If you go back 18 years ago, Rita Cho-Sam will be the first to tell you she knew nothing about cars. In fact, she wasn’t even super confident about checking the oil level when she was younger. That initial lack of car knowledge is what brought her to the dealership where Derek Cho-Sam worked. The two met when Derek fixed Rita’s car all those years ago.
As the last name suggests, Rita and Derek are married today and are closing in on their 17-year anniversary. Rita and Derek have two kids – Zachary and Aden – and the first letters of all four of their names make up the name of their shop – DRZA Auto (pronounced Drizza) – which they started in 2012 and is located in Tavares, FL.
“Before I met Derek, I knew nothing about cars,” Rita Cho-Sam says. “When I met him is when I started learning anything about cars. When we discussed opening our own business and him leaving the dealership is when I really started getting into it and learning a little bit more about the industry and the ins and outs of it and how everything works.”
Now, nearly a decade into helping Derek run DRZA Auto, which focuses on import engine work and maintenance for Nissan and Infiniti in particular, Rita does more than most as the shop consists of just Derek and Rita.
“When we started DRZA Auto it was just me and Derek, so I had to learn everything really quickly,” Cho-Sam says. “Everything from managing the office to helping him with ordering parts, learning about different cars, doing research and learning what’s needed on whatever car he’s building at the moment. I did a lot of research on each car we were working on.
“Derek would help me if I had questions, but to be able to help him out, I did my own research to figure out all the history behind whatever it is we’re working on and go from there to make sure I get the right parts ordered and everything that he needs to get going. On top of doing the research, learning about different builds and makes and models, I would be out there working with him as well.”
Rita’s dedication to learning the craft certainly paid off. Today, she helps pull engines, does engine tear downs and can even diagnose most engine issues.
“I love like taking apart the engines and seeing all the intricate pieces and going through everything,” she says. “Derek still does the builds though. I always compare it to a doctor or a surgeon and their assistant. Every surgeon needs an assistant to pass them tools and help them do certain things.”
Next on her list of skills to enhance is welding. No matter where or what it is Rita helps with in the shop, she does it with passion because she knows DRZA Auto is a shop people bring their business to in order to get their dream cars built.
“We get to build our customers’ dreams,” she says. “I love seeing it all come together. I think that’s the best part of it. With every build we do, our clients come in with a vision of what it is they want to do and how they want it to look. The best part is bringing that vision to life for them.”
However, as can be expected, not every customer interaction Rita has had over the years has been a great one.
“Overall, my experience has been good,” Cho-Sam says. “We generally work with good people and good vendors. If there’s one negative thing, sometimes we do get certain clients that call in or certain individuals who come to the shop and if Derek is busy and I try to work with them or speak to them, some of them can be pretty rude. They don’t think I know what I’m talking about, so they want to speak to Derek directly.
“I don’t take it personally. I just speak to whomever it is and try to help them as much as I can. I try to demonstrate to them that what we do here is something both Derek and I love to do. I try to be understanding about where they’re coming from and I try to make sure I give them the answers they need so they do feel comfortable and they’re able to open up about what’s going on with their car. I try to step into their shoes for a minute and try to work with everybody.
“I think more and more women are coming into the industry, which is helpful and it’s a good thing. There’s a lot of females out there doing things in this industry.”
With DRZA Auto being primarily just Derek and Rita, Rita knows she’s had to step up to the plate and take on more roles. She clearly loves to learn and grow when it comes to cars and engine work.
“It’s primarily the two of us, so we try to be as hands-on as possible on every build and every project to make sure everything that leaves our door is up to our standards and what our customers are looking for,” she says. “I try to do anything and everything possible I can to help Derek, because he has his hands full. Whatever it is he needs me to do or be, that’s what I try to help him with around here. We work together to make sure our end goal produces what it is our customers desire.”