Troy resident Kathryn Murphy chuckled as she recalled the frustration of trying to talk on – and arrange repair for – an iPhone that had been grabbed and thrown by her 2-year-old.
“ ‘Please, Katie,’ ” my dad would say during our calls that were full of static and awful sound quality. ‘Please take your phone somewhere and get it fixed, so we can have an actual conversation!’ ”
“I’m a working mom with two toddlers,” Murphy explained. “I’d already been to my service provider for a repair that didn’t succeed too well. So, I was trying to get by, and I didn’t want to be without my phone again.”
But when Murphy noticed the gleaming, new uBreakiFix electronic device service location in her neighborhood, on Crooks Road near Big Beaver in Troy, Mich., she decided to stop in and attempt another repair.
“The store was welcoming and spotless,” Murphy said. “I was helped by a very friendly and sympathetic tech guy, who said they’d have my phone ready, hopefully, by the end of the day. Two hours later, my phone was fixed!” Kathryn added:“I’d been ready to just buy a new phone, so they saved me hundreds of dollars!”
The uBreakiFix business in Troy is one of five company locations to open in Metro Detroit during the past 15 months. And owners Drew Lessaris and Matthew, Ron and Joyce Harb have plans to expand into Macomb and Wayne counties, Brighton, Ann Arbor and Flint over the next two years.
Drew Lessaris (l) and Ron Harb (r) of uBreakiFix in Troy, Michigan
“I’d been looking for a business venture for this Detroit area,” said Ron Harb. “I’m from here and, though I moved to Little Rock (Arkansas) when I married years ago, I’ve remained a Detroiter in heart and spirit.”
“I did research and discovered uBreakiFix,” Harb said. “I met with the founders and couldn’t have been more impressed with their passion and work ethic.”
“And,” added Harb, “when I was looking for an operating business partner, I was blessed to find Drew.”
Moving here from Indianapolis, Drew Lessaris had also been moved by the passion and commitment of uBreakiFix’s founders.
“I could see that they were building for the long term, and that they based the business on robust technology, extraordinary customer service, the highest-quality parts, support for the growth of each team member and, especially, an ethical and transparent business model,” Lessaris said. “UBreakiFix, from the start, distinguished itself from all other device repair businesses,” Lessaris said. “We diagnose for no charge. We have a set price for each type of repair, a 90-day nationwide warranty, and we will match any (regular) repair price. If we cannot fix a device, there is no charge. Most importantly, we hire staff who care about people. We don’t see ourselves as a repair company, but as a customer service company.”
And their service has changed dread and disappointment into joy for many customers.
“We were able, after a whole day of trying, to restore hundreds of photos of a couple’s newborn when their phone got wet. That was a rewarding day,” Lessaris said.
“Yes,” agreed Harb. “So many people don’t know that turning on a phone with water damage is the worst thing you can do. The number one rule is to power off the phone so the current doesn’t destroy the mother board.”
“Just tell everyone to bring their water-damaged phones to us,” Lessaris said. “Water treatment for an iPhone 6 series is only $50!”
One of the people Lessaris hired, Ben Willoughby, started as a uBreakiFix tech in Indiana and moved to Detroit to join Lessaris’s team here asregional manager. At the Royal Oak location on Woodward Avenue, Willoughby enjoys guiding new staff members through the initial 30-day training period.
“The company provides such opportunities for its workers,” Willoughby said. “And the mindset is that the team is a family, not just a business. It’s a great place to be all the time, from Drew and Ron to the folks in corporate.”
“It is easier to teach people how to fix things than how to be nice, to be encouraging in a customer’s time of need,” said Justin Wetherill (Co-Founder/CEO), a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree who opened the first uBreakiFix in Orlando in 2009 with partners David Reiff and Eddie Trujillo.
Justin Wetherill opened the first uBreakiFix in Orlando, Florida
A former data-base analyst with a degree in accounting, Wetherill shared the story of the company’s humble beginnings. “In 2009, right after opening my new iPhone 3G, I dropped it, and it broke,” Wetherill said. Unwilling to leave his phone at any of the bleak and dingy repair businesses nearby, Wetherill — a tech lover and tinkerer — decided to fix it himself.
Wetherill and Reiff then realized the extensive need for quality device repair and began a living room-based, mail-in business. When customers were willing to drive two hours or more to wait for a repair instead of mailing their phones, the three founders saw that brick-and-mortar locations were their next step.
UBreakiFix now has 325 locations, with nearly 700 being developed – and the company has completed more than 2.5 million repairs. “We’re really excited about the success and impact we’ve had in the Detroit area and with how receptive Detroit has been,” said Wetherill. “Focusing on people and process, profit has been a by-product and a blessing. We plan to keep growing and sharing with customers and employees.”
With a sleek and efficient website, a gleaming service area stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and a computerized, eye-catching marquee flashing on Maple Road, Troy Auto Glass is an ultramodern and ever-evolving enterprise.
But what makes owner Gary Laviolette most proud is that Troy Auto Glass is so “old-fashioned.”
“It’s hard to find good, small businesses that work like they did 20 years ago,” Laviolette says. “Social behaviors change, but you can’t underestimate what customer service means.”
And each member of Laviolette’s staff provides customers needing auto and windshield glass replacement the kind of service that generates five-star online reviews and enthusiastic referrals from highly satisfied clients and local car dealerships.
When Troy resident, Laurie Albert, needed to replace the windshield of her Mazda, she called a business she had used in the past.
“They were kind of nonchalant,” said Albert. “They didn’t ask me any details about my car, but said they could take care of the work and the insurance when I came in.”
“I then called the Mazda dealership for their advice, and they recommended Troy Auto Glass,” Albert added.
Albert’s concerns about the replacement process and questions about the windshield product were answered by Laviolette himself, who happened to take her call.
“Gary took time to explain what would happen, that he had the proper inventory, and that he’d easily be able to process the insurance claim. But the best part,” Albert said, “is that work was finished almost an hour ahead of the time they’d estimated!”
“Also,” she said, “the facility is clean, pleasant, and professional. It’s much more like a nice office building than an auto garage.”
The 55-year-old business was started by Gary’s dad, Ronald Laviolette, in Waterford, in 1962 and has been at its current location on Maple Road since 1978.
“As a 10-year-old kid,” Gary said, “I would drive in with Dad on Saturday mornings and do deposit slips, and take orders and phone calls. In high school, I did a co-op program here, attended staff meetings and learned even more. After high school, I was here fulltime.”
“And half of our employees have been here 20 years,” he added. “For some, it’s been 25 or 30.”
In those years, windshield technology has continued to change.
“Along with customer service, our concern is driver safety. We only use OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) products,” Laviolette said.
“Often, people looking to save money will have a service station replace their windshield. But that product may be from China and, in an accident, may not withstand a safe airbag release.”
He added, “And, with sensors, cameras and brackets, after-market and cheaper products cannot provide a safe fit.”
“Even the type of glue used contributes to safety,” Laviolette explains. “Ours is the highest quality, and we provide the proper drying time so that when a job is finished, the vehicle is completely safe. If a customer left here and was in an accident, the windshield would definitely remain intact.”
Laviolette and his staff are ready to meet the challenges of future auto innovations and heightened technology.
“Our technicians are highly skilled – and they care,” said Laviolette. “We are excited to keep up with the future, but we’ll always remain old-fashioned.”
As a 13-year-old growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Mike Chalhoub couldn’t wait until his school day was done.
Unlike most of his friends, he had more to look forward to than playing ball or riding a bike after classes.
He was going to his job as a busboy at The Summertimes restaurant, where he would soon be immersed in the aromas of cumin and coriander and freshly chopped cilantro, onions and garlic, while the chefs sliced, sautéed and shouted orders to each other for chicken shata or the lamb and chicken shawarmas, for which the restaurant was known.
“My boss saw my passion for food and hard work,” Chalhoub says, “and soon promoted me to cooking.”
By age 18, Chalhoub was running the snack bar, night club and main restaurant of a nearby hotel. At 23, he opened a restaurant on the Ivory Coast.
“Soldiers came and took it over,” Chalhoub said.
He moved to the United States and worked in several Mediterranean eateries until starting the Troy location of Grape
Leaves in 2004.
“It was challenging,” Chalhoub says. “I wanted everything to be perfect: fresh, delicious, healthy and, especially, consistent. And, you know what? Everything, thirteen years later, is still the same consistent quality.
And,” he says, “I guarantee that what you enjoy here today will taste the same when you order ten years from now!”
Each morning, Chalhoub and his brother and general manager, Brian, shop for fresh vegetables and meat and deliver them to the three Grape Leaves locations (Troy, Oak Park, Southfield). The chicken will be marinated; the lamb, roasted; the vegetables, washed and sliced: all readied for the stews, salads, sautees and specialty dishes that will be made-to-order for dine-in or carry-out lunches and dinners, as well as catered events.
“I wish I had photos of one wedding we catered,” Chalhoub says, “with a whole, baked lamb. It was fantastic. Everyone loved it!”
Diners eat there often and are treated like family. “Hello, Squash Guys!” Brian says, greeting longtime customers, Dodie and Warren, as they enter. They hug Brian warmly.
“We started coming here eight years ago,” Dodie says. “Currently, we’ve had to omit dairy, sugar and meat. Here, we can always have the most healthy and delicious meals.” Warren laughs.
“That’s why you get to know the boss! Look! They made me these fresh-cooked cottage fries to go with my cousa (stuffed squash),” Warren says.
“My crew is the best,” Chalhoub says. “Though some of the wait staff leave for other careers after college, 90 per cent of my cooks have been with me for many years.”
And, though Chalhoub now leaves most of the cooking to his staff, today he motions, “Come! I want you to see the creation of my favorite dish: chicken ghallaba!”
He washes his hands and dons gloves, apron, chef hat. With a 10-inch, razor-honed knife, he slices onions, peppers, carrot – even mushrooms – with lightning quickness and tosses them into a sizzling pan. The vegetables are cheerfully thrown in air and then land amid marinated chicken breast he’s added.
“Now,” he says, spooning a red powder over the skillet, “here is for the special taste: my own spice blend!”
Holding the plate of golden chicken with its mound of brilliant vegetables and rice, Chalhoub smiles and says, “If you want to stay healthy and eat delicious food, come to Grape Leaves. A visit a day keeps the doctor away!”