The new car wash owner, Greg Dowell, named the business after his father.

Greg Dowell stood on the side of the washing bay at his brand-spanking-new business, Donnie’s Car Wash, this past Sunday. The facility had just opened a few days prior, and, doing a quality-control check, he watched as a Jeep received a healthy dose of soap from the sprinklers.

“The water pressure looks great,” he said, nodding in approval. “My goal is to make sure it’s always working.”

As many locals know, for the past few years the options for washing their Keys cruisers have been slim to none and included an often-broken-down gas station system. Or we could always go to the mainland for a wash — but who wants to do that?

Recognizing the gap in the marketplace — and realizing he was bored in retirement — Dowell decided to open up his own business on the site of the old car wash and laundromat at MM 100. But, after signing the lease, he discovered that the drainage was not up to his standards. 

“The water would drain down into a tiny bore hole in the coral that was this size,” he said, holding his hands about six inches apart. A perfectionist, he wanted to prevent any chance of flooding and of the system breaking down. And this is not Dowell’s first wash-rinse-and-repeat business — he owned the laundromat at MM 99 for 16 years before selling it a couple years back, so he knew exactly how to address the car wash’s drainage issues.

Dowell points out the different wash options, including “Touch Free” for customers who like to protect expensive paint jobs on their cars.

He sprang into action, working closely with the wastewater and electric utilities to create what is, effectively, his own mini sewer system and power station for the facility, at considerable personal expense. But he doesn’t mind — he wants to provide the best possible experience.

At any time of day, customers can pull up to the terminal, pay for the type of wash they want, then roll into the bay. Options include an express wash and a “Touch Free” cleaning for those who are worried about scratching a delicate paint job.

And so far, so good. “We had 36 cars come through one day last week,” he said. “The goal is 100 a day.”

Another goal is to install another washing bay next to the current one, to serve as many cars as possible. Eventually, he’d like to put in a food truck on site to serve café con leches and pastries.

Dowell is proud of Donnie’s Car Wash, which is named after his beloved father, who passed away a few years ago.

“It’s an automatic system, and we are open 24/7,” he said, smiling. “It’s the dream of every businessperson to make money while you sleep and have no employees.”

Donnie’s Car Wash is located at 100101 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, oceanside. Wash options range from $9 to $19. For more information, call or text Greg Dowell at 305-619-0087 or visit donniescarwash.com.

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.