Have you cruised by the Vinsetta Garage lately? Berkley’s only vintage auto garage is sporting a new, clean look, as if she’s preparing for a revved-up social life.
The Woodward property, which opened Nov. 30, 1919, and operated as an auto repair business until it closed at the end of 2010, has experienced a sudden flurry of activity, like a starlet surrounded by stylists.
In the past days, the garage has been given a cleanup for her new job as a restaurant, said new owner KC Crain, vice president and publisher of Autoweek.
Dream Cruisers will have a chance to stop by and peek in the doors Saturday to see the work that has been completed.
“It was just too cool of a place to let it get torn down,” said Crain, who purchased the property without a specific purpose in mind. “I wasn’t thinking a restaurant necessarily, maybe something for Autoweek, like a TV show perhaps.”
Then Crain received a call from former Autoweek colleague Curt Catallo, who owns the Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen and the Union Woodshop and was looking to expand his growing restaurant portfolio. The two hatched a plan to convert the old garage into a restaurant.
Catallo was unavailable for comment Thursday, probably because he was hosting Kid Rock and Food Network star Guy Fieri at his Clarkston Union restaurant. The celebrities met up at Catallo's eatery to film an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, according to media reports.
'Everyone has a story' about Vinsetta
Crain said many people have stopped by while work was being completed this week to ready the garage for a private Autoweek client event Friday and for the open house Saturday. Some even wanted to have their cars fixed, he said.
“Everyone has a story about how their car was serviced by the Vinsetta Garage,” Crain said.
Historically, Vinsetta Garage became just of many auto-centered businesses in Berkley by the 1950s, said Carol Ring, historian with the Berkley Historic Commission.
“In the '50s, Berkley was called the Gas Station Capital of the World,” she joked. “There was a station in every corner. Coolidge and Catalpa had four stations on all four corners.”
Like many Metro Detroit towns, Berkley experienced a population influx early in the last century when Henry Ford paid his auto factory workers $5 a day, Ring said.
Resident Bill Ackerman, a career auto mechanic and secretary of the Berkley Historic Commission, remembers working at the Vinsetta Garage in 1965.
“It got to a point that (then owner Mike Kurta Jr.) couldn’t take any new customers. They were booked up constantly,” Ackerman said. “It was a reputable garage ever since it was opened. Michael Kurta Sr. had a doctor’s bag of tools and could basically build or fix any Model T. When cars became more complicated, the set of tools grew.”
Ackerman remembers that the garage walls were lined with a collection of license plates, dating as far back as 1919.
“They even had the old gas pumps in the front. There were there but we never sold gas in 1965, so they were just ornamental. I assume they did at one time have gasoline,” Ackerman said.
Gas pumps, exterior to remain unchanged
The pumps still remain and local media, including Crain’s Detroit Business, report that the exterior otherwise will remain largely untouched, with all of the work going to the interior to create the restaurant space.
The menu is still under construction, although Crain said Catallo has visited Chicago to seek out favorite burger recipes that he’s testing out at the Union Woodshop in Clarkston.
“Expect mac and cheese and Mason jar pies, that sort of thing,” Crain said.
Berkley City Councilman Steven Baker said he’s thrilled that the historic Vinsetta Garage will continue to be part of the landscape in Berkley.
“Before it opens, the city of Berkley will ensure that all proper building, parking and health and safety considerations are raised and satisfactorily addressed as part of our planning and approval process,” he added.
Baker said he thinks a restaurant is a smart move for the Vinsetta Garage and for Berkley.
“The new owners chose Berkley as a strategic investment, and by bringing their famous recipes to the heart of the central Woodward corridor, they are helping to tune up and fuel the growth of our region,” Baker said.
Stop by the Vinsetta Garage on Saturday during the Woodward Dream Cruise and have a sneak peak at the renovation work that has been done.