Garage restaurants rev up

Buildouts often present a challenge in terms of design, layout and logistics, especially when the space previously housed something other than a restaurant. But a wave of operators have embraced the task, converting former auto garages and repair shops into bars and restaurants across the country.

The innate character and history of some old garages make them a popular choice for restaurant real estate. Many are local landmarks with storied pasts, offering a point of differentiation—a unique canvas to build on instead of a blank concrete pad. And there’s already community attachment to these locations, drawing in business from consumers who want to see what’s become of the former garage. So one of the biggest hurdles, aside from getting a garage up to health-code standards, is maintaining some of the building’s history.

For Vinsetta Garage, a casual-dining concept serving American food in Berkley, Mich., that meant keeping some pre-existing fixtures, such as repurposing the double-faucet sink once used by repairmen to a bathroom sink, keeping some of the signage on the walls and maintaining two electric car-charging stations (previously gas pumps) out front.

At Auto Battery, a sports bar in Seattle, beer taps are built into the back of an old battery-testing machine that was left behind, and garage doors at the front open to an outdoor patio. The transformation has been well received by guests, says Laura Olson, owner of Auto Battery. “It’s interactive to have stories behind some of the items … and really brings originality and uniqueness to the space while staying true to the roots of the building and the neighborhood,” she says. Auto Battery took the garage theme a step further with its cocktail menu, keeping guests fueled up with options such as the Tire Iron, Spark Plug, Anti-Freeze, Jump Start and Chevy 57.

One notable big-name player has jumped onboard the garage-to-restaurant trend of late. Phoenix-based multiconcept operator Fox Restaurant Concepts turned a motorcycle-repair shop into a restaurant complex called The Yard.

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