SAN DIEGO — Central vacuum systems and soap tray cleaning hoses are a rare sight at Laundromats. The same goes for keyless door entryways or magnetic locking bulkhead panels.

These nifty features most operators overlook on their to-do list are tucked away inside Scott Badarak’s laundries. And in San Diego’s hotly contested market where he competes for dirty duds, those little things make a big difference.

The 54-year-old Californian is cut from the same cloth as other tradesmen who have long taken a fancy to self-service wash-and-dry. For them, it’s always been an opportunity to collect some extra coin while hammering away at the job site.

“Anybody who has building experience is going to feel more comfortable jumping in with both feet,” he tells me as we make the rounds to his four laundries. “A broken machine, broken pipe or broken electrical, it doesn’t scare you.”

And neither does the prospect of resurrecting a neglected coin-op. Turns out he has quite an eye for fixer-uppers. But Badarak isn’t looking to flip. His are keepers.

DEMANDS PREPARATION AND RESPONSE

By the time he takes the helm, these tired operations need more than a little TLC. They require a pro to gut the insides, bring them up to today’s standards, and toss in some extra touches that only come from having three decades of projects under your belt.

Badarak knows if there’s one thing you can expect, it’s the unexpected.

“Someone who doesn’t have any experience and thinks they can come into the laundry business and just open the doors and empty coins is misguided. That’s not the case,” he says. “You’re always going to get the call.”

Those inevitable pleas for help are something this operator takes seriously. Working construction while keeping tabs on a chain demands preparation and response.

“I have cameras, I have emergency numbers and answer my phone,” he says with a snap of his fingers. “I’m there if there’s an issue.”

Smartphone monitoring plays a big role when communicating with customers and determining whether he can walk someone through a remedy or needs to head on over. In either case, patrons are never left holding the bag. “I’ve written checks for 25 cents,” the owner admits.

When something does go on the fritz, Badarak doesn’t let it stay down. Just as he relies on suppliers to have apparatus ready to go for job sites, his own offerings need to be up and operating.

“I’m renting my equipment to my customers and they expect the stuff to work right. You’ve got to approach it that way.”

SAME TOP-QUALITY PACKAGE AWAITS

The chain operates under four distinct trade names—The Laundry Basket, Serra Mesa Laundry & Cleaners, Duds in the Suds Coin Laundry and Mission Village Laundry—rather than a singular brand. But while the signage may differ on the outside, the same top-quality package awaits patrons inside.

Everything’s in order and sparkling clean as we walk into The Laundry Basket, a 1,500-square-foot venue on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, east of Interstate 15. At first glance, it resembles any other first-class coin-op. But a closer look reveals just how much thought went into this contractor-rebuilt-and-operated store.

Everything appears buttoned-down tight, yet welcoming. Corners aren’t cut here; they’re cleaned.

Rows of two-by-two LED light fixtures emit 4,500 lumens of illumination below drop ceiling panels to a customer area populated by stainless steel and white panel machinery. Quartz flooring underfoot is eye-appealing and, according to the owner, provides increased slip resistance.

Bulkheads here provide more than attractive cover for mechanicals. Rear access to the first bank of front loaders is gained by pulling back panel sections secured in place by magnetic strips, providing a seamless look from the outside.

The center back-to-back bulkhead boasts a quick-connect hose hookup to the hot water line, enabling cleaning staff to easily spray out residue remaining inside any washer soap tray.

Six top-load washers, vending at $3, stand with 17 front loaders, pushing up to 60 pounds and a $7.25 price point. Over on the dry side are 18 tumbler pockets.

The location’s equipment mix is typical for Badarak’s roster, where front-load hardmounts dominate and stack dryers are joined by as many as three 75-pound single-pocket models.

Entry to the rear maintenance supply area is provided through a digital keypad lock. Once inside, the night crew can carry out either dryer lint removal or floor cleaning duties utilizing a central vacuum system. Connection is made via an inlet valve located at the end of the tumbler run. The inlet is covered when not in use and the suction hose hangs conveniently on a reel along the back wall of the storage room.

Badarak bought The Laundry Basket from a retiring owner as part of a two-store package in 2017, doubling the contractor-cum-operator’s current holdings.

That hasn’t always been the case. Unlike the last three acquisitions, his first didn’t involve an asset purchase. He picked that one up on a handshake.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!