extension of him and his knowledge. His brutal honesty made you love him even more! God bless you Sonny Fazio! i love you and will miss you!
– Steven Petruzello
He was the greatest person who would help any one any time, I am 87 and he was a great help if we couldn't fix it he always found a way to lead you to the proper place .I will miss him.
Sonny was a pioneer and an invaluable asset to our industry. On behalf of the CCA and the Canadian car wash industry at large, our condolences. He will be missed.
– Scott Murray, president of the Canadian Car Wash Association
Sonny made a difference in so many lives with his passion, love, giving spirit and helpfulness in every way. From assisting employees in the shop (working his tail off out there wearing his blue jeans and t-shirt!), taking visitors on tours of the factory, to something as simple as just taking time to come over and talk one on one. Anyone who knows Sonny also knows the stories he would tell, and they were awesome every time! You'll truly be missed Mr. Fazio. I'm honored to know you and work for you. Also glad you're now back with the love of your life.
– Jon Simmons
Rest in peace Sonny "All storms weathered, all seas crossed." Our industry owes you a huge debt of gratitude and our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
– Bill and Luke Kersh, owners of Kersh Car Wash & Botique
He challenged himself as he challenged others to innovate, improve and ask why? A nice guy until the end; you can't say this about many people but when the Lord made Mr. Fazio, he through away the mold. RIP.
– Miguel Mercedes, Omron Automation
I always looked forward to making sales calls on Sonny. He was professional and respectful to everyone – with an energy level and sense of humor that was infectious.
– Mark Techler, sales rep, Hypro
Sonny was all of these and more!
His work ethic will never be matched, nor will his love for our industry.
He was truly a great man and I’m proud to call him my friend.
-Bob Fox, distribution sales manager, Sonny’s Tunnel Equipment
I met Sonny and his wife, Gloria many, many years ago on a flight out of Las Vegas after the ICA show. I had the window seat, my brother Jack was in the middle and Gloria was in the isle seat. Sonny was across the isle and beaming as he had purchased something for Gloria in Vegas he always wanted for her, a very large diamond ring. Gloria shared with us the story of how he wanted to do this for her for a very long time and their history with starting the company.
Never felt the story was of brag, but more so of accomplishment and how proud she was of Sonny for his dedication to their company and industry. After we heard her story, I leaned forward to take a look at Sonny; he was sitting in his seat with a look on his face that said, I'm very happy for Gloria! Says a lot for his marriage and him as a person. Will never forget that flight with the Fazio's nor the handshake he gave me when we departed the plane.
Of course, we were all in the business section and not first class. Salt of the earth people to both Gloria and Sonny.
– Jeff Dubel