When restaurateur Sarah Schneider purchased the Clarkston State Bank with her husband, James, she knew they were in for a significant challenge.
Their vision – to preserve the building’s history by flipping it into an eatery – was the beginning of a difficult road. But she wasn’t looking to settle for anything less.
“To restore a building is not the easy way,” Schneider says. “It’s the hard way, for sure. But what good is easy? I just really felt like I had a job to do, and it was bigger than opening a business. I had this weight on my shoulders like, ‘What are you going to do with this piece of history?’”
For restaurant owners that choose to build within a repurposed space, the process is often riddled with obstacles. However, the result can yield a mission that extends deeper than the business itself.
Here are just a few southeast Michigan restaurants that have taken on the rich history of the buildings that they call home:
Photo: Steve Koss.
The Fed Community
15 S. Main St., Clarkston // (248) 297-5833 // www.thefedcommunity.com
Established in the early 20th century as the Jossman State Bank, this stone structure became the Pontiac State Bank and the Clarkston State Bank before it was finally purchased by owners Sarah and James Schneider.
If Walls Could Talk: Sarah Schneider is fascinated by the stories that make up The Fed. Photo: Steve Koss.“When we came to look at the building, I just kept thinking that there’s got to be some amazing things behind these walls,” Sarah Schneider recalled. “I knew that I didn’t just want to tear everything apart and make it new. I wanted to change what it would be for the community. That way, we were allowing people to come in and get a glimpse of this building in a whole new light.”
The following renovation of the space lasted three years, during which the entire structure was re-supported and the lower-level floor was raised several inches. The interior walls were completely uncovered to reveal the building’s original stone craftsmanship.
“It is not for the faint of heart,” Schneider says. “We are constantly running into things because it is a very old building. I wouldn’t do it any other way because you cannot recreate this, no matter how hard you try, and that is something really special. But I will tell you it’s not easy.”
The restaurant opened in 2017, and a year later received a beautification award from the city of Clarkston. Its new name – a nod to the building’s original purpose – doubles as a reference to being fed through food and community.
Photo: Steve Koss.
Now a dining hotspot in the center of downtown Clarkston, The Fed offers guests a sense of home along with an intentionally-sourced menu that rotates with the seasons. The restaurant’s lower level leads to several special event spaces and hosts a variety of musicians for live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I love to gather and I love to have people at my own table,” Schneider says. “I love making people feel good in a space. When you walk into a place, it’s all senses – it’s what you see, what you taste, what you smell, how you feel, what you hear – all of that matters. So it stems from a personal love of bringing people together and making them feel really special.”
Photo: Supplied / Rebecca Simonov Photography
1819 Inverness St., Sylvan Lake // (248) 369-3360 // www.sylvantable.com
The centerpiece of this five-acre farm is its striking wood-paneled restaurant, constructed from the framework of a 300-year-old barn originally from Thorndike, Maine.
After operating their own commercial construction business for over 20 years, owners Tim and Nicole Ryan were looking to create a venue that aligned with their values for hospitality and sustainability.
Photo: Supplied“We weren’t going to build it unless it was something really unique,” Nicole Ryan says. “I found this company called the Antique Barn Company – they go throughout the United States and find old barns that they can repurpose. They don’t want them torn down; they want to give them another life. I loved that idea.”
Once the barn was purchased, it was disassembled, cleaned and then transported to Sylvan Lake, Michigan for reconstruction. The boards that originally covered the barn were reused to panel the structure’s interior, while newer, more weather-hearty barnwood was purchased to finish the exterior.
“The biggest thing is the cost of it,” Ryan says. “When we went to put our basement in, it started filling up with water – we had a natural spring under there. People were using the land as a dump, so we had to clean all that out. Then, of course, you’re worried that the soil isn’t going to be what you want, so we had to bring in a lot of soil. It’s a lot.”
After two years of building, the farm-to-table restaurant opened its doors in June of 2021. Among the committed staff is farmer Rick Rigutto, who cultivates seasonal crops that are utilized under the supervision of executive chef Chris Gadulka.
“We have a great staff,” Ryan says. “Very caring and loyal, and they’re as excited about [the restaurant] as we are. All the labor and all the effort that went into it – the beauty of it is warm and inviting. It's eclectic; it’s beautiful.”
Sylvan Table is one of 30 food-and-beverage establishments in Metro Detroit to commit to the PLEDGE on Food Waste, an international certification program that aims to eliminate food waste to landfill.
Shelby, in Detroit, centers around a former bank vault. Photo: Jason Keen.
607 Shelby St., Detroit, MI // www.shelbydetroit.com
A 1920s bank vault turned speakeasy, Shelby mixes creative menus with a sleek design beneath the streets of Detroit’s Financial District.
When owner and developer Tarun Kajeepeta stumbled across the space in 2019, it had fallen into significant disrepair.
“It was crazy to me that something like this was just sitting vacant, right downtown,” Kajeepeta says. “It screamed adapt and reuse – something that we could really share back with the city. It was us thinking, ‘What’s the highest and best use for this space?’ And then building a concept around it.”
The space was restored over the course of 18 months, but was delayed a year in opening due to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bar and restaurant opened to the public in February of 2021.
Photo: Jason Keen.
“I think the biggest challenge was getting this space to meet our code requirements today,” Kajeepeta says. “As you can imagine, a bank vault space did not envision a use for food and beverage. Getting HVAC, air conditioning specifically, into the bank vault was a huge challenge for us.”
Because the preexisting ventilation systems did not meet modern-day standards, a larger opening was drilled into the vault to make way for new equipment. It took an industrial-level diamond drill almost 24 hours to complete the project, only a single part of the vault’s intensive renovation.
“As a result,” Kajeepeta says, “we have a really cool space that is hard to come by and that people can experience in a way that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to. It’s not economically viable to build a steel bank vault now. But because it’s already there, we can reactivate it in a different way.”
Shelby’s unique focus encompasses a cocktail-forward approach, with equal emphasis on a high-quality dining experience. The menus are loosely French inspired, but also playful and creative – echoing the classic-meets-modern design of the vault.
“We wanted to do something that was really uniquely Detroit,” Kajeepeta says. “What that means to me is the execution is top-notch, but there’s a playfulness in everything that we do. We want you to feel like you can be casual or formal – however you want to come in. It’s something that we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into, so we’re excited for people who haven’t been in the space to come and check it out.”
All photos by Steve Koss unless otherwise indicated.
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