A midlife crisis isn’t always a bad thing. For Debbie and Mike Baker, it might just help them fund their retirement.

In 2013, the Olympia couple opened an auto shop, following Mike’s lifelong passion for working on cars.

“My husband has always loved cars, and as anyone does when they seem to have that midlife moment he had decided that he would like to pursue another career. This was the time to try to take on the adventure of the cars he loved,” Debbie explained. “We converted our 401K plans into being able to invest in this business.”

Their business, Honest-1 Auto Care, is the first Washington store for the franchise that prides itself on being eco- and women-friendly — the latter of which particularly appealed to the Bakers who have three daughters. 

“We don’t like going to your typical repair shop or oil change shop. They’re dirty. They’re grimy. Of course, you look at it and you think, ‘I don’t even want to sit down,’ and so when we heard this idea we were like, ‘this is the one, let’s do that,’” Debbie recalled.

Before the couple settled on their location at 13303 Pacific Ave. S. in Tacoma, they visited several of the Portland-area franchises to get a feel for what they wanted. 

With more than 60 percent of Honest-1’s clients female, a sizeable waiting room with wi-fi and a kid-friendly play area were essential, as were bright, tiled bathrooms with motion-censored sinks.

Beyond these amenities, Debbie and her Tacoma staff try to educate and empower their female clientele so they understand the work being done on their cars and how to care for them. Debbie said she’s hoping to be able to offer classes beginning this summer, including one on how to change your oil, assuming business continues to grow.

Being part of a national chain has given the Baker’s staff the needed oversight and guidance so Debbie and Mike could keep their day jobs, at least for the time being.

“We wanted somebody that would have the advice and the template that then we could just apply and make it work within what we had. It also made a huge difference in having someone to call and say something is going on,” Debbie said.

They have five full-time employees running the shop: an office manager and four technicians. Debbie and Mike, who work for the Department of Revenue and the Administrative Office of the Court, respectively, make cameo appearances twice a week,

The goal, however, is for Debbie to eventually work at the shop full-time. 

A family affair

Their daughters, too, have been part of their endeavor. 

The oldest was a technician until her college schedule recently became too demanding and their middle daughter, also in college, has worked on their advertising. Their youngest, Kat, 12, helps on the administrative side of business, but the Bakers are hoping to get her hands dirty on the shop floor, so she can learn how to take care of her own car one day.

Mike, who has continued his hobby of rebuilding old, worn-down cars, is fixing up an old orange Toyota Celica parked behind the shop for Kat.

“He’s been that way forever, just always buying a car that needs to be fixed up, fixing it up and then moving onto the next car,” Debbie said.

The family isn’t likely to part ways with the old Celica any time soon, though.

Mike still has his first project, his mom’s ’64 Mustang that he was promised he could drive if he got it running.

“He still owns that Mustang actually, and I think that’s why, because it’s the first car he fixed. After that, he just liked that get in there and get it fixed and have the result,” Debbie said.