This is the first instalment of BNN Bloomberg's five-part series on odd jobs and the Canadians who work them.
Gum removal might not be the most glamorous line of work. But you can make a decent living, and it can be satisfying seeing something go from dirty to clean before your eyes.
That’s according to Andrew Meades, the 31-year-old founder of Meades Restoration, an Orillia-based commercial cleaning company that specializes in removing chewing gum litter. The company has serviced Greater Toronto Area buildings like the Business Development Bank of Canada in downtown Toronto, McDonald’s restaurants, and Ripley’s Aquarium.
After learning about the success of a gum-removal business in Montreal, then 23-year-old Meades invested $5,000 of his own money to buy a small commercial steam machine, and left a job in property management to start his own company.
Meades is one of many Canadians who have made an entrepreneurial leap into off-the-beaten-path careers while self-employment in the country continues to grow. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, the number of self-employed Canadians increased by 48,100, or 1.7 per cent, in December from a year earlier.
Below, in the first Q&A of BNN Bloomberg’s series examining some of Canada’s odd jobs, Meades explains how he started his gum removal business and details other surprising experiences he’s encountered in his work so far.
Q: Why gum removal?
A: I’m trying to be an advocate for the issue of chewing gum litter. I think cigarette butts is the No. 1 biggest small litter, and then chewing-gum litter is the second. But with cigarette butts, employees go around and just sweep them up. With chewing gum litter, once it gets grounded to the surface, you’ve got to use big equipment to get it off.
Q: Isn’t an anti-gum litter campaign bad for your business?
A: I would rather there be less gum on the ground and people be more aware of the repercussions. It’s a simple act to litter a piece of chewing gum, but it’s hard to have it actually cleaned up properly.
Q: What does a gum-removal operation look like?
A: It’s a time-consuming, tedious process. You can’t cut any corners. You’ve got to spend the time to get the entire piece removed. If you leave any remnants, they just turn black again and you see speckles all over the surface.
Q: How much gum can you remove in an hour?
A: In an hour’s worth of hot pressure washing, we can remove about 550 pieces of chewing gum.
Q: How’s business?
A: Specifically with chewing gum litter, that brings in just over $100,000 a year in terms of maintenance contracts. It’s not bad for a small company. And from there, we’ve got all sorts of restoration services that we can provide to our customers like removing graffiti or cleaning up efflorescence from brick.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned starting out?
A: It’s trial and error to learn what works and what doesn’t work, especially with the equipment. I’ve got about three or four broken-down hot pressure washers that I haven’t really decided what to do with that have just been costly mistakes to learn.
Q: Best part of the job?
A: Overall, the job has built-in satisfaction. Because things are going from dirty to clean right in front of your face, you quite enjoy what you do.
Q: Most surprising part of the job?
A: You can actually smell really well what the piece of gum was. There’s been jobs where we’ve removed chewing gum that’s probably been there 15, 20 years, maybe even flavours that don’t even exist anymore. You can smell the steam that’s coming off of it.
Q: Most memorable project?
A: We did a strip club, I think it was the Brass Rail on Yonge Street. They had a whole ton of chewing gum underneath all of the tables. That one sticks out in my mind.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. All images and videos courtesy of Andrew Meades/Meades Restoration.