December 26, 2014

Filling Stations: (More) Restaurants in Former Garages

  • By: Geoff Montes

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In the Winter 2015 issue of Preservation, we feature three restaurants housed in former of gas stations and garages. We rounded up four other former filling stations around the country offering full-service flavor.

Garage Grill & Fuel Bar
202 W. Main St.
Northville, MI 48167
248.924.3367
$$ | American

Brothers Mark and Bill Evasic began redeveloping this 1939 gas station in downtown Northville, Michigan, in February 2012. Originally designed by architecture firm Ron and Roman of Birmingham, Michigan, the gas station was operated initially by Gulf Oil and later Sunoco.

“When it was a gas station, they also had a small barber shop in the corner for many years,” says Mark. After the Sunoco shuttered, a series of businesses opened and closed in the space, including a Chrysler dealership, dry cleaner, and a garden shop.

The 2012 renovation process was extremely thorough and lasted about ten months, during which the interior walls were reconfigured, new floors and windows were put in, and the dining spaces and kitchen were built out. The main dining room can now accommodate up to 75 people, and around 40 at the bar. In addition, there’s an 80-seat banquet room in the back of the garage that comes equipped with its own entrance, lobby, 120-inch projection TV, and fully-restored vintage Ford Model A from the 1930s.

The establishment pays homage to its roots with an enormous 28’ x 7’ mural painted by Detroit artist Darcel Deneau that depicts the building when it was a Gulf Oil station, with cityscapes of Northville and Detroit on the ends. The Evasics also retained the garage doors, which opens in the summer months, providing patrons with a warm breeze and a connection to the spacious patio. Popular menu items include calamari, shrimp tacos, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins, and meatloaf.

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Fry's Spring Station
2115 Jefferson Park Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
434.202.2257
$$ | Italian

This former service station in Charlottesville, Virginia, was designated a Virginia Landmark in 2008 when it was still a functioning auto shop, as it had been for the previous 70 years. Notably, the 1931 building was the first gas station to be nominated to the prestigious list. However, despite the historic pedigree, the Houchens family sold Fry’s Spring Service Station in 2009 after the business struggled to turn a profit. Subsequently, property owner Terry Hindermann saw an opportunity to turn the iconic building -- a mix of Art Deco, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Jeffersonian styles -- into a dining destination.

After a lengthy renovation process under the watchful eye of the Board of Architectural Review, the restaurant opened in May 2010. Hindermann worked with Dave Ackerman of Charlottesville-based firm Wolf Ackerman Design on the renovation process, which included installing a brick oven capable of cooking 22 pizzas at a time, a dining room with a hundred seats, reclaimed heartwood pine floors, and large sliding doors open to the heated outside patio.

Pizzas are the obvious specialty here, with inventive flavors like Margherita Supremo, Carnivore, and The Jefferson. Fry’s also boasts over 30 Italian wines, and a wide selection of local brews on tap.

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The Crawdad Hole, Jr.
129 S. Main St.
Water Valley, MS 38965
662.816.4006
$ | Cajun/Creole

The original Crawdad Hole in Jackson, Mississippi, is renowned for its shrimp, gumbo, and, of course, crawdads. Owner Joe Showah’s son Justin, 35, had been cooking in his father’s restaurant since he was 15 when he had the idea to open an outpost of the Mississippi institution in rural Water Valley with his wife, Alexis. Water Valley recently created buzz among foodies when it was named one of America’s Best Little Food Towns by Food & Wine. And Preservation recently spotlighted the 4,000-person town as “thriving” and “teeming with life” due to an abundance of new businesses opening up in historic buildings.

The Showahs came across the vacant 1920s AC Delco service station in 2011 and decided it was the perfect location to start serving up the famous Cajun seafood. “We had the idea on a Monday,” says Justin, “and on Friday we opened.”

They retained the station’s original gas pumps in the front, and service uniforms still hang on the pegs inside. The interior has been transformed, however, into a laid-back dining room with red-checkered tablecloths. Today, the seafood shack serves up delectable boiled crawfish and shrimp by the pound from Thursday through Sunday, and they stay open until they run out of grub.

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Kitchen 56
3433 N. 56th St
Phoenix, AZ 85018
480.994.5656
$$ | American

From its construction in 1961 until 1988, the building that houses Kitchen 56 in Phoenix functioned as a full-service Humble/Enco gas station. After the station closed, an automotive repair shop moved in, but by 2006 it had also shuttered and the building stood out as a prominent eyesore to the surrounding community -- derided as the “purple building” due to the excessive graffiti covering its boarded-up façade.

The space was reborn in August 2010 as Vatra Grillhouse, but that venture only lasted a few months before it closed as well. Its replacement restaurant, Kitchen 56, opened in February 2011, and incorporates many of the station’s original details, like wood and steel beams, and re-fabricated garage metal. Other reclaimed materials are also present in the design, including wood from a demolished Northern Arizona barn, antique pavers, and a vintage Humble Gas sign. Standout dishes include the slow-smoked pulled pork, grilled Ahi tuna with eggplant caponata, and pan borracho (“drunk bread”), a savory combination of wine-soaked French bread with baked cheese on top.

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