Rewind Film Lab
Tucked inside an unassuming business park located about twenty minutes East of Southern California’s shimmering coastline, Rewind Film Lab is an Orange County film developer that specializes in film processing, scanning, and editing. The small but mighty outfit behind the scenes here got off to an encouraging start just over a year ago, and since then, they’ve managed to more than double year-over-year monthly order volume.
The shop’s wooden front door can be heard swinging open and shut throughout the day, it’s the only delicate thing standing between the quaint interior’s open floor plan and locals excited to drop off their first roll of film, professional photographers stopping by for a chat with the team, and package delivery drivers enjoying a cold water from the fridge.
“We focus on taking care of people,” says Dominic Roskelly, a co-founder. “Whether it’s editing an image to our client’s unique specifications, surprising customers with an early delivery, or just being supportive and responsive during the service process, we strive to go the extra mile for every order.”
That probably has something to do with their growing popularity online, Rewind Film Lab welcomes about 200 new customers from all over the country each month, manages to maintain an average 5-star review on Google, and has an Instagram account (@rewindfilmlab) boasting 3,346 followers.
The business is operated by four equal-part owners with over 70 years of combined industry experience. As in any startup, each co-founder can do a little bit of everything but also harbors a unique strength, Joe Suarez develops film masterfully, with the care and precision of a seasoned veteran; Tracy Cornejo scans and has an eye for editing photos; Alyssa Gonzalez provides customer service with the tender human touch that’s all too often missing these days; Dominic Roskelly edits images and curates the company’s social media presence.
A Tale of Two Clerks
Rewind Film Lab has been a dream in the making since Joe and Tracy first met behind the counter of a one-hour photo minilab nestled inside Fullerton’s Pace Club. The member-exclusive wholesale warehouse changed hands in 1989, when Kmart paid $322 million for Pace Warehouse Inc, then again after Walmart bought 91 Pace stores in 1993 and converted the Fullerton location into a Sam’s Club.
Tracy’s Early Interest in Photography
Despite the property’s alternating ownership, one thing remained consistent for customers visiting the building throughout the early 90s, and that is the friendly and familiar faces at the photo minilab. “When I was a little girl I’d ask my mom for cameras and take pictures,” Tracy fondly remembers. “Before moving out of the house at 17 years old, I applied for the job at Pace Club and got it!”
Higher-ups at Pace sent her to FujiFilm in Cypress to receive a firsthand education on how to run a film development facility. “I was the manager, but everybody behind the counter enjoyed their own role running it,” she shares. To the dismay of company executives, the young employees (Joe included) grew the minilab’s wedding photographer clientele because they would take extra time out of their day to color-correct images.
“My bosses would repeatedly tell me ‘you are not a custom lab, you are not a custom lab,’ but I was not going to send out bad work,” Tracy explains. “Word got around and we earned a huge wedding photography base. I remember getting written up because I stayed overtime to take care of a customer who filled an entire shopping cart with photographs! Like, what did they want me to do?”
She continued over-delivering at Sam’s Club for years until Joe recruited her to work with him at a company called Shooting Stars, which was run by Dwayne Thomas, the same gentleman who would leave their wholesale warehouse with shopping cart-sized loads of printed photos. Shooting Stars’ business model was simple yet profitable, go to youth sporting events and capture amazing action photos of the kids playing on a digital camera, then print those images and sell them to parents.
Joe’s Passion for Capturing Memories
Joe left Sam’s Club before Tracy, to help Dwayne get his business off the ground. “I started out shooting pictures, but over time, I took on more responsibilities. Dwayne asked if I could join full-time, I said yes, and we ran the company out of his garage for a while,” he recalls.
Caught amidst the 2008 financial crisis, Shooting Stars closed its doors, all the equipment was sold, and Joe and Tracy were left unemployed. Months later, Joe managed to land a job at Rancho Santa Margarita’s Ford dealership, where the managers utilized his photography skills for marketing projects. Bear in mind, his love for film photography and its related processes runs far deeper than a means to a financial end.
“I used to skateboard all the time and take photos of me and my friends for memory’s sake. We didn’t have cell phones or even digital cameras back then so I’d have to borrow my mom’s film camera,” Joe recalls. “When I was 16, she bought me my own camera for Christmas or something, probably because she was tired of me using hers. It was a little DSLR with interchangeable lenses.”
After graduating high school, Joe gained acceptance to Fullerton College and enrolled in a black & white film development class, as well as other photography-related courses. “I took a silk-screening class in high school and was actually going to college to learn pre-press and offset printing. For example, if you wanted to print a magazine, you had to actually do photo separation; I was doing darkroom photo work called ‘stripping,’ where you strip the negative to make a plate to burn to go to print,” he explains.
While grabbing groceries with his family, Joe filled out an application for a job at Pace Club. He got hired, and thanks to his skillset, was stationed at the one-hour photo minilab. “Even though I was the manager, we used to call Joe ‘the boss,'” Tracy jokes. “He was so knowledgable!”
Launching Rewind Film Lab
Joe left the Ford dealership to help a friend grow his film development and scanning business out of an apartment, the venture flourished and expanded into a commercial space in Orange County. Tracy came on board as well and worked at the film lab alongside Joe for nearly a decade, until one fateful day in late 2021, when she finally quit due to differences with ownership.
She returned home crying. Her family offered her encouraging words and tried helping her figure out what she would do next, one son mentioned she could teach a photography class.
“I laughed at the thought of that because this film-related work is all I really know how to do,” Tracy remembers. “My husband Ed finally said, ‘okay, let’s go get you a business loan.’ I guess I was like a deer in the headlights at that moment, then he said, ‘why do you look scared, I thought you said you could do it?’ I told him I couldn’t do it by myself, there’s just no way.”
In alignment with Tracy’s perspective on management, Joe also quit and together they began brainstorming what would become Rewind Film Lab. Over the course of decades working side by side, they had each garnered a lifetime’s worth of experience operating, managing, and growing film and photo service businesses. They knew two people weren’t quite enough to run a shop either though, so they recruited Dominic Roskelly – a Chapman University graduate proficient in scanning film and editing images on Photoshop.
Then came Alyssa Gonzalez, who unwittingly enrolled in a black & white film processing course at Orange Coast College before falling in love with film photography. Her passion for the craft and warmly familiar approach to customer service make her uniquely capable of addressing the needs, questions, and concerns of those sending in orders.
Pooling their money together, equal part owners Joe, Tracy, Dominic, and Alyssa purchased equipment, rented a building, hand-constructed furnishings, and opened Rewind Film Lab in February 2022.
The Little Things
Photographers from all over the country and for publications as popular as Vogue trust the Rewind Film Lab team to develop, scan, custom edit, and print their pictures. Obviously, the high-quality work being done by seasoned industry veterans at every step of the process has plenty to do with customer satisfaction, but having visited the lab myself, I’d say there’s something even more special going on here.
It’s the little things. Like when Alyssa handwrites a cute note onto the packaging of photos on their way out, or when Tracy edits an image time after time, until the final product is exactly what her client is looking for – she would literally rather spend all day fine-tuning a photo than even consider sending out work she considers subpar, ask her old bosses at Sam’s Club, they wrote her up for staying on the job too late.
It’s in the way Dominic often takes work home so a beginner photographer bubbling over with anticipation for the final outcome of their film photos can receive an early inbox notification, and the excitement that comes along with it. Or how Joe can’t leave the lab without ensuring all the equipment is functioning at its best, otherwise he won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep.
One can’t help but walk away with a sense that the founders of Rewind Film Lab genuinely care about the people they are serving, including the kid eyeing their candy jar and the local UPS driver who could use a quick break from the sweltering summer heat.
Regardless of the nature of your encounter with Rewind Film Lab, rest assured, you are in good hands.
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