After Trey Chapman and his wife, Melissa, made an offer to buy JC’s Car Wash, 7 months went by without a peep from owner Jose “JC” Carbajal. The couple, who own and run Tri-Tex Cabinets, wasn’t exactly counting on the small business at Walnut Hill and Audelia to put food on the table, but they’d been excited about owning something in Lake Highlands and had ideas about making improvements.
Then one day Trey was in the 7-11 across the street and bumped into Jose, who offered an apology.
“That offer you made, I lost it,” Jose said. “I think my daughter accidentally threw it away.”
Trey was back at the car wash the next day with a new offer, and the deal was officially done soon after. Lake Highlands Car Wash opened over this past weekend.
“It’s always been my vision to own my own business, but this is our first opportunity to buy a business in Lake Highlands,” said Trey. “We sell a lot of cabinets in LH, but it’s not based here.”
The car wash on Walnut Hill west of Audelia was built in 1973 as a Hardee’s Hamburgers, which explains the roof shaped like a carnival tent and the red clay floor tile, still solid after decades. The drive-thru window facing east has been boarded up for years. In 1978, the building became Southwest Savings Bank, then the McKinney family bought it in the early 2000s and transformed it into Lake Highlands Car Wash. After the McKinneys turned it over to their kids to run, the kids sold it in 2013 to employee Jose Carbajal who renamed it “JC’s.”
“We’ve been going there 12 years, since we moved to Lake Highlands,” said Trey. “JC was ready to sell after a series of unfortunate events in his life and his sister needed seed money for a new restaurant. JC’s has a very polarizing reputation – you either love it or you went on Nextdoor.com to complain. Based on some things I’ve seen posted, I’d be mad, too. We’re asking people to give us another chance.”
The Chapmans have used LH-owned companies to add a new roof, update the air conditioning system, install new flooring, schedule new windows (coming later this month), and replace the guts of the car wash machinery.
“People didn’t realize the equipment didn’t work, and cars were being washed by hand,” said Melissa. “Customers were mad – you’d get a great wash, but it took 45 minutes.”
“We’re rebranding and gaining back the trust of the community that’s been lost,” Trey told me. “The two biggest things for us are providing a comfortable place to wait and a quality wash. We are not Circle K. We provide a full service wash and a hand towel dry.”
Several area car washes have recently publicized their new membership programs, but “that’s not who we want to be,” said Trey. “Every morning they have a line of 40 Uber drivers creating a long wait time. Right now, we just want to provide a great, full-service car wash.”
The Chapmans’ target market is people who live or work in the neighborhood.
“Lake Highlands elementary schools are bursting at the seams,” said Melissa, who grew up in the neighborhood as Melissa Barger and graduated from LHHS. “Eventually those kids will go to junior high, then they’ll get a car. Families aren’t having 2 kids anymore – they’re having 4.”
“It’s the regreening of Lake Highlands,” agreed Trey. “We plan to partner with groups like Forerunner Mentoring and hire LHHS kids to work on the weekend and after school. Plus, these yahoos will be there a lot (pointing at sons Graham, a White Rock Elementary 3rd grader, and Tyler, a 6th grader). It will truly be a family business. They need to learn hard work. They need to vacuum some cars when it’s 100 degrees outside. Tyler asks questions about profit and loss, and Graham says he’ll give all his friends free car washes. This is now our dinner time conversation.”
The red, black and white waiting room, designed by LH’s Tracy Martin Taylor of Eleven 11 Design, is bright and comfortable, with luxury vinyl tile, bar stools, TVs and leather and chrome chairs. The bathrooms have new fixtures, and a kids area includes a table with coloring books and cartoons on the TV to entertain waiting children. A new sign will replace the broken “JC’s” sign, and a new menu board announces prices, which vary from the $7 Express Wash to the $150 Full Detail. The $24 Wildcatter is the best deal, Melissa said, and includes tires and interiors.
“I put word out on social media, and so far we’ve had a great response from the community,” she said. “I told Trey, ‘We can’t mess this up now.’”
“We’re a locally owned business,” he agreed, “and, honestly, the response has been overwhelming. We opened the gates for the dump truck during construction, and 4 cars got in line. People thought it was open.”
The car wash opened its doors over the weekend, but a grand re-opening celebration is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 10, with giveaways and partnerships with other local businesses.
“Geographically, this is the center of Lake Highlands,” said Trey, “so we have to be everything Lake Highlands. We’re all in on that.”
Lake Highlands Car Wash is at 9715 Walnut Hill.