Ken’s Auto Repair Marks 50 Years In Cape Coral, FL
Written by CJ Haddad, Cape Coral Breeze
Published Aug. 31, 2023
To be a staple business in a community, there is some criteria to be met: longevity, being prominent in what you do and customer service. Ken’s Auto Repair in Cape Coral, FL, exceeds all of those requirements, which is why the business is celebrating 50 years of serving the community.
Opened in 1973 by Ken Schuman, the shop on Del Prado Boulevard has seen it all over the past five decades, and has grown and developed with the times. The business is multi-time “Best Of” winner, and has served generations of Cape Coral residents.
“I’m trying to figure out where the 50 years have gone,” Schuman, 79, joked. “When we first opened, Del Prado was one lane north, one lane south, and every once in a while, you’d see a car go by.”
Ken’s started out as an auto-electric shop, rebuilding starters and alternators for garages/gas stations that served as auto shops.
“We created a network of people,” Schuman said. “We’d run a truck two days a week, and we had 40 consignments all over Fort Myers and Cape Coral.”
Ken’s worked with various entities throughout the years, including Caterpillar, shrimp fleets on Fort Myers Beach, the city of Cape Coral and more. The shop has seen a few facelifts and expansions, and now has three bays in the back with a shop chock full of equipment and informative materials.
“It just grew and grew,” Schuman said. “It got to a point in the late ’80s where it was cheaper to buy the alternators and starters than it was to rebuild. At that point, we performed full-service automotive from then on. You’ve got to change with the times.”
For Schuman, the fun part of the business is the people.
“Every once in a while, we’ll get something fancy in and get all excited about it, but the people---I’ve got some of the greatest customers and loyal customers.”
He remarked how so many customers come in and plead for him not to retire.
“I’ve always said as long as my health is good, I’m here. I would miss the people terribly,” he said. “It’s a challenge keeping up with the changes, but we keep up to speed. There’s a lot of things available to a repair shop now that weren’t available 50 years ago.”
Schuman said one of the challenges over the years has always been finding the right help, but his current lead tech is the best he’s had.
As an example of how long the business has been around, Schuman noted how Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman’s father was the first technician at Ken’s.
Currently in the shop? A V12 Jaguar with fuel injector hoses leaking on the engine.
“We’re going to replace all of the hoses on there so we don’t have a fire going,” Schuman said.
The love of cars runs deep for Schuman, and his grandfather had a six-story garage in Akron, OH, when he was growing up. His father owned three different gas stations in Cleveland where they repaired cars.
“When you grow up with it---I painted my first car when I was 14,” Schuman said.
Schuman served in the U.S. Navy, and worked on submarine engines in Key West.
Schuman had never been to Florida, and very much enjoyed the warm climate. When he got out of the service and started a family, he worked for Sears as a manager. After success with the company, he decided to move the family to Cape Coral and built his house in 1972.
Schuman managed Cape Coral Little League for some time, and was involved with other community activities.
“It was a great, little small-town atmosphere,” he said. “I sit back and think of the early days and what big changes we’ve seen. I never thought we’d be open for 50 years.”
Schuman has five children, all of whom he speaks highly of: Donna, Kim, Karen, Brian and Kenny. All have fond memories of the shop and, more importantly, quality time with their father.
“I have many fond memories of working at my father’s shop that began in grade school and extended through high school and college,” Brian said. “An early foundation was laid by learning how to mop floors, stock parts and clean the alleyway between Dad’s shop and the adjoining building. As I got older, this evolved into rebuilding starters and alternators, changing oil and mounting tires. The most fun part of being at the shop was working with my father and brother to restore and hot rod various project cars.
"I learned many things from my time at the shop including a strong work ethic, how to function as a team, the importance of treating people with respect and being ethical in all you do," Brian said. "These attributes have served me well in my adult life.”
“My favorite memory from dad’s shop was during construction of the addition. We got to roller skate all around the floor,” said Karen.
Kenny remembers he and Brian down at the shop, helping clean up and even learning how to rebuild starters and alternators. He recalled on weekends going to help Schuman with his personal project, such as his ’35 Ford Coupe.
“I remember that one customer’s car we worked on was a red Ferrari which was previously owned by Willie Nelson,” Kenny said.
“One of two fond memories was when Dad was putting on the store addition and the slab was poured and he would let us roller skate on the smooth cement, way better than the shell roads back then," Kim said. "The other is when I was around 4, and would get out of pre-school around lunch time and my dad would give me a bite of his sandwich.”
Donna spent quite a few summers working in the shop in high school and also right out of college.
“From cleaning the back bays, to driving customers home and running for parts, I did a little bit of everything---except for work on the cars of course,” said Donna, whose last name is now Germain. “I loved watching my dad’s interaction with his customers, vendors and how he ran the business. He’s always been a hands-on owner; first one there, last one to leave and dedicated beyond belief. I am proud to have inherited his work ethic. Congratulations Dad, we all love you and appreciate the life and legacy you and Mom have built for us.”
On recent morning at the shop, a man from New York who had just moved to the Cape walked into the lobby. Schuman met him with a friendly hello, and joked with the man about being from New York, as he had a strong accent.
The man said he had heard Ken’s works on classic cars, and inquired if the shop could help him out. What he’s been doing successfully for the past 50 years was on full display, as Schuman asked the right questions and assured the man he would help figure out what was going on with his vehicle.
With a “pleasure to meet you” and a handshake, it seemed as if another customer was on their way to being relieved of their auto troubles thanks to Ken’s.
“Our business philosophy is different than some shops,” Schuman said. “We’ve always operated under, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ My dad was always an honest businessman, and that’s where it started. I know what’s right and wrong.”
As a testament to what he means to the community, many residents stopped by on their way out of Florida following Hurricane Ian to say thank you to Schuman.
“People kept saying they didn’t want to face a hurricane again next year,” he recalled.
Ken’s Auto Repair is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is at 4533 Del Prado Blvd.
For more information, visit kensautorepaircapecoral.com or call 239-542-5540.