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Repurposed garage now serves up burgers instead of repairs

Vinsetta Garage restaurant maintains ‘soul’ of previous car shop

By: Chris Jackett | C&G Newspapers | Published August 15, 2012

 Shane Collier, Vinsetta Garage general manager, stands in front of the hot new restaurant that used to be a mecca of classic car maintenance.

Shane Collier, Vinsetta Garage general manager, stands in front of the hot new restaurant that used to be a mecca of classic car maintenance.

Photo by David Schreiber

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BERKLEY — For 91 years, the Vinsetta Garage was well-known for its mechanical work. Now, it’s gaining a reputation for its menu.

The former repair shop opened in 1919 at 27799 Woodward Ave. and closed its doors Nov. 30, 2010. In May 2012, it reopened as a restaurant bearing the same name and a similar atmosphere.

“They were popular enough where you pretty much had to know someone to get in there,” co-owner Curt Catallo said. “It’s such an iconic structure. As a car guy, it’s always been in the corner of my eye. We walked in and immediately saw this place had soul.”

Catallo — who also operates Clarkston Union, Union General, Union Woodshop and the soon-to-open Fenton Firehorn — said fellow co-owner K.C. Crain bought Vinsetta Garage after it closed in 2010 to avoid seeing it demolished or falling into the hands of someone who wouldn’t respect the history of it. Catallo said it was the oldest garage east of the Mississippi River, first serving as a gas station that serviced horse-drawn carriages and Model T’s along what was then a dirt-road Woodward.

Crain didn’t have a plan for the venue until Catallo and his wife/restaurant interior designer, Ann Stevenson, visited and suggested turning it into a restaurant.

“My biggest thing when I approached it was to not lose the soul of the building,” Stevenson said. “It was really, how do we save this and make it a warm inviting place (where) you’d want to eat? Once you’re repurposing a building, you don’t want to whitewash it.”

The entrepreneurial couple was able to utilize several features of the existing venue during the seven-month remodeling process.

“I think people are naturally sort of tickled by the idea of purchasing a building and repurposing it,” Stevenson said. “We just have some deep affection for the building; the natural light and the iconic space. There were these gorgeous skylights in there. They were in huge disrepair, cracked and broken. We were able to salvage quite a bit of it.”

Stevenson said vintage glass was used in the restroom windows and for those above the cook line and pizza oven. A box of old repair tickets was also used as wallpaper in the front lounge and bathroom washrooms, which both feature a communal sink.

“I tend to have a vision of what I want it to be. It’s an organic process that allows for some change,” Stevenson said of the interior design process. “I wanted to add some dimensions that freshen up the space. This is a very approachable comfort food joint. It’s not a table cloth (place) with reservations.”

With plenty of remnants of the old garage still there, the new owners were cautious not to overdo it.

“We didn’t want to make it a museum of itself, but it’s paying respect to the craft that was practiced there,” Catallo said. “Our goal is to just dial it in and have fun and keep learning along the way. We’re proud to be keepers of this icon.”

Another prominent feature giving a nod to the cruising and drag racing era is a classic dragster car sitting on the roof of the waiting lobby that is easily viewable from the main dining room.

“There’s something about the garage and the utilitarian purpose it serves,” Stevenson said. “People have an attachment to that building.”

With the Woodward Dream Cruise on the horizon, Catallo said, they plan to grill outdoors behind the restaurant for cruise patrons.

“The smoke will draw people in like Yogi to the picnic basket,” Catallo said.

For more information and a glimpse of the Vinsetta Garage menu, visit www.vinsettagarage.com.

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