Paul Valentini is a musician by passion, but he is a house painter by profession.
"I am a self-taught musician. I play guitar," the born-and-bred Torontonian says. "But music does not pay the bills."
To finance his dream, seven years ago Mr. Valentini looked for a small-business idea that would provide him with income and flexible hours to play and write pop music.
Primed Painters, which he co-owns and operates with his brother David Valentini, is a seasonal-type business where the work comes and goes. But that suits Mr. Valentini just fine.
"There are times when we are busy, and times when we are not. But for me that is a good thing because it allows me the time to concentrate on my other interests."
No one is calling him on it: Mr. Valentini and his brother are their own bosses; they can do what they like.
"Primed Painters is a family-owned business. It's still just my brother and me; it's owner operated. We're the only guys," Mr. Valentini explains. "We paint houses, commercial properties and the odd exterior, depending on seasonal conditions."
Clients range from commercial property owners and restaurateurs (John Maxwell of Allen's on Danforth Avenue in Toronto and the Dora Keogh Irish pub next door are clients) to realtors wanting a repaint on their clients' homes before selling.
The fee varies depending on the job.
"We make an appointment for a site visit because there is no point doing an estimate over the phone," Mr. Valentini says. "Some clients will ask how much we charge for a room. But we have to know about closets, trim, doors, and if there are any walls needing repairs. So it's not that straightforward."
Since the brothers do the work themselves, travelling to where the work will take them is no problem.
"We have clients here in Toronto, as well as Hamilton and Niagara-on-the-Lake," Mr. Valentini says. "We've also done work for the University of Waterloo and have been subcontracted to paint large commercial properties, including shopping centres, schools and libraries, across the GTA [Greater Toronto Area]."
The work day typically starts at dawn, and goes as long as it takes to get the assignment done: "12-hour days are not unusual," Mr. Valentini adds.
But he is used to working long hours. Before he and his brother opened Primed Painters, they owned a 38-seat restaurant at the corner of Yonge and Wellesley streets in Toronto.
Located close to the former Sutton Place Hotel, a hub of the Toronto International Film Festival in the 1980s, Mammina's was popular with locals, as well visiting celebrities.
"We did not treat the stars any differently from our other customers, and they appreciated that," Mr. Valentini says. "We developed friendships with some: Ted Danson, Steve Gutenberg, Tom Selleck. We'd go out together."
Often those get-togethers centred around music.
At the restaurant, Mr. Valentini always had a guitar on hand and would play for customers accompanied by his father, a barber by trade who is an accomplished mandolinist.
"On the spur of the moment when there was break in the kitchen we would play a song or two for our patrons, an anniversary, a birthday or just whenever. People were crazy for this," Mr. Valentini recalls.
The restaurant business was profitable, but after 26 years doing the same thing, the brothers decided to sell it. Both were then in their mid-40s, and had families of their own to support.
"We needed a change," says Mr. Valentini, who flirted with pursuing music full-time but knew he could not afford it.
The idea to start a house painting company seemed like a natural extension of what they had already been doing.
"At the restaurant, we always did minor fixes and renovation ourselves, including painting," he says.
"Friends had already begun asking us to help them paint their own rooms at home. From there, other people started calling us. It was all word of mouth."
The upshot is that Primed Painters is today more lucrative a business than the restaurant ever was, even missing a celebrity clientele.
"Return on the investment is much more profitable with painting, because it has low overhead, and the hours are more manageable," Mr. Valentini says. "Restaurants have one of the highest overheads as far as business is concerned."
Two years into his new house painting venture, he got a call to perform as part of a band and he accepted.
"The guys wanted to make a CD, and our guitars talked well together and I helped write some songs, collaborating with the band's leader, Sav Tropiano. His band's name is Savista."
The recording, Business or Pleasure?, came out in 2010 and is available on iTunes.
Mr. Valentini calls it a labour of love. "I didn't make any money at all," he allows. "But it didn't matter. It was a project I loved."