Sitting down with E. Gary Smith to talk about living and running a business in the Willows is no typical interview. Before getting to his own story, E. Gary raves about each of his neighbors in the vibrant Menalto Station strip: Café Zoe, Studio Cake, Be Yoga, La Hacienda Market, Vitamin D , and newcomer Habibis hair salon, among several others. “I am awed by my business community right here in Menalto Station and our growth,” he says.
Those that InMenlo has yet to feature, he suggests we should. He also enthuses about several other interesting Willows residents and entrepreneurs whom our readers should meet.
This passion for the people of his neighborhood has earned him the nickname the “Mayor of the Willows” by devoted customers and friends. About the title, E. Gary says, “I think it’s very endearing. I am not a quiet person. I jump in and get involved. That’s just my way. I like people. I see myself as a connective tissue because I’ve been here so long.”
And he has – making his home in the Willows for almost 30 years ago and running Menalto Cleaners there for 21 years. He fell in to the business at a time when he was pursuing a career change from psychology to technology. But the economy wasn’t doing well and breaking into tech wasn’t easy. When the cleaners’ original owner — of only 9 months — put it up for sale, E. Gary decided that given his love of clothing, it was the right opportunity.
Serving customers and making friends
Since then, he has greatly expanded the business and moved it from its original location at 1929 Menalto, the spot where Café Zoe now occupies. During the remodel and move, E. Gary also made a run for city council, an experience that he found invaluable and one that solidified his commitment to civic affairs.
Through the years, however, his customers have remained his central focus, from the famous ones — including Stanford greats and 49ers — to the local families. He discovered how deep this bond was several years ago when he became critically ill. Unable to bring him flowers in the ICU, customers and neighbors planted a garden outside of his bedroom window, which he could see during his recovery at home.
Today, while Menalto Cleaners is a cornerstone of the Willows, it serves businesses and individuals throughout Menlo Park, as well as those in Palo Alto and Atherton, and even Redwood City and Mountain View. In part, this is possible through what E. Gary refers to as “his other store,” the maroon van that handles customer pick-ups and deliveries.
E. Gary’s love of people and clothing is also at the heart of his newest venture: a men’s clothing line, Tetecuvee, which is currently in the planning stages.
But even as he pursues the new enterprise, you’ll still find E. Gary behind the counter at the store, “I love my business, and I love my job,” he says simply.