Portola Valley's only gas station has new owner
To the motorist turning on to Portola Road at Alpine Road and heading north toward Woodside, everything would appear to be normal at Portola Valley Fuel, the gas station on the left.
And that would be almost right: the services have not changed and the pumps still operate in the wee hours, but there is a new owner. He is Dieter Mees, a native of Germany, a Porsche-trained mechanic, and the former owner of Palo Alto German car repair specialist D & M Motors.
Mr. Mees will run the Portola Valley station with his son Helmut, who is married to former Portola Valley resident Becky Jordan. Helmut is a graduate of the Woodside Priory School and the University of San Francisco where he majored in international business and minored in German. Both men now live in Woodside.
The elder Mr. Mees bought the station and the shop on Jan. 15 from longtime owner and longtime on-site resident Ron Ramies.
"The goal is not to change anything," Mr. Mees told The Almanac.
"It's not like I failed," Mr. Ramies said in an interview. "I was doing fine. I was struggling. It was seven days a week there. It's kind of like divine intervention, how this took place. They want to do the right thing."
Mr. Ramies said he is planning a month-long vacation in and around the Southern California desert, then may be back in town as a consultant.
Some changes are likely at the station. The new owners are looking for suggestions from customers as to what should be done with the two unused and empty garage bays. The current idea: use one for a hand car wash and the other for auto detailing.
Portola Valley is known for its green sentiments. The station could offer green fuel in the form of bio-diesel — diesel made from used animal and vegetable fats rather than petroleum.
The station will be as green as the new owners can make it while still being profitable, Mr. Mees said. If the 4,000-gallon diesel tank is to carry bio-diesel, customers will have to show their willingness to pay the premium price.
It's been tried before at this station, but people didn't buy it, Mr. Ramies said, and he had to drop it. "Every penny counts," he said. "It's a pennies game, I hate to say."
Another change might be the sign showing pump prices out front. It's confusing, Mr. Mees said. "Before we tackle that sign, we want to understand the gasoline and oil market," he added. "We are willing to do whatever it takes to make (the business) profitable."
When Mr. Ramies owned the station, he could afford brief bouts of unprofitability thanks to his profitable metal fabrication shop in San Carlos, he said in past interviews. No so with new owners.
"We like to focus our attention on one thing," Helmut Mees said. "I don't like distractions."