Best Honorable Engine Men (and Woman)

Pity the honest mechanic. Not just honest but fair, even kind and full of goodwill. For he cannot make a good living. Such is the challenge, perhaps the fate, of one Craig Kuromi, who with his brother Gary has been running Ise Automotive in Los Feliz for the past 29 years. The shop itself has seen life there since 1947, when their father, Ise, opened up. Before the auto shop, there had been the family flower shop north of Los Feliz Boulevard. But then came the Los Feliz Estates development, not to mention World War II and the Japanese-American internment camp at Manzanar. After the war, Ise came home but wanted to get out of flowers, and Ise Automotive was born.

Craig and Gary grew up in the neighborhood — they went to GlenFeliz Elementary, Marshall High School and LACC, but found themselves working for their dad, who has since passed away. Craig is the (relatively) outgoing one, Gary the pretty much silent partner. “Don’t be offended if Gary doesn’t talk to you,” says Craig, “he’s just a quiet guy. Give him a car to deal with and he’ll fix it.” The Kuromis have five mechanics working for them, including a woman, Lauren. No one at Ise thinks that’s a big deal, or that we should make some sort of Danica Patrick-in-the-pits-thing out of it, except how many shops actually have a woman mechanic?

When it comes to modern automobiles and their reliability, Craig is a pessimist. They don’t make them the way they used to, he says, not like they did back in 1947, or in 1978 either, the year his dad suggested Craig come to work for him. And he’s pessimistic about any mechanic’s ability to make a decent living without gouging customers on both parts and labor. “But I can’t do it,” Craig says with a sad-eyed shrug. “It’s just not me.” Which is of course why we need guys like Craig Kuromi and honest, neighborhood shops like Ise Automotive. Where would — or will — we be without them?

Ise Automotive 1774 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 663-8013

LA Weekly