Story by Greg Zschomler
A Dodge Challenger, like the one shown here at Scoops, was John’s first car as a teen. This one is the first car of his collection. Photo by Gregory E. Zschomler
“You have to drive them if you want to keep them.” ~John Yonich
John Yonich of Grays Harbor, Washington is a visionary entrepreneur and vehicle enthusiast. He has a dozen classic automobiles in his assemblage, and, though he has a warehouse to store them, he regularly drives and shares them with the community he’s a part of.
This morning he drove into work, from his Westport home, in a teal 1955 Ford Fairlane “woody” (his latest acquisition) which he’s parked at the Aberdeen, Wash. Scoops—one of the coffee and ice cream shops he owns. In his office on the third floor of the D and R Theatre (which he owns), he’s enjoying a cup of Grays Harbor Coffee (which he also owns) while answering emails and calls and catching up on O.J. Simpson. Now, I’m catching up with him—or trying to—while drinking my own Americano from the barista downstairs.
Yonich, a warm and giving man with a sense of humor and a nose for business, is also known for his dogged activism and tenacious development. He owns several businesses in the area—among them the growing Scoops Ice Cream & Espresso chain (there are now two locations with a third in the works), Amore Italian Restaurant, a soon to be opened bakery, and, perhaps his most well-known, the aforementioned D and R Theatre. And while he’s occasionally ruffled a few feathers in his commercial pursuits, the businessman isn’t about selfishly building an empire; he gives a lot to the community and genuinely works hard for its betterment.
He’s also known for his collection of distinct “vintage” automobiles.
“I’ve always had a passion [for cars],” he says. “In high school, I had a Challenger much like I have now.” It took him thirty-one years to find that baby. The first classic he bought was a 1952 MG TD in 1978.
The local tycoon and car collector, who says he rarely goes to auto auctions, frequently rubs shoulders with nationally well-known performers who have appeared at the D and R. More than eighty big names have done shows at his theater since 2009; names like Kansas, Air Supply, White Snake and Fleetwood Mac. [Yonich bought and restored the 1923 Vaudevillian venue, which closed in 1980, in 2009.] And many artists such as Bad Company, Bill Cosby, Bret Michaels and LeAnne Rimes have ridden from the Sea-Tac airport to the theater in his classic black 1990 Lincoln limousine—just one of the vehicles in his myriad of motorcars.
When I asked him about what makes and models he owned he had trouble naming them all off the top of his head.
The most commonly seen among them is the cream-colored 1950 Chevy 3100 truck with the D and R logo painted on the side. That one pretty much stays in town and frequently appears in local parades. Of the classics he owns there are the 1950 Ford 3100, a 1952 MG TD Roadster, 1955 Ford Fairlane, a 1955 Buick, a 1955 Packard Caribbean, a 1958 Oldsmobile 88, a 1962 Corvette (red, of course), a 1957 Chevy Bel Air (naturally), a 1964 Lincoln Continental, a 1970 Dodge Challenger and the 1990 limo. He also cruises town in his black 2010 Mercedes SL63 AMG—which isn’t quite yet a classic (it has two and a half years to go) —with the top down, when it’s not raining.
As for entering his vehicles in cars shows he says, “I’ve only entered…on occasion. Car shows, it’s the time. I’m so busy, [but] I’d love to do more of them.” He’s entered his Buick in a couple of shows and won first in a local show and third in a national.
What’s it like buying, restoring and owning classic cars?
“There’s so much info out there now,” he says of the Internet, indicating that it’s easier to shop vintage cars than it ever was. He says the market for cars from the 50s is “softening up now that baby boomers are seeking cars from the 60s and 70s.”
Buying, restoring, owning and “having work done is expensive,” says Yonich, noting that a good paint job alone can “cost around $20K because a good restorer takes the car apart piece by piece for painting” before reassembling. Plus there’s the cost of keeping them in good running shape.
“You have to do some of the tinkering,” he says. “They don’t always just start up and go down the road. There’s weeks I don’t have to do anything [and] some weeks you wonder what [repair] you’ll have to do next. You have to drive them if you want to keep them.”
Lower cost collector’s licensing allows for infrequent driving; that is, to shows, in parades, and for maintenance (especially vintage or replica parts). And, “it’s not like you can plug them into computers,” to see what’s wrong says Yonich, who regularly displays his vehicles at Scoops for the historical effect (see photo). He says that, though the cars need driven regularly, they aren’t really a picnic to drive.
“I like driving them and I don’t,” he says. “It’s not like you’re driving your F-250 or Taurus; you don’t drive these cars, they drive you. There’s a reason they had ten and two [positions on the wheel].”
“Up in the Seattle area you never know what to expect with traffic,” he says. “Sitting on a freeway [in heavy traffic] in hot weather isn’t what [the older cars] are designed for.” He says, “There’s some worry about driving,” his classics in traffic. For him, 55 mph is tops, not only to keep from stressing the engines but for safety in traffic.
Plus, there’s insurance, maintenance, and storage. This week he’s cycling each of his cars in for an oil change. Twelve oil changes; that’s at least $300 right there.
So, if it takes all that time and money, I asked, why buy them? And what’s next?
“I buy them for the joy and the investment,” says the man with fingers in all sorts of business investments. “Some of them go up [in value], but that’s not important.” For Yonich it’s all about beauty and nostalgia.
“If I was looking now,” says Yonich, who’s currently tied up with reopening a restaurant, opening a new bakery and working on a project that will bring a music-technology branch of Grays Harbor College to downtown Aberdeen, “I’d buy a 1963 Corvette split-window.”