2018-08-01

Looking to the future

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Alex Pittman lost his sight completely five years ago. If all goes according to plan, he&#8217;ll be hosting an open house at his new business in Lunenburg, Mikiz Pitt Stop car and dog wash and Chill and Grill restaurant.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>According to the owner of Mikiz Pitt Stop car and dog wash, &#8220;car people and dog people go hand in hand.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Alex Pittman demonstrates the easy-to-operate, high-tech dog washing unit he purchased from Australia.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Mikiz Pitt Stop is a three-bay car wash featuring manual, automatic brushless, and executive level detailing.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The Chill and Grill restaurant offers &#8220;classic diner food&#8221; including ice cream.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The business name Mikiz is a combination of the names of Pittman&#8217;s parents &#8212; Michael and Izilda.</p>

Building and running a thriving business is challenging enough for the most able-bodied entrepreneurs; imagine doing it if you were completely blind.

Alex Pittman has done just that.

Pittman, who lost his sight unexpectedly to a disease five years ago, is the part owner and general manager of Mikiz Pitt Stop, a unique business on Lunenburg's Victoria Road combining a multi-level car washing service, dog wash, and the Chill and Grill restaurant.

The car wash service opened last November while the restaurant began serving late last month. Plans are for an official opening later this month.

Determined not to let his loss of sight put the brakes on his life, Pittman says the unusual business model gives him a green light to move forward with an income stream that merges his passions and fits in perfectly with his mind's eye vision of what is needed and wanted in the area.

"My whole body didn't fail. Just a part of my life significantly changed," he said in an interview with LighthouseNOW.

"Life's short. Make the most of it. I learned I can do what I want to do. I've just got to do it in a different way."

But he admits things weren't always so straightforward and it took him about six months after his sight was lost completely before he began to envisage what the future could hold.

Born and raised in Lunenburg, Pittman is a self-proclaimed "car geek." And in addition to working in the local auto detailing and restoration industry, he also spent years in the restaurant industry, most recently as a waiter and bartender at the former Trattoria della Nonna.

He had full eyesight then.

"I just woke up one day and the one eye didn't work, and within six months the other one was gone. Numerous surgeons tried to repair it with no success," he said.

Eventually he connected with the Canadian Institute for the Blind, which helped put things in perspective for him.

"I realized I wasn't the only one in this condition. If others can do it..." he says trailing off.

The institute helped him learn how to do things in a different way, and helped him regain his confidence.

Pittman suggests he's "quite fearless now.

"And that's part of it. You've just got to be fearless."

Sound advice for any budding entrepreneur, perhaps. However, he admits, "nothing comes easy.

Everything's way harder... you just have got to be patient and you've got to be persistent."

The idea for the business is one he and his family had been honing over a number of years, sparked, in part, by musings on a backyard deck while barbecuing burgers in the summer.

"'Where do you just get food like this any more? Everything has become processed and fast with the modern speed of society.'"

When the property at 103 Victoria Road, which housed a shack and a hand-operated car wash came up for sale in 2014, the decision to buy it was an easy one.

Pittman's parents, Michael and Izilda, helped him finance the purchase, and the business concept was off and running, even if Pittman himself still had a big learning curve to navigate.

In an age when email and social media is so prevalent, one of the skills he had to learn was how to make use of the modern technology that has been developed to assist the sight challenged, such as voice over technology for computers and smart phones.

"Braille. That was the go-to 20 years ago, but it's different now," says Pittman.

However, he points out that not being able to see isn't always a bad thing when dealing with social media.

"There's a clarity of thought when it comes to being blind because you're not always distracted by the billions of pixels and all the stuff going on. So you have the ability to kind of think clearly and problem solve," Pittman explains.

"It has its pros and cons," he adds with a chuckle.

While the shack that was on the premises was to have been converted to the restaurant where they would serve classic diner food, such as burgers and fish and chips, it proved unsuitable in the end. So Pittman had it transported to his home property as a garage for his vintage Jaguar.

"I had quite a few cars before I went blind. But now I can't drive and I had to let many things go in my life," he explains. The '79 Jag remained as his "therapeutic hobby."

According to Pittman, the restaurant side of the business started to come together first, but was put on hold until he and his family firmed up the business model they wanted for the car wash.

They didn't want the restaurant operational while construction work was underway in close proximity.

They settled on a three-bay car wash with three different services: manual wash, automatic brushless laser wash and what he calls "executive specialty detailing," basically a high-end, inside and out cleaning and restoration service by the specialist who works there, Logan Tanner.

"The doggy wash kind of came in half way through the project as a thing," explains Pittman.

He recalls reading somewhere that Lunenburg has the highest number of dogs per capita than anywhere in Canada. He suggests there are no other sophisticated dog washing units in the town like his, which was purchased in Australia.

The restaurant, which opened in July under chef Dwayne Ward serves "classic style diner food, without skipping out on the quality of the product."

All the meals sell for $10 and under and are made fresh from Nova Scotia products.

The freshly cooked, classic menu is designed, "knowing that, in this area, there are a lot of people of the age demographic that remembers that stuff," Pittman says.

While seating is outside at the moment, Pittman hopes to extend the building so the restaurant can be open year-round.

Meanwhile, he says, "Everything is working as planned."

The restaurant, car, and dog wash business combo is bringing his passions together in the manner Pittman envisaged.

Years in the restaurant trade convinced him, "I love serving people," he says, and he enjoys meeting "all the car guys."

While "car people and dog people go hand in hand."

"It's perfect," Pittman says.

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