MENASHA – Coonen’s Complete Service, a family owned automotive service shop that has been passed through three generations which has been in Menasha since 1938 and in Kimberly for 10 years before that, will soon change owners.
For almost 95 years, the mechanic shop has provided its local customers with services such as auto repair, diagnostics, brake systems, transmission systems, oil changes and more.
Customers were used to dropping their cars off and being greeted by one of the Coonens, whether it was Hank, who started the business; Dave, who took over from his father, Hank; or Dave’s sons John and Pete, who took over after Dave retired.
Pete, who was now the sole owner of the shop, recently made the decision to pass the torch on to a new owner — someone outside the Coonen family.
From father to son, the business ignited a love of cars
Hank Coonen first opened Coonen’s Complete Service in 1928 on Kimberly Avenue in Kimberly. Almost 10 years later, the business relocated to Third and De Pere in Menasha.
Before the business moved to its current location, 812 Plank Road, in 1976, the first two locations were also full-service gasoline stations.
Pete said the original shop opened by his grandfather was one of the first companies to work with U.S. Oil, which provides fuel distribution solutions such as terminal assets, transportation logistics, supply trading, wholesale fuel solutions and more. The company was also founded in Kimberly in 1958.
“I think it was ’75 when (my dad and his brother) decided to get out of the gas business,” Pete said. “They sold everything, they’re part of U.S. Oil, and my uncle went on to something else.”
Dave Coonen went on to build the current location and shifted the business to just an automotive servicer offering everything they did previously, except selling gasoline.
Pete, who was 12 years old when his father built Coonen’s current building, said cars became his passion thanks to growing up around them.
“I just loved cars,” he said. “I just followed in my dad’s and my brother’s footsteps, and I had some other jobs in between, just to try different things, but every time I’d get done working at my other job, I was here every day.”
He said he was there so much he figured he might as well just stay, and when his brother, John, passed away in 2011, he fully took over the shop.
Twelve years later, Pete has made the difficult decision to sell his business and start the next chapter in his life.
“I’m not going to retire because I’m only 58, but I’m gonna get out the business and find something else to do once this all heals up,” Pete said referring to the sling on his arm from his recent shoulder surgery. “I’m going to keep working for a while.”
Who will be taking over the family business?
On March 2, the business was officially transferred to its new owner, Mike Gilson. Pete hired Gilson at the start of the year so that he could get acquainted with the business and customers. His past experience as a racecar driver and a mechanic gives Pete confidence in his ability to take over the business.
“Mike’s going to be taking over, he’s 38 years old and I think he’s going to be a great fit for it,” Pete said. “I just thought it was a really good opportunity for both of us.”
Gilson said he has big shoes to fill, but he’s optimistic he will be successful doing so.
“With this family legacy of 95 years of being here, it’s a lot to keep going forward,” Gilson said. “I want to make his family proud and I want to make my family proud, to keep that family name and his name going for a long time.”
Although Gilson is the new owner of Coonen’s Complete Service, the building is owned by someone else: Kimberly Halbach, owner of Plank Road Pub, the bar and grill next to Coonen’s.
Pete said Halbach had been interested in the adding the space from Coonen’s parking lot to her property for years. He told her she wouldn’t get just the parking, so instead she offered to purchase the whole property.
“It was a really, really hard decision for me to make, and I talked it over with my wife and just, it was difficult, and finally, we came to an agreement,” Pete said.
Halbach purchased the property, and Gilson will lease it from her. Both parties said they have no intentions of making any cosmetic changes to the business.
“There’s not gonna be hardly any change at all, no pricing differences, things like that, everything’s gonna stay the same,” Gilson said. “The same services always gonna be here and I’m always willing to put my foot forward to make sure that customers always happy. That’s the biggest thing, because if they’re happy, I’m happy.”
Although Gilson is officially running the business, Pete said he’ll still be checking in, and customers might find him there on any given day, but he has no doubt about the continued success of his families legacy.
“I truly believe he will be successful because I’ve seen him in the last couple of months,” Pete said. “I don’t see any issues there at all.”
Reach Jelissa Burns at 920-226-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @burns_jelissa or on Instagram at burns_jelissa.