Thirty Years in Corktown

Central Import Automotive

Sam and Mechanic at Texaco

By Ingrid Gadsden

In June 2013, Corktown’s Suresh Kapil, (known to everyone as ‘Sam’) owner of Central Import Automotive at 472 King St East, celebrates 30 years of operation in our neighborhood.

How Sam came to Corktown and built his business is an impressive example of entrepreneurial initiative, hard work, and forward planning that resulted in his establishing an operation that is widely considered to be Toronto’s premiere warranty-approved BMW, Audi, Volvo, Mercedes, and Porsche independent service facility.

Sam’s journey began in the Punjab area of northern India where, as a teenager, he spent a year servicing North American imports, such as Chevrolets, Fords, and Chryslers ‘ì and became fascinated with how cars worked. Mechanics in India who knew anything about North American imports were a rarity.

Sam discovered that Ramesh was right: there were opportunities galore for mechanics in Toronto. But first, Sam needed his mechanic’s certification. During several years of apprenticeship, he worked at various service stations around the city. One of those stations specialized in imports and that’s where Sam saw an opportunity. Within a couple of years, he was promoted to chief mechanic and, in 1978, he leased a Texaco station at Jarvis and Shuter and made it his own gas station and auto-repair outlet. He decided to concentrate on servicing European imports only at a time when mechanics who were knowledgeable about European cars were a rare find.

The business grew quickly and Sam soon discovered he needed more working space. Unsure of how long the Texaco station would be available, he looked for an additional shop he could use. He found the perfect spot at 472 King East, at the corner of Sumach St., his current location. The building featured a large sign that read ‘Herbertz Garage.’ Sam rented at first and then bought the building in 1983. He continued on, working at both the Shuter/Jarvis location and at 472 King. In 1989, when the Texaco site finally closed for good, he moved the entire operation, along with his four mechanics (some of whom are still with him), to Sumach and King. Loyal customers followed immediately. Since that time, Sam Kapil and Central Import have never looked back.

Today, he has four certified mechanics, one apprentice, and two counter staff on his payroll. Combined, they have more than 100 years of mechanical experience. European imports are still their expertise but they’re also happy to work on domestic brands.

It’s a philosophy that’s definitely working. Customers recommend friends, who in turn recommend their friends. ‘Word of mouth is the best advertising’ he adds.

Sam’s son Michael also works at Central Import. As a teenager, Mike pumped gas and hung around the service bays at the Jarvis and Shuter Texaco. Today, with a BA in business administration from Ryerson, he oversees the company. Central Import is a family business.

In the thirty years the company has been operating in the heart of Corktown, there have been many changes.

‘When we first came here, Corktown was mostly an industrial area: dirty, grey, and drab,’ says Sam. ‘There was an old Elte Carpet factory operating at Eastern and Cherry, where the Bay Cat Hospital sits now was an empty lot full of weeds and garbage. Across from us, where the 549 King East condo is, were Standard Auto Glass and another auto-repair garage. Between these places were a few residential houses; most of those are still here. And where the Corktown Brownstones are, that was Ontario Electrical with a large gravel parking lot.’

Sam pauses and looks around. ‘Things have changed a lot around here, but these are changes that are beneficial to the whole area. Everything’s looking up! I’m looking forward to seeing the Pan Am Games come, and to watching things change even more. This area right here, this Corktown neighbourhood, this is the number one area in all of downtown,’ he says, ‘and it will be for a long time. The possibilities here are huge. It’s going to be fun to watch it happen.’

Happy 30th Anniversary Sam, and to all the crew at Central Import Automotive ‘ we’re happy you’re here!

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