With the conclusion of Olympics 2021 in Tokyo, I couldn’t help but think about Esther Kim, the first office manager of Dallas Maids. She was instrumental in helping Dallas Maids survive during the vulnerable first years of a startup. So why did the Olympics draw her memory?
Just before Dallas Maids she had been an Olympic-level athlete that sacrificed her spot on the 2000 Olympics Taekwon-do team for her best friend, Kay. They were facing each other in a match that would determine who would be placed on the Taekwon-do team representing the United States. Kay had been injured; Esther thought the fight would not have been fair. So, she graciously bowed out, gifting her spot to Kay. For her act of amazing altruism, Esther was named U.S. Olympic Committee 2020 Female Athlete of the Year.
I thought why not reconnect, see how Esther has been doing over the years, maybe share a few good stories of Dallas Maids’ early days. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
My Memories of Esther
A few of months ago, I did a quick Google search for Esther’s contact info, her facebook, or whatever way to get in touch. To my despair, her obituary appeared. She passed away December 10, 2019 from lost liver and kidney function. She was only 40. Too young. Too unfair. I was in a daze. The news weighing heavy on my heart. The loss of Esther and a chance to reconnect, forever gone.
It was a blessing to have had a chance to know Esther and count her as a friend. On dignitymemorial.com, Bindi had written, “She was fun, fierce, and fabulous”; have no doubt, this succinctly describes Esther. Here I’d like to share some of my memories of Esther, the fun, the fierce, and the fabulous.
Before continuing, I’d like to preface with a couple of thoughts: First, Esther’s passing and the memories we shared have been on my mind for a while now. I felt compelled to cement those memories in words. Maybe it’s my way to keep a little precious piece of Esther alive. Second, some of these memories are happy while others reveal history Esther shied away from because they’d been too hurtful. Sharing them here with our pitifully few readers (if any) of this blog is probably the safest place to hide the very personal, heart-breaking bits while honoring her memory by sharing some of the happy ones here. I can feel an eye-roll from upon high as I write this. If you knew Esther, you know what I’m talking about. Finally, Esther loved her Mom. Her last request was asking for help to make sure her Mom was taken care of afterward. Thanks to Jake Stovall for setting up this GoFundMe.
Our journey starts in 2004 with the launch of Dallas Maids. My goal from the beginning was to grow Dallas Maids into a quality cleaning service. I needed a versatile person who could take customer calls and help staff in the field – quite manageable with just two teams: a mother/daughter and a cleaner and myself at the time. They would also have other duties such as helping me pass out flyers and even cleaning when needed because being a small operation, that flexibility was necessary especially when a cleaner called in sick or couldn’t make it to work for whatever reason.
I placed a job classified ads in the Observer and the Green sheets back then – I think Esther found us in the Observer. Anyway, what matters is this amazing young lady called, wowed me over the phone interview, earning an in-person interview at Starbucks.
At the time I had officed out of my apartment which coincidently was on Esters Road (a sign?). Having no office, Starbucks at 2501 West Airport Freeway in Irving was my interview place of choice. With a relaxing atmosphere and a comforting cup of coffee, it was the perfect place for job candidates to open up and share more about themselves.
An Outstanding Candidate
Esther walks in dressed to impress in a pretty yet professional white shirt, sits down, and the interview commences. Even though it’s been 17 years, I remember the interview; specifically, three things:
- She was simply outstanding. Professional. Intelligent. Socially skilled. My search had ended though I feared she was overqualified.
- She complemented me on how professional I conducted the interview. Thank you though I can’t take credit. It was out of Gary Goranson’s playbook from his House Cleaning Biz 101 system. It was a tremendous loss to the world when this wonderful person passed away six years ago. Gary’s how-to guide on how to run a maid service helped countless of cleaning businesses like Dallas Maids in their early years with its field-tested system. I had to do a video referral for him.
- She claimed to be an Olympic athlete. “Yeah… right”, was my thought. “Well, looks like the interviewing shall continue”, I silently lamented. But being an extraordinary, crazy claim coming from a seemingly sane person, I had to Google it… and, well, yes, her story was true, she wasn’t crazy.
It was an easy decision, Esther was…
On a side thought, there was only one other memorable interview at this Starbucks. A lady was interviewing for a professional home cleaner position. While asking about her work history, she brings up some choice words for her formal boss. She muttered, and I paraphrase, “he was a sneaky, slimy, cheap, Jew”. First, I’m thinking you’re black, you’ve experienced the evils of racism and discrimination, wtf. Second, by heritage I’m Jewish. She didn’t get the job.
Esther expressed her thanks for the job because she was anxious to move forward from recent memories of her selfless sacrifice for a friend soon followed four years later by an unbearably, heartbreaking betrayal that I think may have haunted her for the years to come. Some history…
In 2000 she was facing her injured friend, Kay, in a match that would determine who would be on the United States’ Olympic Taekwondo team. Esther bows out of the match so her best friend, Kay, could have the honor instead.
Esther explained Kay was the better athlete. Kay had entered the Olympic trials ranked No. 1 in the world in the flyweight class. She would heal and would have a better chance to win the gold was the idea. Ironically, this unexpected act of altruism may have messed with Kay’s head, costing her to be upset in the Olympics.
For her selfless act, Esther was invited as a guest of the U.S. Olympic Committee. She had a prime seat to Kay’s match. Esther noticed Kay was not usually, aggressive self while fighting. During the match, Kay continued to look toward Esther with a longing/confused look (if I recall her words correctly). Maybe Kay felt she was letting down Esther. Maybe the pressure of an unfathomable gift was too much. Or maybe she felt guilty. But one thing was certain, Kay was not as aggressive as he would normally have been, resulting in an early upset.
Fast forward to 2004 Olympics. Esther was again in the mix for the Olympics as she underwent the qualification process. As her father was quoted in this Deseret article, “Esther feels like 2004 is her time to go to the Olympics,”. She had been anxiously awaiting this moment for four years. Now, as I write this, I recall with crystal clarity the pain on Esther’s face as she shared her story, a story I am about to share here: She was in a match that, if she lost, would give Kay a path to the Olympics team. Esther lost. And from the stands Esther saw Kay cheer in joyful jubilation.
Esther had graciously given her spot on the Olympic team for her friend. The same friend now celebrating Esther’s loss because it meant she was still in play for the Olympic team. She was fierce and strong on the outside. Say or do something cruel to her and there would be no hint of hurt. However, for anyone who knew Esther on a deeper level, knew she was a total softy on the inside. And I can’t imagine how unbearably heartbreaking this betrayal was for Esther. She didn’t want anything to do with the Taekwondo world afterwards.
Early Morning Flyer Runs
I was frantic about ensuring the few staff I had had a livelihood. I did everything possible to find them cleaning jobs. Our website was ranking on the first page of Google within a couple of weeks. I was getting calls before I had hired anyone! Total motivation to act and hire my first crew. Anyway, even though our website was visible and bringing in some business, it was still 2004. The internet was in its infancy. Not as many people roamed the net seeking house cleaning services as they do now. Passing out flyers was a way to generate a full schedule of jobs for my staff so they can support their families.
Esther had the brilliant, yet inconvenient idea of waking at 3am and hitting local apartment complexes. Genius for a few reasons. First, Dallas was sleeping so our flyers and business cards would be the first thing folks found before ferrying on to work. Second, we need not worry about other people passing out flyers for other business and removing ours as so often happens. Third, night time was also cooler, so we avoided the angry rays of the sun pounding down upon us.
Yeah, it was tough getting up that early but it worked. And I was glad to have Esther as a partner during our early morning flyer runs.
Now where Esther proved invaluable was her ability to open locked apartment entrance gates from the inside. During the morning hours, everyone was asleep so waiting for a car to enter or exit so we could sneak in may take a while. Not an issue with Esther. Her thin frame offered an opportunity. She simply squeezed through the front gate, scurried back to the out-of-reach open button. As the gate opened, I promptly drove the car in, parked, and we grabbed our bags of flyers for the early morning flyer run.
Apartments were ideal for flyer distribution because all the units were close together. We took a break around 7:30 am as the residents hopped in their car to start the work day. Afterwards we’d continue for a few more morning hours.
We were able to cover around 800 doors before the day was over. From our efforts we would get 1 or 2 calls on the cell phone for service the same day while getting another 1 or 2 calls within a couple days thereafter. Knowing 800 doors would equal 3 jobs, it was simply a numbers game; pass out xx flyers, get xx jobs. So, I was assured we could keep our teams busy, providing them a healthy payday check. Better yet, later I discovered hitting the same apartment complex twice would yield slightly more jobs than the first-round while thrice would produce results similar to the first visit. The lesson: Repetition is key with advertising.
How To Win at Taekwondo
While sitting on a curb in an apartment complex taking a break from passing out flyers, Esther, puffing on a cigarette, shared her strategy on winning at Taekwondo. It was simple. In a match she would focus on one area to hit. And hit. And hit yet again. This would quickly wear down her opponent. Just thinking about being kicked in the left shoulder repeatedly makes me cringe with the imagined hurt. I can see how this would be painfully effective.
As I learned from Esther, the world of competitive sports is ruthless. Athletes at that level do what is necessary to win. I can’t help but recall the tragic story of Tonya Harding who had a goon hit her team mate, Nancy Kerrigan, hoping to increase her chance to medal.
Talking about ruthlessness, I recall a traumatic time when something terrible happened to Esther’s friend, Mandy.
I met Mandy through Esther. They were the closest of friends. One day Esther was incredibly upset with Stephen. I knew Stephen had done something terrible to Mandy but Esther didn’t divulge the details. Later reading this CNN article which I found in this Reddit Thread revealed the source of Esther’s anger. Per the article: “According to the lawsuit, Steven Lopez started to physically abuse Meloon in early 2002, and rape her in 2004.”
Apparent why Esther wanted to flee the toxic side of Taekwondo.
I was Esther’s boss, though after working together for a couple of months, she confessed seeing me more as a friend than a boss. And looking back, we did a lot of friend stuff. Hanging out at bars, night out clubbing with her and her best friend Mandy, eating dinner at a local Korean restaurant where she demonstrated traditional Korean etiquette that I found incredibly charming, celebrated my 30th birthday together where she had “In Da Club” by 50 Cent blasting all day – “Go shawty, it’s your birthday!”. Yeah, I miss Esther.
As I write this, I recall how one night while out at a bar, the shots lady stopped by offering a shot in a vial. I politely declined. But, in a not-so-sober nor proud moment, I somehow stealthily snatched one as she walked away. Esther cracked up laughing. What’s so funny I inquired? Seeing me a stand-up kinda guy that always did the “proper thing”, well, this was just too much for her, hilariously unexpected. Her laughter ensued, non-stop, for a good five minutes.
With us more as friends instead of having a boss/employee relationship was a double edge sword.
Speaking Her Mind
It was a positive in that Esther felt more open to share her opinion of my managing skills. Such unbridled constructive input was welcomed as my managing experience was still immature. I recall an incident where I needed something done and asked her to do it. She took visible offense on how I said it, countering it would be more construction to say “I need your help with xx…” instead of “Can you do xx…”. To this day, two decades later, I use “I need your help with xx” with my current staff.
On the other hand, Esther could be stubborn. Frustrating when you needed things done. And with the diminishing of the boss/employee relationship, her stubborn side surfaced more frequently. For example, having a cleaner call in sick and needing her to help me clean the home was no longer on the table.
Can I Have a Kiss Please
At the time my girlfriend was Korean. One day I thought it would be fun to ask for a kiss in Korean. Esther was happy to teach me. Now, I don’t know the exact spelling, but I remembered how to say “Can I Have a Kiss Please” in Korean by using English words to sound it out: Boo-boo Jew-Say-O. Angie, my girlfriend at the time, was quite amused.
Later, Angie would not have been amused by what Esther said to me one day: “Why are you with her. Your girlfriend is ugly.” Damn Esther, why don’t you tell what you really think!? Of course, I didn’t share Esther’s thoughts with Angie. I wondered what prompted Esther to say this because, contrarily, Angie was a beautiful girl. Her job, which I was not keen on, required good looks and late hours – the late hours allowing platonic nights out with Esther.
Angie had started as a waitress at The Lodge, a gentleman’s club. And as with waitresses in a place like that, they are often encouraged to work as a dancer which she eventually did. Unfortunate, as this was why I ended our relationship. I told her “I can never marry a stripper”. Outer beauty she had. And inner beauty is desirable, too.
Coincidently the owner of The Lodge, Dawn Rizos, had been one of my customers. I found the Rizos family to be a normal, all-American Leave-It-to-Beaver family; you wouldn’t think they ran a strip club.
In the Closet
Nearing the end of 2004, I rented office space in a snazzy office building at 2351 W. Northwest Hwy, Suite 2110, Dallas Texas 75220. Well, they said it was an office but “Suite 2110”, being windowless and about half the size of my current office room, I think it was really a utility closet. Though at the lovely low price of $250 a month it was perfect for a budding business so no complaints. However, wish I had known about the strip club across the street and the area in general. Being relatively new to Dallas, I wasn’t aware of the seediness that is Harry Hines. Esther occasionally got a call requesting for a type of maid service we just didn’t do.
The office was a whopping 300 sq ft square. Esther had her desk on the south wall while mine was on the east wall. Two cubicle barriers donated from my friend, Richard Burnside, created a second “room” where the cleaning supplies were stored, mainly just sitting on the floor.
Richard was then owner of Thank God Small Moves & Home Delivery. As a moving company, he found himself collecting office furniture (like cubicles) and décor from jobs. This led him to start Second Hand Sams. Clever.
Anyway, back to Esther…
Starting From The Bottom
There we spent the hours building a cleaning business, customer by customer. Esther was exceptional in customer service. Customers loved her. Important because if customers like you, they are willing to overlook mistakes. And being a young business, many mistakes were made.
Day in and day out, Esther worked her magic on the phones. She scheduled cleaning services for customers, ensuring they were happy. She managed the cleaning crews, making sure making sure they had everything they needed to do their job and helping trouble shoot issues in field. All of this while taking occasional smoke breaks or snacking on beef jerky which she always seemed to have on hand.
One day Esther found I was not paying myself a salary. She urged me to do so though that was not an option. The business precariously hung by a mop thread and needed every cent to survive. I lost monies the first year, selling some of my stocks to cover costs as we continually cultivated cash flow. Second year I didn’t lose money yet didn’t make money. The third year I paid myself a severely modest salary of $150 every two weeks. Fourth year I was out of the hole and doing ok, with a salary of around $40k a year. Today Dallas Maids is a million-dollar business. The pay you put off now pays dividends in the future for fledging ventures.
In The End
I don’t recall exactly why Esther left Dallas Maids. Though I feel becoming more friends and losing the employee/boss dynamic ultimately caused the separation. That and damn she was stubborn. Yet sometimes I wonder what would have happened is she stayed. What did my life miss out on.
In the end, I hope sharing some of my memories honors the memory of Esther Kim, maybe allowing a piece of her to live on. How lucky I was to have had the chance to work with Esther as she was a tremendous talent and instrumental in lifting Dallas Maids off the ground during those first, precarious years when a startup’s survival is at its most vulnerable. How lucky I was to have known Esther.
While writing down my memories, I recalled a rough time line of event. The accuracy of this time line may be questionable but it’s to the best of my recollection.
- Sept 2003 to Sept 2004. The Chelsea on Southern Apartments (Then called Southern Villas) – Came up with the idea of starting a maid service for Angie and Cassie, one of our roommates. They weren’t interested so I had a go at it myself. Set up Dallasmaids.com 3/31/2004 and started getting calls, prompting me to hire first cleaning team of two. A history of www.dallasmaids.com.
- Sept 2004 – Sept 2005. Lived with Angie in Creekwood apartments on Esters Rd. Rented a closet office.
- Sept 2005 – August 2013. After lease ended, moved into condo which doubled as my office and separated from Angie. Bought Frisco home and move out of “office” on Oct 2008. Used condo as office.
- August 2008 – Present. Bought office building for Dallas Maids’ headquarters. Condo became a rental property.