With Valentine’s Day this month, it’s fitting that our February Service Provider Spotlight features our first couple: Xavier and Darlene Vasquez, who coincidentally celebrate 25 years of marriage on February 25. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island and the Bronx, respectively, they were high-school sweethearts who first met at Blockbuster Video in the early ’90s, and have been together ever since. In 2007, they started A Star Plumbing, based out of Long Branch, New Jersey. Darlene handles the schedule; Xavier handles the plumbing. They spoke to Cinch recently and shared their story, some tips on plumbing do’s and don’ts, and the secret to operating a business, a marriage and a family.
Cinch: So, how did you get started in plumbing?
Xavier: It’s in the blood! I have six brothers and four sisters. Almost all of them are in some kind of trade. My oldest brother is a licensed pipe fitter. One of my brothers plays trumpet. We’re all very hands-on.
Cinch: How long have you been in New Jersey?
Darlene: 18 years.
Xavier: It’s a slower pace down here. In New York, you spend half your day’s pay buying lunch.
Cinch: How did the company get started?
Darlene: He worked as the head mechanic for another company for 12 years, and they sponsored him to get his plumbing license. I stayed home and raised the kids. (laughs)
Xavier: I got laid off, but now I had my license.
Darlene: So, we decided to start our own business and go all in. Xavier worked as a maintenance guy at first, to make ends meet, before we built our client list.
Cinch: Do you do all kinds of plumbing?
Xavier: We don’t work on clogged drains, [but we can do] everything else. Clogs require a lot of equipment, and with that much equipment, it’s harder to be mobile, ’cause it’s just me. But we do everything else: water heaters, leaks, running toilets, broken faucets, ice-maker lines, main water lines, shut-off valves.
Cinch: What’s the most frequent problem?
Xavier: Some leaks you don’t see for months or even a year. By the time [you notice them], there’s a big stain on the ceiling. The leaks can come from anywhere: the base of a toilet, a sewer line. Some pipes are just made with cheaper copper, and over time, tiny holes begin to open and spring slow leaks.
Cinch (to Darlene): So, while Xavier is out on calls, you run the business.
Darlene: Every morning, I check the messages, call back customers, set up appointments. I’ll schedule one day north and the next day south. Most of my day is spent talking to customers.
Xavier: I leave early in the morning, come home at the end of the day, and we spend the night doing the paperwork.
Darlene: (laughing) His handwriting is like a doctor’s — a 6 looks like a G, an 8 looks like a 2…
Cinch: What can homeowners do to maintain their plumbing?
Xavier: Check for leaks. Test those valves. People don’t ever look under their sinks — they just throw towels and stuff down there. Do regular checks to make sure no water is collecting.
Darlene: And flush your water heater once a year. Nobody does that. They think it’s a myth, but it’s the best thing you can do.
Xavier: You’d be surprised how many people don’t know where their water main is. If you don’t know, call the water company and they’ll tell you. Usually it’s in the front of the house.
Cinch: What’s the most difficult job you’ve encountered?
Xavier: Sometimes the hardest thing is finding the leak. If the ceiling is stained, that doesn’t always mean that’s where the leak is.
Cinch: Do you ever remove pieces from the ceiling?
Xavier: Sure, if I have to.
Cinch: What’s it like being married and owning a business?
Xavier: We’re both people persons. She used to run a store, and I used to run a deli, so we know people, know how to talk to them.
Darlene: It’s fun. Each day is different. We’ll call each other throughout the day and trade stories.
Cinch: What’s the toughest thing about the job?
Xavier: When people don’t clean up before I get there — especially toilets.
Cinch: You two have been together for a while. How did you meet? What was your first date?
Darlene: Our first date was a movie. I forget which one. He got mad because I went to the window before him and paid for my own ticket.
Xavier: That’s right.
Darlene: I’ve always been independent-minded. The first time we met was at Blockbuster Video. I was friends with his sister, and we were all there at the store, a whole group of us. I forgot my card, so I asked his sister if I could borrow hers, and she gave me his and told me I had to return it. I gave everyone a ride home because it was pouring out, and we caught eyes in the rearview mirror.
Xavier: I was cool back then! Now I’m just a plumber! (laughs)
Darlene: I gave his sister a ride to work a few days later. Then I called her house and asked for her because I knew she was gone and that I’d talk to him.
Xavier: I had just got back from the military.
Darlene: Then we went to the prom together, and that was it.
Cinch: Last question: What’s your go-to tool?
Darlene: Mine is the computer.
Xavier: Channellock pliers. Some people use them for the right thing, some people use them for the wrong thing, but a plumber will use them for everything.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.