Local Eco-Warrior And Entrepreneur Pushes On After Sandy

Photo by David Cohen

Oil Gorillas, a waste oil removal company, is no ordinary company. You may have seen the trucks around our neighborhoods, or sees stickers on the side of some of Bensonhurst’s markets and eateries. What you may not have seen or known is the story of owner and founder Eugene Komissarov.

The story is even more powerful after Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed nearly half of Oil Gorillas’ fleet of trucks and put the founder in harm’s way. Komissarov was able to steer five of his trucks, parked on Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, to safety. The other four were damaged beyond repair.

While trying to save his fleet as the waters climbed, his entire lower body became submerged and he began to make his way to higher ground on Neptune Avenue. Once Komissarov “dragged his feet,” as he puts it, to Neptune Avenue and West 12th Street, the water reached his chest. At the intersection, Komissarov spotted an empty NYPD boat floating by, which he boarded and rowed to safety.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and are the heart of Brooklyn. Roughly two years ago, Komissarov, whose family immigrated to Brooklyn in 1999 when he was 7 years old, started Oil Gorillas. A 20-year-old Bensonhurst resident and graduate of James Madison High School, Komissarov is a Brooklyn entrepreneur. As a wrestling star in high school, he received a full stipend to wrestle full-time at Northern Michigan University Olympic Training Center, but it was taken away at the last minute because of his citizenship status.

“My bags were packed and I had my ticket,” recalled Komissarov.

The Olympic’s loss was the city’s gain for waste oil collection. A good amount of attention is paid to food entrepreneurship throughout New York City, but food waste and rapidly growing industries like waste oil recycling receive little notice. With kitchen incubators and small food markets popping up all over the five boroughs, businesses like Oil Gorillas also deserve recognition.

Komissarov, who grew up without financial stability and watched as his family was evicted multiple times, began carving out a niche in the local economy.

Starting with an interest in commodities plus a van and equipment purchased with a small loan from a friend’s family, Komissarov began pumping out waste oil for New York businesses free of charge. He spent the early days of his business pounding the pavement, going door to door and offering his services.

Komissarov began professionally working in New York City collections in February 2012 as one of the youngest licensed oil collectors.

Komissarov, who services more than 700 restaurants and markets all over New York City, upstate New York and Long Island, also cleans the grease traps and the hoods of the deep fryers he drains.

He collects waste oil from such Bensonhurst institutions as Cherry Hill Market, Legend Steakhouse, El Colisseau, China King and more than 20 others.

Since those early days, Komissarov has grown his business and created green jobs. Before the storm, the company’s fleet consisted of nine trucks and eight employees collecting around 6,000 gallons of waste oil weekly. With the damage done by Superstorm Sandy, Oil Gorillas’ business has suffered. With his insurance refusing to cover the damage of the ruined trucks, Komissarov is hoping that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help rebuild the business.

Used cooking oil can be converted into home heating oil and other bio-diesel fuels. Demand has increased for the oil due to its clean-burning capacity which comparatively improves air quality and reduces the environmental impact of heating fuel. Tax breaks enacted by New York State for building owners who use the cleaner oil have also increased its popularity. Oil Gorillas collects the used oil and they work with a Long Island-based company that conducts the cleaning and conversion operations.

With global warming on everyone’s mind after the storm, local businesses that reduce their carbon footprint and help clean our air are even more valuable.

While the business has grown, it has also changed. Oil Gorillas now has to pay businesses a fee to collect their waste oil. Komissarov’s business faces other obstacles, too. He described unlicensed vans that are illegally pumping oil out of Gorillas’ labeled storage bins.

“People steal the oil,” he lamented.

With damage inflicted by Sandy on his business, Komissarov continues to persevere. “I am trying my best to restore and rebuild all that I have established,” he said.

At the end of the day, the former wrestling captain is a man who likes to serve his customers.

“I love seeing people happy and making sure that nobody is disappointed,” said Komissarov as he wiped off the grease from the Cherry Hill Market container and continued on his collection route.


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