Not Your Ordinary Auto Service: Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube

April 2016

Part Two in a Series on Local Small Business Successes

By Andrew Canino

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Most people don’t consider automotive repair a luxury good or service. It’s usually something that people do not purchase because they want to, but because they have to. Most customers that automotive technicians see know very little about their own vehicles, and many customers don’t know anything at all about how to make their vehicles run.

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With such a complicated and universal problem that almost all adults face, drivers around Rolesville are lucky to have a small business like Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube in the heart of the business district.

Atlas Cohen “Pete” Smith started the auto repair business with his brother in 1947. Now, in 2016, that business is coming up on its 70th year.

Pete Smith Painting

This painting depicts the first Pete Smith’s Garage in Louisburg. Photo courtesy of Keith Smith.

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“The business actually started with my father,” owner Keith Smith said. “It started back in ’47 underneath an oak tree with just one location. If you go to the Louisburg location, there are actually some paintings that depict that.”

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In its 70-year history, Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube has expanded from one location to seven. The most recent location, just off North Main Street in Warrenton, has been open for only six months but has already found plenty of success, as all of the Pete Smith locations have.

Keith Smith reminisces about growing up around his father’s business.
“I came up as an auto technician. I grew up working on cars, and I still keep my certifications intact as a master certified technician,” he said. “I went off to school, got a business degree, took over the family business and started expanding. But the original store stayed in Louisburg. After my dad passed, the garage had been in business so long it just made sense to keep the name as ‘Pete Smith’ instead of changing it.”

Pete Smith Rolesville

The exterior of Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube in Rolesville. Photo by Andrew Canino.

Keith Smith is not the only member of the family who is involved with Pete Smith’s auto business.

“I have one brother, Greg, who actually manages the original store,” Keith Smith said. “He’s the shop manager at the Louisburg location. He likes it out there, but I’m the one who likes to go out and find ways to expand the business, so he and I have a very good working relationship.”

Aside from the very long history in the Rolesville, Henderson and Louisburg areas, the Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube shop also has one particularly interesting detail that sets it apart from almost any other auto repair shop in the world. It’s not the comfortable couches, the assortment of coffees or the granite countertops. Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube may be the only auto repair shop to have its own brand of barbecue sauce.

Appropriately named Shop Sauce, the bourbon-based sauce is a recipe of Keith Smith’s own invention. Smith has been making this sauce for nearly 25 years for friends and family, sometimes giving it as gifts to others. However, it’s been commercially available for only the past three years.

Keith Smith Burger 21

Mitch Neal (right) and Keith Smith (left) pose at their Burger 21 restaurant in Cary. Photo by Andrew Canino.

Smith was willing to disclose only parts of the “secret family recipe” that the Shop Sauce label boasts.

“It is bourbon-based, and it’s got your typical ketchup and vinegar in it,” he says. “It’s got lots of spices – most of which are listed on the label. We do, however, leave a few things off of the label. The sauce has so many particulates in it that we need to strain it in the restaurants we sell it in.”

In addition to the Pete Smith locations and Shop Sauce, Smith also has another venture with business partner Mitch Neal. Neal operates a Burger 21 restaurant franchise in Cary, where Shop Sauce is offered on the sauce bar.

Two years ago, Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube rewarded $5,000 to the company’s millionth customer.

When thinking back on that milestone and the number of customers that Pete Smith Tire has served, Smith says, “It feels good. A million customers – that’s a lot of people. We’ve touched a lot of people and families. So, to take something that’s been going on for 70 years and better it, that feels really good.”