After working at the dealership in his hometown for almost two years, Bellagio went to Cloverdale, CA, to work at M&M Garage with Bonham, a shop that still exists but is now in Berkeley, CA.
"By working with Bill as an apprentice, I learned every aspect of the business, including body work and paint," Bellagio said. "I took a pay cut when I went there, but it turned out to be a smart move. If I can last here, I told myself, I can make more money down the road, and that's exactly how it happened."
Eventually, Bellagio landed a job at Silveira Pontiac in Healdsburg.
"They had closed their collision center, so we made a deal with Lee Silveira and started doing all of their collision work," he said. "I was there for four years until one day Bill said, ‘Let's start our own shop,’ and that's what we did."
Gino & Bill's was an immediate success and had to move to larger facilities to accommodate its increased workload over the years. By keeping its operation lean, the duo was able to control every aspect of the production and experience steady growth, he said.
"We were busy right at the start because there were only two other shops in town and the market was growing,” he said. “Now there are nearly a dozen shops in the area, so it's much more competitive here in Healdsburg."
When DRPs entered the picture in the 1980s, Bellagio and Bonham decided not to go that route, he said.
"Once you sign up with the insurance companies, they control things and start to dictate, and we didn't want to compromise our work,” he said. “They approached us several times over the years, but we never went that route and looking back, it was a good move. Our customers trusted us, and that's why they brought us their vehicles. It was just that simple."
As the vehicles changed, Bellagio's job became more challenging, he said.