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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Repair with care: Phillip Raoul

Manager of iconic neighborhood auto shop connects beyond cars

Editor’s note: This story has been updated for better accuracy.

On a foggy fall afternoon beside Nichols Park, wet leaves cover the sidewalk. Brick residential buildings blend into seasonal shades. Street lights dimly illuminate the path. But there, hidden in plain sight, is one of Hyde Park’s most iconic businesses. Tucked between these homes, a sign barely in view, sits the Foreign Car Hospital, an auto-repair shop that has been there for nearly 60 years.

If you get lost finding the place — or weren’t even aware of its existence — you are not alone. Phil Raoul, the business’ general manager, says he gets confused calls from intersections all over Hyde Park — people struggling to locate his shop, having passed right by it.

“That’s a daily occurrence,” he said, chuckling.

Like the name suggests, Raoul’s business provides such tender care to his customers that it has developed a connection with the community that goes far beyond car repair. People come for the engine checks but stay for the conversation.

“Sometimes I call it — the front desk here — my sort of a therapy counter because we talk about many other things besides cars. Family, some history. I’ve learned a lot talking to many of the alumni and neighborhood folk,” he said. 

He later added, “A lot of that conversation, back-and-forth, goes on right here at the front desk.”

Mr. Raoul was raised in Hyde Park. He attended Ancona School, just a short walk from his shop. His daughter attended U-High and his two sons attended Mount Carmel High School. One of his cousins happens to also be a Lab alumnus and neighborhood resident, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who gets his car serviced at the shop.

This location of Foreign Car Hospital opened in the mid 1950s. It originated on Lake Park Avenue and later moved to South Exchange Avenue, Mr. Raoul said. All along, neighborhood people flocked to the place.

Mr. Raoul’s familiarity with the vehicles he services is so ingrained that he can identify them at a glance whenever he’s out and about in Hyde Park. In fact, while he remembers some faces but not others, he almost never fails to connect the car to a customer.      

“That’s kind of the way it works for me,” he said. “I drive through the neighborhood and I’ll recognize cars, knowing who they are just by seeing their car. I remember some faces, obviously. But by car, I certainly make the connection almost all the time.”

Usually working in the shop with one other employee, Mr. Raoul’s days are generally spent tending to appointments set by a handful of customers in need. If there is a downside to the work Mr. Raoul has been doing at Foreign Car Hospital since 1998, he has not discovered it.

“There really isn’t a hard part, it’s, you know, I think that I’m just lucky and blessed to be in this situation and I don’t even have to go into a whole other community every day to work,” he said. 

He later added, “I think all of that coming together makes it fairly easy.”

While Mr. Raoul cherishes the daily conversations he has with clients, his favorite part of the job gets at the heart of the auto-repair profession: solving problems. 

“Social interaction with many of the clients is absolutely at the top of the list, but the primary purpose is to be here and solve issues and solve problems,” he said. “Just the satisfaction of repairing a car or fixing it and just that gratification of, you know, figuring something out. It feels good to be able to repair some of these things.”

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About the Contributors
Clare McRoberts
Clare McRoberts, Features Editor
Clare McRoberts is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as Features Editor. She began in the 2021-22 school year when she was a ninth grader. Other than writing for the Midway, she enjoys running, cooking, reading and painting. Awards: 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, opinion piece or column: superior 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, special coverage: (with Audrey Park and Sahana Unni) superior 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, broadcast feature: excellent 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Certificate of merit, personal opinion: off-campus issues, “It’s time to end legacy admissions” 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, feature writing
Eli Raikhel
Eli Raikhel, Photographer
Eli Raikhel is a photographer and a member of the Class of 2025. His favorite part of photojournalism is taking pictures of school events. Outside of photojournalism, Eli enjoys playing soccer and playing with his dog.

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    Philip RaoulFeb 24, 2024 at 5:39 pm

    To the staff of UHigh Midway, of which my daughter, Akila Raoul (’12), was an editor, I am thankful for the well-written feature of my business and family.

    I have two corrections: I started working at Foreign Car Hospital in 1998; and the shop opened in the mid 50s.

    -Philip Raoul