Vinsetta Garage – serving up classic American comfort food on America’s first paved road

In 2010, the oil and grease were wiped up and the jacks and drill bits were put away as the oldest operating garage east of the Mississippi, Vinsetta Garage, shut its doors after 91years of service. It remained vacant for two years before husband and wife team Curt Catallo and Ann Stevenson added it to their fleet of six restored buildings-turned-restaurants. Just like any true hot rod repair work, its body stayed the same, but its interior received a time-honored upgrade into a garage-themed restaurant under the same name.

“The buildings that interest us are the ones that were built to serve a purpose – like a firehouse, radio station, or church,” says Ann, co-owner and interior decorator to all the Union Joint establishments. “It’s our honor to restore them to serve another purpose, and Vinsetta Garage is no exception.”

Vinsetta all lit up on Woodward Ave. Photo by Joe Vaughn
Vinsetta all lit up on Woodward Ave. Photo by Joe Vaughn

When the couple first drove 20 minutes out of the city to check out the boarded-up service garage, they were given a history from the founder’s son and former owner, Mike Kurta Jr., who gave them a history lesson interesting enough to get any car enthusiast’s engine running.

Ann retells the story of how Vinsetta Garage was founded in 1919 by Mike Kurta Sr, a Hungarian immigrant who moved to America, to work in the Ford Factory in Highland Park, Michigan. The young Kurta realized these cars rolling off the country’s first assembly line would eventually need repair work, so he sent himself to mechanic school then opened his garage on the well-traveled Woodward Avenue, which eventually became the first paved road in America.

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Vinsetta Garage in 1925

“Listening to Mike Jr. tell stories about his dad made us fall more in love with the building,” says Ann. “The way he reminisced about his shop days as a kid and watching his dad bounce from car to car with his famous leather tool satchel made it easy to look around the empty space and imagine its potential to once again be filled with family, neighbors, and visitors.”

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Inside Vinsetta Garage. Photo by Joe Vaughn

Seeing the reflective look on Mike Jr.’s face as he unloaded his garage memories, Ann knew exactly how she wanted to honor the space. After all, both her husband and business partner K.C. Crain have a little motor oil in their blood, too.

“My father-in-law created the Deuce Coupe and K.C. is a hot-rod obsessed man,” explained Ann. “So when the opportunity came to restore the garage, we couldn’t pass it up. In a town where ‘the car’ is king – Vinsetta, in its epic heyday as a working garage, was a castle. We set out to keep the garage as purely intact as we could while preserving and honoring the well-worn patina of its Motor City lineage.”

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Vinsetta walls. Photo by Joe Vaughn

Ann’s Vinsetta vision was to cover every interior inch of the garage with the Kurta’s memories while bringing some contemporary style forward. When you walk in, before you’re seated you’ll be welcomed in the foyer, once the garage manager’s office and still complete with a vintage desk and chairs. Look around you and you’ll find family photos on the walls and old service tickets used as DIY wallpaper in all their grease-marked and pen-scratched glory. When you look up over the pizza oven you’ll see the safety glass from the original skylights repurposed as a floating awning. Corners of the garage are illuminated by locally-made carburetor lights to enhance the automotive theme. Grab a seat at the bar in tufted leather chairs, wide and comfy enough to make you daydream about sitting shotgun in a classic ride. If you can’t picture it, take this video tour with the head chef, Aaron Cozzad.

“Another story Mike Jr. told us was how he and his family lived in the apartment next to the garage, which is now the banquet room,” says Ann. “In fact, the basement below the room is our liquor cellar! It’s amazing that what used to house a family now feeds many families.”

Menu offerings. Photo by Joe Vaughn
Menu offerings. Photo by Joe Vaughn

And those families come hungry seven days a week! Cozzad and his team of mechanic shirt-wearing cooks, pay extra special attention to the classic American comfort food they dish up like coal-fired pies, burgers, and pasta with extra special attention. The idea is to serve food that the mechanics would have enjoyed after a shift at the garage. Those hungry mechanics knew good food, so don’t be the fool who passes on the most popular dish, Union Mac&Cheese! The food is so authentic it’s even prepared in the two-car garage behind the building that Mike Jr.’s sister and her husband built for their own use during their garage days.

How does Mike Jr. feel about seeing his family business in its new form?

“We always get the glad hand when we walk in. I thought this place was destined for the wrecking ball until I met Curt and Ann. They were the angels who saved my father’s legacy and the history of our family.”

Mike Kurta Sr. and his mechanic crew.
Mike Kurta Jr. and his mechanic crew.

Vinsetta Garage is open Monday-Sunday on a first come, first serve basis. Click here for hours of operation.

Have you ever had a meal at Vinsetta or know of another restored restaurant like it? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Next time you climb into your hot rod or Honda, reach for your Antique Archaeology travel mug.

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31 Comments

31 thoughts on “Motor City: Dine at One of the Oldest Garages in America”

  1. Patrick Weise

    I’ve lived in the neighborhood behind Vinsetta garage for 30 years, and was a little surprised when they converted.

  2. Jerry

    I visited there last summer and will visit again soon i live about 4 hours away but as soon as the Northern Indiana waves good by to winter I’ll visit again

  3. Scott Hitchins

    A dream come true for all us Car Guy’s! Come for the Woodward Dream Cruise in August & cruise US1 where Vinsetta Garage is located right on the Route. The World’s largest Cruise! Fantastic hand packed 2 fisted burgers, fire oven pizzas & make sure to check out the MI.
    micro brewery beer list as it changes all the Time!

  4. Anne S.

    I live not far away, and Vincent Garage is hands-down one of my favorite restaurants! The food is amazing and the atmosphere is great, friendly staff and tons of automobilia everywhere, which is perfect for this “car guy” (ahem – we’re not all guys!). It’s always a little busy, so I wouldn’t even TRY to come in during the Dream Cruise, and parking is limited. But I remember well when the place was a garage, and although I never went there then, I’m grateful it has been repurposed in such an amazing – and delicious – way.

  5. Jess Kilgore

    Another former garage…a motorcycle repair garage…turned-restaurant is Shakespeare Pizza in downtown Columbia, MO.

    It has been 20 years since I was there (and I sure hope they are still open), but I remember the smell of fresh pizza; the decor was motorcycles and everything related to a cycle repair shop; and you could watch your pizza being made from the tossing of dough to watching it cook in a brick fire oven (can’t remember if it was wood or coal-fired).

    I know Mike & Frank will love it if they haven’t been there yet.

  6. Valerie

    Just got to say Thank You for this article. Very interesting and I am so glad they saved the building! Wish I was closer. California is a bit away, but someday I’d love to visit!

  7. Bob Sears

    I live 4 hours away from Detroit and make the trek there once or twice a year when I’m in the area. I was so glad to see the old garage saved from the wrecking ball too. It is a very special place on Woodward Ave. Vinsetta garage is usually very busy so make sure you have plenty of time when you stop. Often in the summer there will be classic cars parked in front – and the valets may just park your ride in front if its an eye catcher. The food is well worth it and very reasonably priced with large portions. Their coal fired pizza pies are excellent, the burgers are the best you will find and come with homemade chips, and the Union Mac&Cheese is a must have side. Top your meal off with a homemade Faygo Ice Cream.

  8. Mark Pierce

    We have eaten at the Vinsetta Garage on several occasions. There food is really good, awesome selection of burger’s and main entree’s. I have also had one of my cars there when it was a garage. All of Curt’s restaurants are always busy, which is a testament to his enthusiasm and his eclectic selection on his menu’s. The bathroom floors are covered in pennies and sealed in with a clear epoxy.

    He also bought the old Clarkston cafe (we live in Clarkston) in 20 + years never ate there, he completely re-did the inside giving it a wood theme to it, hence calling it the Union Woodshop, a top barbecue restaurant.

    Thank you

    Mark

  9. Heather S.

    If you’re traveling through the Clarkston, MI area make it a point to check out the Woodshop or the Union Bar & Kitchen – a renovated church complete with pew seating. If you’re a fan of comfort food, don’t leave without trying the mac & cheese! Just be sure to get there early as long wait times are the norm for “high-traffic” hours.

  10. Michele Stenman

    I just love this story. I love the building and so happy they restored it into a restaurant while keeping the charm of the garage. In one of the pictures there is a man gazing up at the vintage artifacts on the wall and he is probably reminiscing when he was younger. It is so important and I believe vital to keep all of these memories alive. Great story and thank you for bringing it to light.

  11. Janet Bauman Corona

    I’ve been to Vinsetta’s Garage, fabulous, I got chills just being surrounded by so much history!!! Kudos to the architect, interior Designer, Chef and staff. So wonderful to have the input and history from the family to share with all of us! A must do when in the area!

  12. Christine

    I can remember this place as a garage. My mom worked nearby and we drove past it my entire life. Now my daughter and I dine there and its wonderful. Great food awesome venue. Love seeing history saved!

  13. Kathy Schroeder

    We love the history of Detroit, in fact, we have been there twice, and undoubtedly go back again. We discovered the vinsetta garage restaurant the last time we were there. The food is great, and we loved the atmosphere! We would tell everyone it is full of local food, and charm.

  14. Brad Taylor

    My father is Larry Taylor, who worked at the garage for years. He is in the picture, behind Mike Kurta’s left shoulder. I remember visiting my Dad as a kid at work and walking around the shop. Looks like a great restaurant, but it is a shame the last owner of the garage allowed it to close. Lots of history lost!

  15. Kevin Clutter

    I am glad they have found a way to keep this historic building intact and help preserve some of its history while having a viable use for it. Sadly to many wonderful historic treasures have been lost. Hope this becomes a trend and we manage to save more of our collective heritage.

  16. Kathy Schroeder

    We love going to Detroit, the history as well as the people, are amazing! We were told about Vinsetta by a local photographer. The best pick for good local food. We thought it was an awesome place. We are thankful to have been told about it.
    this repurposed building has retained a lot of the character of the garage, and is definitely worth visiting. The food is fantastic, the wait staff is also a good part of the local charm. The pennies on the floor in the bathroom is really a cool touch to this place. We look forward to visiting this place in the future.

  17. Roger Gentry

    We have been there a couple of times now and it is always fun. I remember passing the shop a few times as a kid many years ago.
    nice to see it being put to good use. after all, this IS Motown !

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