When restaurateur Sarah Schneider bought Clarkston State Bank with her husband, James, she knew they were in for a tough challenge.
Their vision – to preserve the building’s history by turning it into a restaurant – was the beginning of a difficult road. But she wasn’t looking to settle for less.
“Restoring a building is not the easiest route,” says Schneider. “It’s the hard way, that’s for sure. But what good is ease? I really felt like I had a job to do, and it was more important than opening a business. I had this weight on my shoulders like, ‘What are you going to do with this piece of history?’
For restorers choosing to build into a repurposed space, the process is often fraught with pitfalls. However, the result can give a mission that extends beyond the company itself.
Here are some Southeast Michigan restaurants that have taken on the rich history of the buildings they inhabit:
Photo: Steve Koss.
The federal community
15 S. Main Street, Clarkston // (248) 297-5833 // www.thefedcommunity.com
Created at the beginning of the 20e century as Jossman State Bank, this stone structure became Pontiac State Bank and Clarkston State Bank before eventually being 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 see the building, I kept thinking that there must be incredible things behind these walls,” recalls Sarah Schneider. “I knew I didn’t want to just tear everything down and make it new. I wanted to change what it would be like for the community. This way we allowed people to come in and see this building in a whole new light.
The subsequent renovation of the space took three years, during which the entire structure was re-propped and the floor of the lower level was raised several centimeters. The interior walls have been completely uncovered to reveal the building’s original stone craftsmanship.
“It’s not for the faint-hearted,” says Schneider. “We constantly come across things because it’s a very old building. I wouldn’t do it any other way because you can’t recreate that no matter how hard you try and it’s something really special. But I’ll tell you say it’s not easy.
The restaurant opened in 2017 and a year later received an Beautification Award from the City of Clarkston. Its new name – a nod to the building’s original purpose – doubles as a reference to being nurtured by food and community.
Photo: Steve Koss.
Now a dining mecca in downtown Clarkston, The Fed offers diners a sense of place with an intentionally sourced menu that rotates with the seasons. The lower level of the restaurant leads to several special event spaces and hosts a variety of musicians for live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I like to get together and I like having people at my own table,” Schneider says. “I like to make people feel good in a space. When you enter a place, it’s all about the senses – it’s what you see, what you taste, what you smell, what you feel, what you hear – it all 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 farmhouse is its impressive wood-panelled restaurant, built from the frame of a 300-year-old barn originally from Thorndike, Maine.
After operating their own commercial building business for over 20 years, owners Tim and Nicole Ryan sought to create a place that aligned with their values of hospitality and sustainability.
Photo: Supplied“We weren’t going to build it unless it was something really unique,” says Nicole Ryan. “I found this company called the antique barn company – they scour the United States and find old barns they can reuse. They don’t want them demolished; they want to give them another life. I loved this idea.
Once the barn was purchased, it was dismantled, cleaned and then transported to Sylvan Lake, Michigan for reconstruction. The boards that originally covered the barn were reused to clad the interior of the structure, while newer, more weather-resistant barn wood was purchased to finish the exterior.
“The biggest issue is cost,” Ryan says. “When we went to develop our basement, it started to fill with water – we had a natural spring underneath. People were using the earth as a dumping ground, so we had to clean it all up. Then, of course , you’re worried that the soil won’t be what you wanted, so we had to bring a lot of soil. That’s a lot.”
After two years of construction, the farm-to-table restaurant opened in June 2021. Among the hired staff is farmer Rick Rigutto, who grows seasonal crops which are used under the supervision of executive chef Chris Gadulka .
“We have great staff,” says Ryan. “Very caring and loyal, and they are also enthusiastic about [the restaurant] as we are. All the hard work and effort that has gone into it – its beauty is warm and inviting. It’s eclectic; it’s nice.”
Sylvan Table is one of 30 dining establishments in the Detroit metro area to commit to the COMMITMENT to food wastean international certification program that aims to eliminate food waste in landfill.
Shelby in Detroit revolves around an old bank vault. Photo: Jason Keen.
607 Shelby St., Detroit, MI // www.shelbydetroit.com
A 1920s bank vault turned speakeasy, Shelby blends creative menus with sleek design beneath the streets of Detroit’s Financial District.
When owner and developer Tarun Kajeepeta stumbled upon the space in 2019, it had fallen into disrepair.
“It was crazy to me that something like this was just vacant, right in the middle of town,” Kajeepeta says. “It was screaming to adapt and reuse – something we could really share with the city. It was us thinking, ‘What’s the highest and best use for this space?’ And then build a concept around that.
The space was restored over the course of 18 months, but its opening was delayed for a year due to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bar and restaurant opened to the public in February 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 did not envision a use for food and drink. Getting the HVAC, air conditioning in particular, into the bank vault was a huge challenge for we. “
As the pre-existing ventilation systems did not meet modern standards, a larger opening was cut into the vault to make room for new equipment. It took an industrial-grade diamond drill nearly 24 hours to complete the project, just one part of the intensive vault renovation.
“As a result,” says Kajeepeta, “we have a really cool space that’s hard to find and that people can experience in a way they couldn’t experience otherwise. It is not economically viable to build a steel safe now. But because it’s already there, we can reactivate it in a different way.
Shelby’s unique focus encompasses a cocktail-centric approach, with an equal emphasis on a high-quality dining experience. The menus are vaguely French-inspired, but also playful and creative – echoing the classic and modern design of the safe.
“We wanted to do something that was really unique to Detroit,” Kajeepeta explains. “What that means to me is that the execution is top notch, but there’s a playful side to everything we do. We want you to feel like you can be casual or formal – little It doesn’t matter how you want to get in. It’s something we’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into, so we’re thrilled for people who haven’t been in space to come check it out.”
All photos by Steve Koss unless otherwise noted.