The hottest new destination on Woodward Avenue is about to get even more popular as Vinsetta Garage restaurant adds outdoor dining, welcomes car lovers during the Dream Cruise and works on tie-ins withAutoweek magazine's TV show.
The restaurant built inside a 1919 auto shop in Berkley has been open less than a month. Its combination of top-shelf comfort food, prime location and décor steeped in car culture has made it hotter than a vinyl seat in Tucson.
"I knew immediately this place had it," co-owner Curt Catallo said, sitting at a booth in a dining room that had been a service shop since the auto industry's infancy. "I took one step inside and said, 'This is perfect.' "
Perfect for what? Co-owner KC Crain, vice president and group publisher of Crain Communications remembers asking. Crain had bought Vinsetta Garage after the repair shop closed in 2010. Crain bought the building ostensibly to become a studio for theAutoweek TV show he was pitching to the Discovery Channel, but mostly because otherwise it would be bulldozed for a parking lot or Taco Bell. Vinsetta's neon lights had been a neon beacon to generations of automotive designers, engineers and racers. It deserved better.
The studio idea fell through, though the TV show, which debuted last year, is called "Autoweek's Vinsetta Garage" and features some images of the garage's picturesque exterior.
Crain showed the building to Catallo, who had been an intern at Autoweek years ago and now owns an advertising agency and the popular Clarkston Union and Union Woodshop restaurants.
Catallo asked to borrow the keys to the front door. Crain never got them back, but he ended up co-owner of a restaurant. Catallo showed Vinsetta to his wife, interior designer Ann Stevenson, the next day.
"This space wants a restaurant put in it," she said, and began shopping for fittings to suit the automotive and industrial aesthetic that permeates the building.
"We're suckers for places that haven't been restaurants before," Catallo said. "Vinsetta Garage checked every box for us. It's historic, industrial, and automotive with a busy location in a great community."
Vintage light fixtures and antique Edison light bulbs emanate a soft orange glow throughout Vinsetta.
"We didn't want to be a theme place with poodle skirts" and other automotive clichés, Stevenson said. "We wanted an authentic place with great food. This place is real."
The realism extends from light fixtures made out of carburetors to antique streetlights, dining tables on the shop floor and photos of the owners' fathers as youthful drag racers.
About 35 outdoor seats should join the 160 inside in mid-July. The outdoor seats are part of the waiting area now. The staff is bracing for an onslaught as auto enthusiasts descend on Woodward in the run-up to the Dream Cruise, Aug. 18.
"These will be the best seats in the house for the Woodward Dream Cruise," Catallo said.
They could probably have made more money by closing to the public and renting Vinsetta Garage for corporate events during Dream Cruise week. Instead, the kitchen will use an abbreviated version of the menu to serve more people faster than on normal days. The regular menu includes pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, mix-and-match combos of noodles, sauces and meatballs and wine, liquor and 22 beers on tap.
More Details: Eatery's nods to repair shop past
Automotive details to look for at Vinsetta Garage restaurant
• The wallpaper in the foyer and bathrooms is old work tickets from repair jobs the garage did years ago.
• Utility lights on retractable cords hang from rails in the ceiling.
• The small light fixtures behind the booths are made from carburetors. The light bulbs are actual 1930s Edison bulbs.
• New electric-car charging stations have replaced the 1920s-era gas pumps out front. Electric-car drivers can charge for free while they eat.
• A top-fuel rail drag racer sits on the ceiling above the entrance.
• Skylights and a glass-block rear wall provided natural light for repair work.
• The skylights' original yellow safety glass is now in the hanging-island roofs over the bar and cooking stations.
• A small underground storeroom where carburetors were stored and worked on is now the wine cellar.
• Sixties advertising catalog photos of cars hang in the waiting area.