Just past the St. Claude Avenue bridge in the Lower 9th Ward, there's an unassuming auto repair shop with a faded sign that reads Mark's Muffler Shop (5229 St. Claude Ave., 504-944-7733). The glass door to its office swings open and shut as customers bring their cars to be examined by owner Mark Brink's practiced eye.
"I'm a very low-tech, old-school mechanic," he says. "You might take [your car] somewhere else and it'd take two days; you bring it here and I'll have it done in a half-hour."
Brink purchased the shop from a friend in 1984. He fell in love with cars before he was legally able to drive, buying a 1962 Ford Falcon he hand-painted green. Soon he began learning about the muffler and exhaust systems that became his area of expertise. When other repair shops face challenging problems, they send their clients to Brink, who is nationally known for his work with Flowmaster exhaust systems.
Clients tout Mark's Muffler's reasonable prices and straightforward estimates. Brink says he has "regulars from forever."
"Pretty much all my customers would recommend me," he says. "Everybody seems to think I do good work. ... They'll go to [a competing shop] and they'll say [a repair is] a thousand bucks, and I'll say two, two-fifty. They say, 'You just saved me a bunch of money."
Brink reinforces this positive impression through his community activities. His walls bear posters for "Night Out for Crime" events and the New Orleans Film Festival, and he's an active member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, helping with its Christmas festivities. He received a "living legend" award alongside Fats Domino for being the first business to reopen in the 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.
After work, Brink tinkers with one of five classic cars he keeps at home, including a 1968 Dodge Charger and three Plymouth Barracudas. He also loves to dine at local restaurants. He's a regular at Satsuma and Port of Call.
In the future, Brink doesn't want much more than to keep his good business and to stay small and local. He mentions adding an attic to store some of his excess inventory, which is stacked to the ceiling in precarious towers in his shop. Otherwise, he says he's content.
Brink has pulled his family into the business: His wife comes in once a day to look over the books. His son, Mark Jr., helps work the desk during his interval between college and graduate school. But even with the help of these assistants, Brink retains his custom of closing the shop on Thursdays. On those days, he heads out to the recycling center and takes care of other errands.
"It's just a good day to drive," he says, a twinkle in his eye.