A. W. Zengeler Cleaners is one of America's oldest and largest dry cleaning companies. It is owned and run by the fifth generation of the same family that started the business in 1857. Our seven stores are located in Deerfield, Hubbard Woods, Libertyville (with 2 stores), Northbrook, Northfield and Winnetka.
The key to our success is the fact over thirty of our employees have over 20 years of service. We take great care of each other, so we can take great care of you, our customer.
Our professionals take great pride in helping you look your best, and we guarantee your satisfaction. We've earned the trust of generations of area families because we set a higher standard in fabric care.
A History of Zengeler Cleaners:
Five Generations of an American Family Business
Successfully passing a family business along to the second generation is a significant feat. Seeing the fifth generation take the reins is virtually unheard of. And that's what Zengeler Cleaners has done, though it was often difficult to get Bob Zengeler Sr. to settle down at his desk to talk about the amazing American success story that was his dry cleaning business. Bob was legendary in the dry cleaning business. He served his industry with great pride for over five decades.
Bob passed away November 13, 2019 and his legacy lives on. Below are a few recollections about Bob and some of his past quotes that highlight his tremendous commitment and work ethic.
Watching Bob Sr., it was clear he had only one style when it came to his work life: hands-on, management-by-walking-around. His office, adorned with artifacts and memorabilia from Zengeler Cleaners long history, was rarely occupied. At an age when many successful business owners were practicing their short game, 88-year-old Bob was always out on the plant floor, inspecting, encouraging, and mostly doing. He had been at it since he was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1952 and immediately joined his father Ralph in the business. Dry cleaning is the only life he ever knew.
"My father and grandfather were my role models, I grew up around the business," Bob said. "As a young child, my grandfather Art would take me down to the plant in Winnetka, where he did the dyeing. He was a master dyer. I'd roam around, watching him dipping clothes into the dye kettles, which we have preserved at our little company shrine in the lobby of our Northbrook store. He would dip and pull out the garment, comparing it to a color sample from a customer. He'd dip it back in, pull it out again, over and over until he had a perfect match. He was never satisfied until he could proudly present it to his customer."
"I'd also observe my father removing spots on the spotting board, the place where we keep all the specialized chemicals we use for that purpose. He was meticulous. In high school, I'd go down to the plant with him before school started, then go back there after school. My uncle would make me put on a necktie the minute I hit the door, and I'd drive around Lake Forest making deliveries to our customers. Then I'd come home with my father after he locked up. I had no desire to do anything else."
"At 18, and just out of high school, I had four years to kill," Bob recalled. "I wasn't particularly interested in going to college, I wasn't ready to go to work full time and I wasn't ready to get married and settle down, so I joined the Navy. Because of the Korean crisis, the Navy extended my 3-year commitment to 4 years, and I ended up marrying before my service was completed. When I returned home, the world looked very different, my responsibilities had changed. I knew that there would be a job in the family business waiting for me. My father offered me $70. a week, pretty good pay for a 22-year old in those days, and it was, as it had always been, the natural place for me to be."
Despite his role as patriarch and the fourth generation of his family to control a business that is nearly 150 years old, Bob wouldn't allow himself the luxury of sleeping in. He rose every morning, Monday through Friday, at 4:15 a.m., and by 5:00 he'd be opening up and turning on the boilers at the Park Avenue operation in Libertyville. To keep that kind of schedule, he would be in bed every evening by 8:30 p.m., a routine he always followed and that he claimed he always enjoyed. "I never get to see Letterman or Leno, but that's okay, it's a business that has to start early, and I like getting a head start." On Saturdays, he allowed himself the "luxury" of arriving at 6:00 a.m.
And we had the luxury of calling you our leader, Bob.