'I told him I was going to buy it one day:' Rhodes Auto Repairs celebrating 50 years

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Before Destin was even a city, Rhodes Auto Repairs was fixing and hauling vehicles in the fishing village. 

Luther and Donna Rhodes opened the auto repair and wrecker service in 1973 at 327 Mountain Drive, and on March 17, Rhodes Auto Repairs will celebrate 50 years. 

Although Rhodes no longer owns the business, it still carries the family name and is run by Ben Causton, who got his start alongside Luther as a teenager. 

Rhodes Auto Repairs still stands today at 327 Mountain Drive. On March 17, it will celebrate 50 years.

Causton, 44, started working at Rhodes when he was in high school at Fort Walton Beach at the age of 16 and then part-time while in college.  

However, he always knew he would one day own the repair shop. 

“I told him when I was a kid that I was going to buy it one day. … He just laughed at me and said get back to work,” Causton said. 

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Causton got his degree in 2003 from Florida State University in business administration and went to work on the corporate side of NAPA Auto Parts. For the next 15 years, he and his family moved around from Tennessee to Texas. 

“We always kept in touch,” Causton said. When the Rhodeses would travel in their motor home, they would come by for a visit and lunch. 

Ben Causton, owner of Rhodes Auto Repairs, says he would much rather be working on vehicles, than doing office work.

“We just kept in contact … and I told him if you ever want to sell it, you better tell me,” Causton said. 

“He finally called me one day and said he was ready to sell it,” Causton said, noting they made a deal in 2018. 

And he’s never regretted it one day. “Absolutely not,” Causton said. 

“I like it. … Nobody to tell me what to do anymore,” he laughed. 

“I can do what I want to do. I like helping people, but I worked for corporate so long … you have a boss, that boss has a boss. You have to shave and wear fancy clothes. That’s just not me,” he said. 

Donna and Luther Rhodes from days gone by.

"I don’t like the office stuff. I like being hands on,” Causton said. 

He also likes the idea of not having to travel and not having to move to get promoted. And the fact that his children can stay and go to the schools he went to. 

Causton went to Destin Elementary and Bruner Middle because there was no Destin Middle School at the time. Then he went to Fort Walton Beach High. 

More:'Here's to 45 more years'

He said when they moved back to Destin, his youngest at the time was in the same classroom he was in at Destin Elementary, but with a different teacher. 

And when he bought the business, it never crossed his mind once to change the name. 

“Luther and Donna are like grandparents to me. … I would never change the name. Why would I change the name? The easiest thing to do is buy a business that already has something and double it … and we’ve doubled it,” he said. 

“Last year we doubled the most we’ve ever done … it’s crazy,” Causton said. 

This photo, of Rhodes Auto Repairs celebrating a ribbon cutting, still stands on the counter of the business.

“But he’s young and he’s not scared,” said Terri Rose, who has been an administrator at Rhodes for more than a decade. “Mr. Rhodes kept everything on an even keel.” 

As for Causton, “I don’t tell anybody no. I’m like the Statue of Liberty … bring me your poor, your whatever. Then I feel bad when people tell me they’re broke … and I finance stuff for people.” 

But Causton is still carrying the torch of the Rhodes legacy in Destin. 

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On March 17, Rhodes will celebrate 50 years. 

“That’s it, we’re living it out,” said Donna, who never thought it would make it this long. 

“But I’m delighted to have it going on this long,” she said, noting they did a lot of business over the years. 

For the 45th anniversary of the shop, Donna said they had a contest to see who had the oldest work order. 

“Mel Larid won it,” Luther said. 

Rhodes Auto Repairs is located at 327 Mountain Drive in Destin.

Donna attributes the many years of business to “customer relations.”

“Everybody was like a friend, and we did the best we could with prices,” Luther said. 

“And when somebody needed help, we were always there for it,” he said.

Luther recalled having a customer break down in Tallahassee, nearly three hours away, and he went and hauled him back to Destin. 

Donna, Scott and Luther Rhodes.

He had another customer with a Lincoln that had gone to Alaska. The customer was having a problem with his car, so he called Luther. Luther told him what he needed to do, and the customer went back to the guy who was working on his vehicle and passed on the information. 

“He was back on the road in about 15 minutes,” Luther said. 

Rhodes knew his customers and his vehicles. 

“We were always particular that the job was done and done right,” Luther said. 

Rhodes Auto Repairs since 1973.

As for Causton taking over the business and carrying on the Rhodes legacy, “I think he’s going to make it. Just like I had a lot to learn when I started, he’s got stuff he’s going to have to learn as well,” Luther said. 

And Causton thinks highly of Luther as well. 

“I think every man or boy needs a father, but they also need a mentor that’s outside of their father ... and Luther was that guy for me,” Causton said.