Business Showcase: Northwest Abatement Services, Inc.
The first piece of equipment Mark Stephens bought for his then-startup abatement company still sits in the parking lot of Northwest Abatement Services, Inc.
The 1991 GMC Topkick has since been replaced with newer trucks, but Stephens admits he’s not ready to part with it.
“It’s where it all started,” he said recently from his office located at 9822 32nd Ave. S. off 96th Street between South Tacoma Way and Interstate 5.
While the truck is no longer active in the fleet, it’s a reminder of how far the company has come since Stephens co-founded Northwest Abatement Services, Inc. in 1994.
“I don’t know if we ever thought we’d get to where we are today,” he said. “I was just trying to survive.”
Northwest Abatement Services, Inc. was born out of a failed purchase of another company where Stephens worked as a general manager at the time. The owners were looking to sell and Stephens and his partner knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
While the purchase didn’t materialize, the process laid the foundation for Northwest Abatement Services, Inc. to get off the ground.
Stephens and his partner cashed in their savings and went all in, buying new equipment and using their local connections to land jobs.
The company has come a long way since its first gig removing the popcorn ceilings at the Days Inn in Lakewood.
From the beginning Stephens said he knew he wanted to do more than asbestos removal and environmental work.
Through perseverance the company has expanded its divisions to include:
- Indoor air quality services (air duct cleaning)
- Fire and water restoration services
- Container division
- Establishment of Stetz Construction
The development of these in-house services enables the company to be self-sustaining – one of Stephens’ goals – while also offering more for its clients.
“Honestly we’re everywhere,” Stephens said.
The company does work for private and public entities, including working with the City of Lakewood on some of its Dangerous Building Abatement Program properties. In 2017 the company worked with the city and owner of the Golden Lion motel to demolish the abandoned buildings off South Tacoma Way. It was the end of an era, and of a property that had become an eyesore in recent years.
Northwest Abatement Services Inc. has also done work for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Clover Park School District, Amazon and Boeing, to name a few clients.
And while it expanded its offerings and landed large-scale projects in the public and private sectors, Stephens has been deliberate about expanding the number of employees at the company.
He maintains 40 to 45 employees at any given time with a goal to keep his total employee count below 50.
“We’re still a small business and we pride ourselves on that,” he said. “We have a good culture and a good group of employees.”
Drawing the right personnel is something that has “organically developed” over time, Stephens said.
So too has the company’s wherewithal to give back to the Lakewood community.
Some of its giving includes cleaning up community properties free of charge and building the Peace Garden at Park Lodge Elementary School through the donation of labor and materials to create an area for Lakewood children to go outside and learn while at school.
It also assisted West Pierce Fire & Rescue with its 9/11 Memorial, donating volunteer labor, equipment and hauling.
But one of the most unusual volunteer requests of the company came from Lakewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Mary Dodsworth who asked Stephens to make a special trip to Snoqualmie Pass to load up one of his dump trucks with snow. The truck was to be unloaded at Fort Steilacoom Park for an event for kids.
With a request like that, how could he say no?
“It makes you feel good to give back to the community,” Stephens said.
Because of its commitment to the environment, air quality and partnerships with government and business for a better future and its more than two decades of service to the area, the Lakewood City Council recognizes Northwest Abatement Services, Inc. as its February 2018 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: Ed Selden Carpet One
Don’t let the word “carpet” in “Ed Selden Carpet One” fool you, there’s more to this family-owned business than its large carpet selection.
Palates of hardwood, tile, laminate and vinyl are displayed throughout the showroom at 3901 Steilacoom Boulevard SW just off South Tacoma Way.
And the choices don’t stop with flooring.
Hunter Douglas window coverings greet customers as they walk through the doors and not far away an array of countertop selections is waiting to be mulled over by homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms.
Head to the tile section and find a column transformed into a mock shower, showcasing various sizes of tile and how it can be laid. Below the shower small stones are laid for people to take off their shoes and experience what this flooring would feel like in their home.
It’s little touches like these that separate Ed Selden Carpet One from its competitors.
Touching the faux shower floor with her foot, owner Gayle Selden noted her father built the shower so his customers could not only visualize what the finished product would look like, but also feel it.
It’s this connection with customers that have kept the predominately flooring company in business since its doors opened in 1959.
Founded by Ed Selden, the Selden family has made the company a household name while also surviving three recessions and two fires that gutted the business.
“We have been lucky, this industry has not been easy in tough times,” said Gayle Selden.
Ask her the no. 1 reason the business has survived and the answer is easy: honesty and customer service.
“If something goes wrong we fix it. If something doesn’t go wrong and the customer is unhappy, we fix it,” she said. “The customer means more to us than the bottom line.”
That connection with customers started with Gayle Selden’s grandfather Ed Selden – the company’s namesake.
He opened his floor coverings business in 1959 in Lakewood on the same block where it resides today. He chose the then-up-and-coming community because of the new construction boom – specifically the development of the Oakbrook neighborhood.
Throughout the decades that followed Ed Selden remained committed to Lakewood. So did his son, Rick Selden (Gayle’s father), who took over the business in the 1980s. Today Gayle Selden is at the helm, taking over from her father who retired last year.
With the days of new construction in Lakewood largely over, the bulk of the company’s business now comes from people replacing flooring, remodeling homes, or commercial installations.
The company employs seven people – including Gayle Selden – some of whom have been with the company 20 to 30 years.
While there are a lot of flooring retailers competing for business, the Selden family knows the extra care they give to their clients and the trust they build will keep them coming back.
“I will not sell them something that is not proper for their home,” Gayle Selden said. “I think the key to the success is that we strive for customer satisfaction.”
For its longevity in the community, its commitment to providing high-quality customer service and its dedication to giving back to Lakewood, the Lakewood City Council recognizes Ed Selden Carpet One as its November 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: Bruno's European Restaurant
No matter what his job or the country where he lived, Bruno Tomaszewski always found a way to the kitchen.
The namesake of Bruno’s European Restaurant , Tomaszewski’s love for cooking began as a child in Poland where instead of playing with his siblings he preferred to cook with his grandmother.
“Whenever he was with friends, always he was the one preparing the food,” said Krystyna Tomaszewska, his wife of 30 years.
Seated at a table in the couple’s Lakewood restaurant – a slice of their delectable cheesecake in front of them – the couple switched between English and Polish as they shared the evolution of Bruno’s European Restaurant from a four-table hole in the wall on Pacific Highway to its current location at 10902 Bridgeport Way SW.
The couple moved to Washington after visiting their son and falling in love with the trees, mountains and water.
At the time they were operating a successful restaurant in New Jersey focused on seafood dishes and chowders – a reflection of time spent in Greece – but closed it to move to the Pacific Northwest.
Money was tight, so the couple didn’t immediately get back into the restaurant business. Finally when the timing was right, they kept it small.
“I don’t even know if we should call this (a) restaurant because it’s only four tables,” Krystyna laughed about the tiny restaurant the couple started in Lakewood.
They modeled the business off a typical Southern European restaurant – some place small where diners are part of the family.
“Bruno never wanted big place,” Krystyna said.
Before the doors opened word spread about Bruno’s thanks to a newspaper article in The News Tribune. The first day the couple ran out of food. The same thing happened the next day.
That’s when they knew they had something special.
Despite relocating twice – to Parkland and back to Lakewood in 2015 – two things never changed: authentic cuisine and family atmosphere.
The cuisine is so true to the couple’s Eastern European roots that German-born diners who now live in and around Lakewood place Bruno’s at the top of their dining list when they crave dishes from home.
The best compliment Bruno receives is when diners tell him “your food is like my mom,” he said in his heavy accent.
The nostalgia for traditional Eastern European dishes extends beyond those born and raised there. The restaurant is a perfect destination for military service members and their families stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who formerly lived overseas and long for Pierogis – filled dumplings – or a perfectly prepared schnitzel.
No corners are cut in Tomaszewski’s kitchen – his chefs learn that quickly. All ingredients are fresh and prepared traditionally. He doesn’t skimp on preparation to save time.
The golden breading on his schnitzel doesn’t come from a box. Loaves of bread are cut and dried overnight and then crisped in an oven before their transformation into a textured dust used to batter the perfectly flattened pork loin.
The care that goes into making each dish in the kitchen is extended to the front of the house, where every customer is treated like family.
“We love this place, we love our customers,” Krystyna said. “We really get a lot of appreciation from the community here.
“It’s like family, I think. They feel like family.”
Because of its one-of-a-kind dining experience and its commitment to serving the Lakewood community the Lakewood City Council recognizes Bruno’s European Restaurant as its September 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: AA Meats
After nearly two decades of working as an employee at AA Meats , Tammy Faelnar decided to put everything on the line in 2007.
That’s when she bought the neighborhood butcher shop at 5116 111th Street SW from then-owners Fae and Tom Crabill.
Faelnar has maintained a strong, loyal customer base despite a shift in consumer shopping habits over the last decade that tend to favor big box stores over specialized niche business.
“I love the people,” Faelnar says. “I love the customers. You learn something here every day."
Once customers step inside the iconic sunshine yellow and brick red building they immediately experience the neighborhood butcher shop charm.
Behind the counter are smiling employees eager to help customers find the perfect cut of meat – and tips for how to prepare it.
Along with its focus on providing “old fashioned, counter service”, AA Meats prides itself on its diverse meat offerings.
A long display case stretching the length of the store features meats and cuts not available at the grocery store.
Store-made jerky and peperoni sticks spill out of bins on one end, while stuffed pork chops, tenderloin steaks, spare ribs and whole briskets await purchase at the other end.
White boards behind the counter advertise catfish fillets, lobster tail, shrimp and king crab legs, along with pricing for whole pigs and per pound amounts for different body parts of a cow and pig. Then there are case prices for everything from hamburger patties and chicken tenders to corn dogs and beef, chicken and pork tamales.
And don’t forget “exotic” meat like alligator, ostrich, turtle, frog legs whole rabbits, goat, elk and wild boar ribs, to name a few.
Chances are if your recipe calls for it, AA Meats has it.
And if they don’t?
“Ask one of us and we can get it,” Faelnar says.
Faelnar admits the thought of buying the business in 2007 was “terrifying” and not something she ever considered. But maybe just as scary was the unknown of a new owner and the changes they would bring.
In her first six months as owner Faelnar worked 60 to 70 hours a week with no time off. She relied on guidance from the Crabills – who she considers family – and knew that to be successful she needed to surround herself with a team that shared her love for the business.
Twenty-seven years after walking through the doors as an employee looking to add a second income to her family, Faelnar now oversees seven people – including two school-aged employees. She believes in teaching the trade to the younger generation the same way she learned it – through on-the-job training.
“My kids would know what a piece of meat is by looking at it,” she says proudly.
AA Meats (aameats.net) is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the first two Sundays of each month 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Because of its longevity in the community and its commitment to local – including hiring local, processing local products and strengthening our local economy – the Lakewood City Council recognizes AA Meats as its October 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: Pizza Casa
From its décor to its secret recipes, Pizza Casa offers its customers an unrivaled dining experience.
Tucked into a small shopping strip on Pacific Highway parallel to Interstate 5, stepping into Pizza Casa is like stepping into a time machine. Wood paneling lines the walls and red and white checkered cloths
cover the tables. One-of-a-kind light fixtures hang from the ceiling – and have since they were made in 1972.
“I haven’t changed the basic décor because most of my customers like it,” owner Dan Harris said.
Even when he added on to the restaurant, Harris maintained the wood paneling to keep the 1970s vibe.
In 2018 Pizza Casa, located at 12924 Pacific Highway SW, will celebrate its 60th year. Founded in 1958 by Nello Grassi and his wife Kathryn (Harris’ mother and stepfather), Pizza Casa dates to an era when Elvis Presley monopolized the airwaves and “Leave it to Beaver” was entering its second year on CBS.
Harris grew up in the restaurant. As a result he approaches its operations as more than “just a business” and sees diners as more than just customer. They’re family.
“Here everybody gets a hug,” Harris said.
“We’re into third and fourth generations now,” he said of diners who have eaten at Pizza Casa for decades. “It’s very fulfilling.”
Prior to owning the restaurant Harris worked in the corporate world. When it came time for his mom to retire Harris knew he couldn’t let the doors close, so he bought the restaurant in 1995.
“It’s always been in the family,” he said. “It’s in our blood.”
Since taking over Harris has maintained the restaurant’s charm but probably most important, he’s maintained its menu and the traditional recipes that originated from his grandmother.
It was her love for cooking and sharing food that inspired Harris’ stepfather to open Pizza Casa. Harris remembers being in his grandmother’s kitchen watching her cook and how food was always a part of family gatherings.
Now he delivers the same experience every night.
The two most popular dishes at Pizza Casa are the spaghetti and pizza – “nobody else makes a pizza like ours,” Harris said. The spaghetti recipe is 125 years old.
Harris also recommends the restaurant’s fried chicken, which takes 30 minutes to make because it is made to order, he said.
What makes Pizza Casa’s dishes better than the competition? A combination of fresh ingredients and family recipes from Tuscany that are so top secret even the chef and line cooks don’t get to see them.
Harris keeps all the recipes in a lockbox and only brings them out when necessary. He prepares the ingredient mixes and brings them to his cooks for preparation.
Because of its longevity in the community and its reputation as a welcoming, family-friendly business, the Lakewood City Council recognizes Pizza Casa as its August 2017 Business Showcase.