Born on a neighbor’s couch in Texas, Paula Leslie is the daughter of two Air Force veterans. Her family moved to Casa Grande, her mother’s hometown, when she started high school, and after graduating from Casa Grande Union High School (CGUHS) she briefly went to college in California on a scholarship before deciding to come back home and attend Central Arizona College.
After earning a degree in journalism and marketing management from Arizona State University, she returned to Casa Grande and met Eddie Mankel.
Eddie was born at Casa Grande’s Hoemako Hospital, which once stood on the southeast corner of Florence Boulevard and Trekell Road. He grew up on the west side next to Hancock Plumbing, and his father volunteered him to work there when he was 12, which began his lifelong career in the industry.
He went to St. Anthony’s School, Casa Grande Junior High and graduated from CGUHS before starting his own landscaping firm and plumbing for others’ firms.
They met and married while both were employed at Brutinel Plumbing and eventually launched Mankel Mechanical in 1999 to fulfill a shared dream of being their own bosses. Their marriage eventually ended but their business partnership continues to thrive after 23 years via three entities: (Mankel Mechanical, LLC, Two Brothers Plumbing and LRAD Properties.
Their two sons work for them, and their four grandchildren and five rescued pets frequent the office as they continue to serve customers locally and throughout Arizona. Mankel is also licensed to work in Texas.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Eddie, let’s start with you. Tell us about yourself.
Eddie Mankel: Pretty simple. Born and raised here. My mother was a homemaker. My father was a mechanic for ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation).
Golden Corridor LIVING: What generation first came to Casa Grande?
Eddie Mankel: My father came here in the mid ‘50s from Harding, New Mexico. First he went to Nogales, and then he moved up here because he got a job with ADOT until he retired. I went to Casa Grande Union High School.
Paula Leslie: We missed going to school together by one year. I moved here in 1980, which was his senior year. So he had already graduated, and I didn’t start going to school until that fall.
Golden Corridor LIVING: How did you meet, eventually get married, have a family? Who gets to tell that story? You’re on.
Paula Leslie: I had these high aspirations after high school. I ended up graduating from ASU, but I had a baby, my son Shea. And so I didn’t want to go into journalism because I figured that would take me too much away from my child. And so I started looking for a job, and a lady was leaving Brutinel Plumbing. So she said, “Why don’t you take over my job?” And so I became the office manager. Then they hired this plumber again. It was your second or third time working there, right? He started working at Brutinel in 1989. I was still living with my parents, but I was raising my son by myself, he was 3.
It was funny because everybody told me, “Stay away from that guy.” He had a bet with another guy there, Tom Hancock, and so he invited me out to lunch at Mi Amigo Ricardo’s and I said “Yes.” And that was history. We married in March of 1990.
Golden Corridor LIVING: So it was a whirlwind romance, a lot happened in this time frame of ‘89 to ‘90. Ricardo’s, Paula has a little boy, you two have another baby boy, and you’re married. What’s the progression from Brutinel to having your own Mankel Mechanical?
Paula Leslie: I left Brutinel, and Eddie, he must have had a million jobs when we were married. He always had a job, he’d just get bored. But he gained a lot of good plumbing experience. I was working for Dr. Eugene Yang, the dentist, at the time. Eddie was working for a rubber lining company doing a lot of work for the mines and just wasn’t clicking there with the manager. And so he quit one day, and I was like, “Ed, what do you want to do?” We had just bought a house. We were still OK financially.
He’d had his landscaping business in the ‘80s, but he had been plumbing since he was 12. And so he was like, “You know what? I’m going to go plumbing.” So he went and got his license.
Eddie Mankel: I left the job, and she wanted to go into business. I wasn’t ready because I didn’t feel I had the experience. I went to work for a company in Phoenix called Beck Plumbing; started out as a plumber, promoted to foreman, became a supervisor. Then after I left there, that’s when I said I was ready. With my background, what I learned up in the Valley, I felt confident I was ready to get my license. And then we went into business in 1999.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Did it start out as Mankel Mechanical then? From day one?
Paula Leslie: We argued about that name, but he won. I thought it should be something with plumbing. Mechanical gives the impression that you’re HVAC. After 23 years we still get asked, “Hey, can you fix my air conditioning unit?” No. We do mechanical piping. You have to explain that to people.
Eddie Mankel: A lot of big companies in Phoenix that use “mechanical,” they do AC and plumbing. Our goal was to do AC, but I never found the right partner. I didn’t want to use plumbing because at the time, I didn’t want people calling us for service calls because I did commercial jobs, not household calls about dripping faucets.
Golden Corridor LIVING: What is it like working together every day? We need to back up a little bit. You’re now divorced.
Paula Leslie: We’re now divorced, since 2012.
Golden Corridor LIVING: You get along better than any divorced people that I’ve ever met. You would never guess. You really are great role models for that. Sharing children and grandchildren, I have to really commend you on that. But you decided not to be marriage partners, but you get along great and you run the business together and you raise your kids and grandkids together still.
Eddie Mankel: Our oldest granddaughter started coming in our office since she was a baby. We raised her for the first three years, so she was in our office every day. Then of course, the boys came into the business young, helping us during the summers. Then our oldest, Shea, started working for us full time when he was 23, after he’d done some drywalling. And he’s 35 now. Our son Vaughn came when he was 18, almost 19. It’s a kind of full-fledged family business.
Golden Corridor LIVING: So you obviously didn’t skip a beat when you decided to stay in business together.
Paula Leslie: There were a couple beats. There was a few months there that Eddie was like, “Screw this. I’m moving to Texas and starting another company.” So I was kind of scrambling because he is the license holder, but we — I think what people don’t realize is this was our dream. I always wanted to own my own business. He always wanted to be his own boss. And so when you have that same passion, you can make it work. Because you leave out your personal differences, and you work toward one goal.
And he’s probably thinking I’m full of it right now, but that’s the one thing that I think kept us going, besides the fact that then when our boys got an interest in the company, it was really, “OK. Wait a minute now. This is generational. Now we have something to pass on to our children. And then when our granddaughter Lex turns 14, she’s coming to work.”
Golden Corridor LIVING: It’s healthier for everybody all around, in the business and the family. It’s really commendable.
Eddie Mankel: It works well. We see our grandkids every week. Our boys are with us. We see each other every day. We all get along. Everything’s fine. But when the weekend comes around, we don’t see each other because we’re around each other all week long. So our weekend is our time.
Paula Leslie: And then even holidays, we’ll get together but just for a couple of hours. “Come to my house; let’s eat.” We’ll talk a little bit. Then it’s time for you to go. Because we see each other all the time.
Golden Corridor LIVING: But it does seem like you have great roles. Eddie’s the license holder, and Paula does the office accounting, everything. So it seems like it’s a great partnership.
Paula Leslie: And it is. He knows nothing about the money at all. He has to ask. But it is nice. He started letting me do, several years ago, what we call our trim take-offs. It’s the final phase of construction with all the faucets and stuff like that. And so I was able to get involved in that construction part and reading plans and looking at plans and getting better acquainted with the products that we actually install. And so it’s kind of neat to be involved with that.
Golden Corridor LIVING: It’s really critical because you have retention, too, with having it in the family. If you were having to hire that office manager position and turn it over, nowadays it’s hard to fill those positions. And how did the business grow to the size it is now? Was that just natural growth in the community?
Eddie Mankel: Well, this past two years, we’ve been busy here in town, but most of our work was up in the Valley. It just progressed, just word of mouth and knowing contractors and referring us. We’ve done work for several big contractors up in the Valley. We do mainly commercial and industrial work, very little residential.
Golden Corridor LIVING: OK. Which leads to a natural progression of your sons having Two Brothers Plumbing. Do they then focus more on residential on their calls?
Eddie Mankel: We decided to finally get into service work because we decided we were leaving opportunity to make more money there. Our oldest son Shea helps with Mankel. Like I said, he has the aptitude for new construction work. And then our youngest son Vaughn, he had more of the aptitude to do service work. We decided to open up Two Brothers Plumbing four years ago, and Vaughn is basically running that. And eventually, Shea will take over Mankel. It’s worked out perfect. Each one of our sons does well at their own department.
Paula Leslie: And I do the books and paperwork for them. For right now, it’s Mankel Mechanical DBA (Doing Business As) Two Brothers Plumbing. It just kind of rolls together so the paperwork is easy. I still do keep it separate to see who’s making money and who’s not. So the books are separate in that aspect. But it’s all one tax return.
Eddie Mankel: They have a total of three employees.
Paula Leslie: Right now, they run two full-time vans, and looking to get a third one going here pretty quick.
Golden Corridor LIVING: And are they going outside of Casa Grande at all?
Paula Leslie: They go outside Casa Grande, definitely. They service a lot of Pinal County. And then we have a few customers that we’ll go the Valley for, but it’s usually just not worth it when you’re doing just service.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Mankel has done some impressive commercial projects. Tell us about a few.
Eddie Mankel: Recently here in town, everyone knows we did the Texas Roadhouse. We’ve done several large projects like up in the Valley, we did Cardinal Glass plant. We did a big bio-methane plant in Stanfield. We did several jobs all over the state.
Paula Leslie: We’ve done several charter schools, some of them here. But mainly in the Valley.
Eddie Mankel: Like I say, most of our work’s been up in the Valley. We’ve done several fire stations.
Paula Leslie: Oh, fire stations. I forgot about the fire stations.
Eddie Mankel: We’ve done several hotels.
Golden Corridor LIVING: What are some of your big projects coming up?
Eddie Mankel: Oh, the American Gypsum, the sheet rock factory in Eloy. We’ve got the new public defender attorney’s office in Florence.
Golden Corridor LIVING: About how many people do you have working for you right now?
Eddie Mankel: Right now, it’s 12.
Golden Corridor LIVING: That’s amazing that you’re doing that scale of project with only 12 people.
Eddie Mankel: We’ll hire more people as we go.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Has it been hard finding labor? Or do you have some people who have been with you for a long time?
Eddie Mankel: We were pretty lucky with retention. We lost two foremen here over the past year and a half that kind of affected us. But they were with us for 15 and 18 years, so they felt it was time for them to move on. And good for them.
Golden Corridor LIVING: What do you think of Casa Grande with all the growth, Eddie? You were born and raised here when it was probably very small.
Eddie Mankel: I graduated in 1980, and I think there were 14,000 people here.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Where do you see the future of Casa Grande? Do you think it’ll finally become what we thought it would with the freeways and the rail and everything?
Eddie Mankel: Well, I like the growth, but I don’t know, I’m also concerned in some areas. I don’t like some of the growth, but I guess that’s more of a personal preference. I think the city’s doing good so far where we’re growing. I like all the industry and stuff like that.
Paula Leslie: It does bring more traffic.
Eddie Mankel: I think we’re better off than Maricopa because Maricopa’s a bedroom community of Phoenix. Where we have our industry, we can support our community, for sure.
Paula Leslie: We have a sense of community here where there are people who live here, work here, and we don’t have as many commuters as Maricopa has. But it has definitely changed. When you mention Mi Amigo Ricardo’s, there used to be, in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, you could walk in there and you wouldn’t get to your table before you said “Hi” to 20 people. And now you can walk in there, and I … We know Robert, the owner, but that’s about it.
Golden Corridor LIVING: And it’s strange to drive around in May when it’s 100 degrees and see there’s people around. And it’s not just a snowbird community anymore. You’re wondering, “Where did all these people come from?”
Eddie Mankel: I’m always amazed. The change that I get a kick out of is on Sundays; when I was a kid, everyone stayed home and everything was closed. Now I go down Florence Boulevard, it’s like any other day now, except a few places are closed.
Golden Corridor LIVING: And you guys spoke to this, but where do you see the future of Mankel? You mentioned that Shea will take one arm and Vaughn will take the other arm. Is that the direction that you see this going the next 10, 20, 30 years?
Eddie Mankel: They definitely want to grow it. It will definitely happen. The logistics will definitely grow. Vaughn’s dream is to get up to 50 employees, which is attainable.
Golden Corridor LIVING: OK. What do you like to do in your free, fun time? Paula likes to travel.
Paula Leslie: Yes, yes, yes. I’m planning a trip to Georgia and the Carolinas; I talked Lex into going with me. And we also went to Alaska in February. My granddaughter had her choice of Alaska or Hawaii, and she chose Alaska! I can’t remember the coldest temperature we saw, but I took a picture of it. Was it negative 3?
My mother recently passed away, and Hawaii and Alaska were the two states she’d never been to, that’s why I picked them. And so we took her ashes with us to Alaska and spread them out. We were ice fishing, and the Northern Lights were coming up over. And that’s when we spread her ashes … that was cool.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Eddie, what do you like to do in your free time?
Eddie Mankel: Ride my motorcycle or go camping. I like to cook. Nothing too exciting. She’s the world traveler; I’m not.
Paula Leslie: I like to sit on my porch and write.
Golden Corridor LIVING: Paula writes as one of our Voices in the magazine, too. What would you say has been the best thing about the journey and probably the worst thing about the journey?
Paula Leslie: When we first went into business, I still worked for Dr. Yang for several years. And then when I decided to become completely self-employed, it gives you so much more flexibility in your life. Vaughn was the only one in school at the time, but I was able to pick him up from school. It was more of a bonding thing with him, and then being able to help raise my grandkids has been the greatest.
Yeah. Just the freedom, and I think a sense of accomplishment. I’m really proud of what we built and what we’ve maintained through the market crashing and us thinking we’re going to have to close our doors.
We were one of the survivors of the construction industry. There were several big plumbing companies in town that closed shop. But the downside is the financial stuff. You’ve got to pay your employees first, and sometimes you get paid last. It’s the stress of owning a business.
Eddie Mankel: It is a sense of accomplishment, going through the struggles and surviving that, and also after … like I tell everyone, I’ve paid my doctorate in business many times over. All the things I’ve learned, the money we’ve lost. Or the money we’ve been cheated out of, the lessons that we’ve learned.
But keep fighting, and you’ll survive. And try to be honest, and it always comes back through rewards.