While many businesses are struggling to make it during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah Muntean’s business, All American Cleaning Company, is staying busy doing deep cleans for restaurants and hotels looking to sanitize their spaces. “We have crews across the Kansas City region WORKING HARD to combat the virus,” shares Sarah, who started the business in 2013.
All American Cleaning Company specializes in post-construction clean up and floor work like concrete polishing, “Our experience put us in the perfect position to help during this crisis by doing deep cleans.” The crew gears up in personal protective equipment and sprays down every inch of the space with sanitizer. After 10 minutes of air drying, they wipe it all down to ensure cleanliness.
“I’m proud to serve our COMMUNITY during this difficult time. And to be able to put folks to work who may otherwise be unemployed right now,” says Sarah, whose path to owning a business began out of desperation and taught her how to persevere through even the worst circumstances.
Sarah grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, “I didn’t have a very healthy home. Almost everyone in my family struggled with addiction issues.”
Sarah started using drugs very early in life. When she was uprooted and moved to Platte City, Missouri, a very different environment from her East coast upbringing, she was shell shocked.
“I turned to alcohol and pills, and it didn’t turn out well.” A drug offense landed her in a maximum security prison in Vandalia, Missouri, at the age of 19.
“I felt like a fish out of water in prison. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. There was a weird, competitive environment and it was not my scene.”
Sarah was terrified about what she was going to do in prison. She found her footing some when she started hanging out with older women who were less prone to starting trouble.
Sarah began taking classes, a daunting task at first – she has dyslexia and graduated from high school with 1.5 GPA. “I’ve always learned differently than everyone else. In prison I learned for the first time that I actually have a really good memory. I was able to retain information very quickly without having to write it down.”
Sarah was released on parole after 6 months in prison. She was thrust right back into the dysfunctional and drug-riddled environment that got her into trouble in the first place and she felt hopeless. “I didn’t want to go back to prison, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to change, but I had no idea who was out there to help.”
When Sarah eventually stumbled upon an AA group, she finally felt like she had a chance of staying clean. “I didn’t feel alone anymore. I was part of a like-minded COMMUNITY that was trying to heal with me.”
Sarah got her first “real job” at a pizza shop and started to move forward in life. “Getting a job was a big step for me because I always felt unemployable. I’m an outside of the box thinker and I don’t like to feel like a rat in a cage.”
Things were going alright, until the family she was staying with went bankrupt. Sarah was suddenly homeless and on parole, with barely enough money to scrape by. “I didn’t know what to do. A lot of my old friends were either selling drugs or prostituting themselves to make money.”
The next day, Sarah saw an ad in the paper for a construction cleaning crew. Determined not to back track, and inspired by the gumption she saw in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, she decided to start her own construction cleaning crew business. “Cleaning isn’t rocket science. I knew with my strong memory that I could learn it. So I decided I was going to do it.”
Most people in Sarah’s life told her she couldn’t start a business – she didn’t know anything about running a company, and she didn’t even have cleaning experience. Only her friends in AA believed in her and told her she could make it work.
Sarah got started right away – she learned how to start an LLC, got insurance, and opened a business bank account. Impressed by her follow through, Sarah’s friends in AA who owned small contracting businesses let her figure out the ropes by doing final cleanings for them.
“I did my first jobs for free for folks in AA.” After that, she started walking onto construction sites and drumming up business by sharing her story. “I just told the foreman that I was a startup and I was willing to work for cheap, and they gave me a chance. I was able to learn how to clean quickly because I was never too prideful. If I couldn’t figure something out, I’d humble myself and just ask for guidance. I learned so much that way that I never would’ve been able pick up just reading online.”
In the beginning, Sarah often worked 20 hour days to get by. She was let off parole early for good behavior, and kept her job at the pizza place (and another serving gig) so that she could use those paychecks to hire people to help her clean.
When Sarah landed her first big gig, a 6-figure cleaning project, she bought a truck and started hiring folks who were working through their own substance abuse issues and trying to stay out of prison. “At times we were hiring 40-50 laborers each day to work. Folks just like me who were looking for a fresh start.”
In her first full year in business, All American Cleaning Company did $280,000 in sales. “It was a lot of freakin’ work. People don’t realize how much grit it takes to start a business.”
The business has stayed stable or grown each of the past seven years. Now, Sarah’s boyfriend, who also spent time behind bars, runs the business as Sarah is focusing her time on starting a second business, “We were accepted into a tech accelerator called BetaBlox and are working on developing a voice activated lock.’
“I never thought I’d be here in life. When I look back on my years suffering from addiction and in prison, I don’t even recognize that person anymore. It feels like I’m talking about someone else.”
Sarah says if other formerly incarcerated people want to succeed as business owners, they first have to humble themselves and be ready to learn. “You would think that a formerly incarcerated person and past drug addict like me wouldn’t be able to get help, but people do want to help.”
That spirit of helping others is what drives Sarah today. As All American Cleaning Company continues to do more and more COVID-19 clean ups, they are also bidding to do the final clean up at the new $1.64 billion single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
“I’ve gone through so much to get where I am today. Being an entrepreneur saved me. Starting a business helped me make the most of my life.”
… … …
Support second chance entrepreneurs by investing in Determination, Incorporated.
Sign up to receive second chance entrepreneur stories in your inbox in our High Five Thursday newsletter.
Determination, Incorporated is a 501C3 nonprofit in KCMO empowering formerly incarcerated people to seize employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in home building, home improvement, and affordable housing. To learn more, contact us here.
Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.