Clifford Casolla had a stable, well-paying job right out of college with benefits and retirement, but he walked away from it all for an uncertain future doing what he is passionate about: cars.
After being born and raised in Sonoma, first going to St. Francis and then Sonoma Valley High School (Class of ’05), Casolla studied criminal law at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University (’09) before joining the San Francisco Police Department fresh out of college. However, Casolla wasn’t just working full time, he would come home to Glen Ellen nights and weekends to fulfill his passion for cars.
“I was born and raised in a hot-rod family, mainly raised by my dad, and we kinda grew up with classic cars,” Casolla said. “Growing up as a kid, I was always hands on, building dirt bikes and go karts, anything mechanical. It was always something I was really interested in.”
Casolla bought his first classic car before he could even drive, and started working on it at home. Before long his passion turned into a job, working at Sonoma Rod and Custom and Sears Point Autobody throughout high school and college. Still, he continued with the path he planned for a few years before an opportunity arose at Marshall’s Body Shop.
“So I would come here (Marshalls) on weekends and whatnot and paint or do side work and that kind of led into a friendship and one day that led to a conversation about him selling,” Casolla said. “At that time I knew nothing about what it takes to buy a shop but I just kind of fell into it and two months later, it was official.”
Now, almost two years later, Casolla makes a living doing what he loves. Still, he never regrets going to college, because it’s never a waste of time to be educated. Knowledge is power, he believes.
“It was kind of taking a leap. I didn’t study business, I don’t know much about how to run a shop,” Casolla said. “But it’s something I’ve always been passionate about. I’m always building or working on something. I kind of have a hard time staying still. Cars are kind of like my outlet; it’s a creativity outlet.”
Most importantly, Casolla is glad to be back in his hometown. No more commuting hours on Highway 101, he can walk to his shop from his house a couple miles away.
Besides the proximity, Casolla loves being close to his family and community.
“Born and raised you know a lot of people, it’s that small town, community vibe. When you have situations like the fire we just went through, where my house was in danger, my shop was in danger. I had clients calling me and asking me if I’m OK and if I need anything,” Casolla said. “You’re a part of people’s lives, hopefully in a positive way, it’s a good feeling when you have a good relationship with customers.”
Still, doing what you love takes hard work, and Casolla puts it in. He says the hardest part of the job is the “uncertainty of every day.”
“You have to be able to adjust your day and, as an owner, you have to be able to solve each problem. No one else has to figure it out, it’s on me,” Casolla said. “The biggest thing is dealing with the constant, different challenges that arise. It’s a very small business but there are significant responsibilities.”
At the end of a hard day, Casolla says it’s the customers that keep him going. The people who express their gratefulness, in words or gifts, that help him answer the question that arises sometimes, “Why am I doing this?”
Casolla wants current high school students to know that even if what they are passionate about now isn’t what they’ll do or love forever, to still work at it, because it’s important in the moment.
“Whether it’s something you’re passionate about or it’s just a summer job, put 110 percent effort in, don’t ever cut yourself short or whoever you’re working for short,” Casolla said. “Do your best and you’ll be rewarded. If you cut corners on certain things, you’ll cut corners in other parts of life.”