Driven mechanic makes mark
By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent
Kate Jonasse is a determined, self-made woman. At 32, she owns her own automotive repair business in Sebastopol and captured the community’s attention by giving a car to someone who could make good use of it.
This year her business, K-Tech Automotive, was declared Sebastopol’s Business of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. She put down her wrench long enough to tell us how she has managed to accomplish so much.
Did you always like tinkering with cars?
In high school in Syracuse, New York, and Homer, Alaska, I was good at math, science and mechanics. I got frustrated. I felt like high school was babysitting, not education. I wanted to learn more.
I bought a 1981 Datsun pickup. It was a piece of junk. It wouldn’t start. I had to park on a hilltop to get it going. I decided I wanted to learn to fix cars.
It would empower me, help me be independent.
So I enrolled in the Automotive and Technical Program at Alfred State College in New York. It was thorough. I had to learn chemistry, physics, math, metallurgy, hydraulics.
I was the only woman in the classes. I felt I represented all womanhood. I had to not just do well but excel.
From there where did you go?
The last semester I was offered a job at a Mercedes dealership in Atlanta. After 13 months there, I got the West Coast bug.
A teacher told me the cars in the West didn’t have rust — a big issue back East. So I shipped my tools and drove to San Francisco.
I went to every auto shop three times. It was 2003 and there was a downturn, people were out of work. I finally offered to work for minimum wage because I was determined to learn how to build transmissions. Money didn’t matter to me; learning the next skill did.
After two months I left and went to work in a European auto shop. The boss was mean, but if I made a mistake once, I never made it again.
I got a smog license and managed a smog shop for a while. After a few years in San Francisco I moved to San Rafael, where I got a job. I was tired of having my car stolen, tired of roommates. I eventually got a job with Out West Garage in Petaluma, owned by Maria Do Ceu.
I always have to climb to the highest, the next mountain. After I was there a year I didn’t know what was next.
So you started your own business?
At first I told Maria I needed to take a semester off to go take classes. I took an electric car course and met Peter Oliver, the instructor.
He was leasing the old Ford dealership in Sebastopol and offered to lease me a bay. It was a magic opportunity.
At first I worked alone. I slowly built up and after nine months hired my first employee. Now four years later, I have four employees and am looking for another good tech to hire.
I relocated to 198 S. High St. a year ago. Up until then everything I had I had earned. I got a bank loan with Small Business Administration backing, jumping through lots of hoops.
And now you are the Business of the Year.
That was amazing. It was completely unexpected. I am very proud of it.
Tell us about your car giveaway.
For me it was a way to show I was part of the community, not just doing my thing on the sidelines. It was a 1995 Honda Civic, low mileage, very reliable. We also paid registration fees, included a year of servicing, which will be just oil changes because my staff and I did everything to refurbish that car, and we filled the tank with gas.
We had 100 people nominated.
We wanted the car to go to someone who was already doing things so it would make a big difference in their lives. My staff and I narrowed it down, and I did telephone interviews.
It went to Dani Burlison, a single mother of two who is a writer and artist, donating a lot of time to the community, doing free and sliding-scale writing workshops.
I told my staff, “If this goes well, we will do it every year.”
So now it is going to be an annual thing. We would like someone to donate a 2000 or newer car, and we will fix it up and get it in shape for this year’s giveaway.
What other plans do you have for the future?
I am still climbing mountains, mental rather than physical ones. I read physics manuals for fun. I want this shop to continue to develop into the smoothly oiled machine it can be, and then I can consider opening another one.