Laundromat legacy: Andy Meng celebrates 50 years in the business his father started
Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 6, 2022
SALISBURY — When Andy Meng started working at his father’s laundromat business about five decades ago, he was a fresh-faced 19-year-old.
“I was 100 pounds lighter and an inch taller,” jokes Andy, who will turn 70 in November.
His appearance wasn’t the only thing different back then. After he got done shooting hoops at the local YMCA and arrived for work at the laundromat, Andy bought a newspaper, a Coke and a snack — all for 45 cents.
A lot has changed in 50 years, but Andy is still maintaining the business his father started. He owns and operates the Super SpeedWash laundromats at 124 S. Avalon Dr. and 1337 W. Innes St.
Andy’s father, Lewis Meng, got his start in the laundromat business by following a tip from one of his customers at College Barbecue. Lewis was a cook at the iconic Salisbury eatery, but he also operated dozens of coffee and cigarette vending machines at several laundromats around town.
“Back when cigarettes were popular and cost about a quarter,” Andy said.
The customer told Lewis that he should call a man about buying his laundromat on West Innes Street, next to Summersett Funeral Home. Lewis did just that. He purchased the laundromat on March 10, 1972, relying on a loan from F&M Bank.
“They were the only bank that would talk with my dad and they trusted my dad because they knew him,” Andy said.
Lewis didn’t stop at just one. He built a small empire of washettes, buying two more in Salisbury, then a couple in Winston-Salem and one each in Cooleemee, Kannapolis and Spencer. Lewis eventually downsized back to Salisbury, selling off the out-of-town stores.
Andy, a young man looking for a career path, joined the business not long after his father bought his first West Innes Street laundromat.
“I did all of the dirty work, cleaning the filters and mopping and that type of stuff,” Andy said.
Andy worked for his father for about a decade, until July 1, 1982, when he bought Lewis’ North Main Street and Spencer stores. Like his father, Andy expanded over time and added more stores to his portfolio. At one point he was managing four locations. Also like his father, he eventually cut back to just the two he owns now.
In 1994, Andy purchased his father’s first laundromat next to Summersett Funeral Home. Around the turn of the century, Summersett bought the property and demolished the laundromat in order to expand. Andy bought the former home of famed Salisbury restaurant Al’s Night Hawk in 2001 and transformed it into the laundromat still there today.
In 1998, Andy bought his dad’s laundromat on Avalon Drive. He calls the Avalon Drive location his “home run store,” which means it’s seen the bulk of improvements over the years. Andy has watched the neighborhood around the Avalon Drive store improve, bolstered by the arrivals of Aldi and Tinseltown USA.
Until 1999, the laundromats were simply called SpeedWash — nothing super about them. The hero-esque branding was added at the suggestion of Dan Wiley, who has sold Andy hundreds of commercial laundry machines over the years.
Wiley would give Andy another good idea in 2007 when he advised him to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“That was probably the best business decision that I ever made,” Andy said.
Although Andy enjoys the laundromat business, he said it’s not as easy as some may think.
“It’s more than just going into the building and collecting quarters,” Andy said. “A lot goes into it and it is work. It doesn’t come easy. I’m on call 24/7.”
Even when he’s not at the store, Andy is usually checking live feed from the cameras he’s installed at his Avalon Drive laundromat. Between his two locations, he oversees several employees and more than 100 machines. He has help from his wife, Jamie, who serves as administrative assistant and a few trusty employees who have been with him for more than a decade.
Andy said he’s always tried to run the laundromats with integrity, like his father did. A mostly cash business, it wouldn’t be hard to keep a few quarters from Uncle Sam. But that’s not what he was taught.
“Because my dad was an honest business man and I saw how he operated, that’s how I’ve done it,” Andy said. “My dad was an inspiration.”
Andy has installed card readers on some of his largest machines, but most are still coin only. The price of upgrading machines has increased dramatically since Andy started in the business. A typical washer or dryer would’ve cost a couple hundred bucks decades ago, but is now worth more than a thousand.
There have been other changes, too. The demographics of his customers have shifted as well. About 35% of his customer base is Hispanic, compared to almost none when he started.
With his 70th birthday approaching, Andy isn’t sure how much longer he’ll stay in the business he’s dedicated much of his life to. But at the same time, he isn’t running toward retirement. As he puts it, he’s already memorized every episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Television shows aren’t the only thing he has committed to memory. A devout North Carolina basketball fan, Andy said he can name every national champion dating back to 1950 in less than four minutes.
“If you can stump me, I’ll give you $10,” Andy said.
That’s 40 quarters, which is almost enough to cover a 24-minute cycle in one of the biggest washers at the Super SpeedWash on Avalon Drive.