John Silva went from wearing a tie to work every day to wearing coveralls and a gas mask, scraping out globs of gunk and grease from commercial kitchen ducts in the middle of the night.
Some might call him crazy for making the choice to trade in his white collar corporate world for a new business in a shaky economy. For Silva, though, it’s living the American dream.
"Job growth in this economy is possible with small business," said Silva. "And if I can be a small piece of that here in Wythe County, it’s worth it." The son of a naturalized citizen from Ecuador and the grandson of a Scots-Irishman carpenter, Silva had a 14-year career with Sears, working as a Kmart manager all over Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.
"I knew I wanted more—to be more," said Silva.
Last year, the 49-year-old decided to open his own branch of the national commercial kitchen cleaning franchise HOODZ out of his home in Rural Retreat. The business was incorporated in September, officially opened in December and on Jan. 2 did its first cleaning at Judy’s Family Diner.
Silva said he had grown weary of weeks away from his family and the daily grind of the corporate world.
He liked his job with Kmart and made good friends, he said, but he was ready for a change. Corporate meetings, he said, always talked about how to cut costs, which inevitably looked at labor. Meetings now, he said, the talk is about efficiency and adding labor. He’s looking to hire a part-time worker soon.
Silva’s service area spans from Roanoke to Bristol, with portions of northwestern North Carolina. It’s one of the largest of the HOODZ franchises.
Silva’s wife, Regina, takes care of the bookkeeping and the administrative tasks. She said working with her husband has made them closer. The career change has also reconnected the family, she said. Daughter Savannah, 21, helps with marketing when she’s home on break from Liberty University in Lynchburg. John Wyatt, 15, is hoping to be “a greaser” like the technicians. And Robynne, 13, is busy creating a Facebook page for the family business.
Silva’s two technicians, Andy Tynes and Kyle Knight, feel like they’re getting a slice of the dream too.
"The key to my success," said Silva, "is to help others be successful."
For Tynes, 25, who has a young son and a fiancée, the new job has offered him stability and the potential for growth.
"This is something I could build up a future with,” he said. “I can see myself doing this 10 or 15 years down the road."
"The jobs I had before this, none of them really afforded me the opportunity to grow where there’s no lid to potential,” said Knight, also 25. “Here, income is based on your good service—that’s where the American dream comes in for me."
Silva’s faith plays a big part in his business approach. The parent company for HOODZ of Middle Appalachia is LGLP Inc. – Loving God and Loving People. "We asked ourselves, how can we model Christianity in a quiet way?" said Regina.
Silva said he can already see God blessing the business, averaging a couple new accounts every week.
"It’s not about wealth,” he said. “It’s about service."