The owners of two highly successful restaurants, another that recently opened, a general store and an ad agency surely live in a big house on the lake, right?
Well in the case of Clarkston Union owners Curt Catallo and Ann Stevenson, not exactly.
The married couple still lives in a loft above the Union General store in downtown Clarkston next door to their award-winning restaurant with their 8 and 9-year-old children.
“The kids sit down and order food,” Catallo said. “It’s something that’s very throwback, but it appeals to us. For us, it’s life. There’s something old school about living above store. It’s different to have that sense of pride and ownership in our restaurants.”
Catallo and Stevenson believe in the soul of old buildings, they like to travel, you won’t find anything in their refrigerator and and could be Fenton’s newest neighbor.
Meet Catallo and Stevenson
Catallo grew up on Big Lake in Davisburg and remembers visits to Fenton as “trips to the big city” and remembers the old Fenton Fire Hall “as a kid would as a cool place with fire trucks.” He never imagined having the chance to one day own the building.
Stevenson who heads up the Union General, a boutique and cupcakery, admits she is often in the building in pajamas and slippers early in the morning or late at night. She said a lot of the family’s activities are based around the children.
“We happily have them dictate what we do with our free time whether it’s going to a Tigers game or a carnival,” she said. “They are pretty outdoorsy kids.”
The couple is also a fan of backgammon and love to travel.
Since the family is just steps away from very famous food, they admit their refrigerator is usually empty.
“You might find some milk you have to check the date on,” Catallo said. “We live out of those restaurants.”
The couple has thought about moving to a bigger home, but enjoy being close to their businesses too much.
“We are growing out of it to say the least,” Stevenson said. “But I feel like it’s a luxury to live upstairs and next to union and down the street from our other restaurant.”
The soul of old buildings
While a newly constructed building might be actually be easier in many ways to open a business, Catallo and Stevenson believe old buildings have something that wouldn’t be captured with a new building.
That’s why an old church has been transformed into the Union General and the Clarkston Union, Union Woodshop (the 2011 Detroit Free Press Restaurant of the year) was carved out of an old building on Clarkston’s Main Street, the newly opened Vinsetta Garage was built from a historic structure and their newest creation could come out of Fenton’s old Fire Hall.
“It may sound corny, but there is a soul of the building with people that lived there or worked,” Stevenson said. “They are constructed well. There is something about newly dry-walled walls that don’t have same character.”
A second chance at Fenton
Catallo and Stevenson had always admired the old Fenton Fire Hall.
“From the exterior we knew it was an incredibly charming building,” Stevenson said. “Every view is incredible.”
When the first opportunity came around to have the chance to renovate it, they weren’t in a position to make a bid. The economic downturn and the re-transformation from turning the fine dining Clarkston Café into the Union Woodshop were factors in the decision not to expand.
However, after the Michigan Brewing Company deal turned sour, Catallo heard from customers the building might be available again.
“It found us instead of us finding it,” Catallo said. “It’s very rare to have a second chance at the building like that. This time we weren’t going to let regrets get the best of us.
“It has a presence you just can’t replicate. To have building with garage doors open to a (designer Eliel) Saarinen building on one side and windows on the other side that look at a waterfall. It’s unthinkable.”
The Fenton DDA is currently conducting a financial review of both Arbor Brewing Company and the Union joints and checking on their legal history.
The Old Fenton Fire Hall Selection Committee consisting of DDA member Tom Bertschy, DDA Vice Chairman Jim Saule and DDA member Doug James are expected to meet in a closed executive session for a final review of the proposals at 10 a.m. June 19 and then will make a recommendation to the DDA during its meeting at 6 p.m. later that night when the DDA is expected to vote for the finalist.
“They both have been great to work with. I wish the DDA had two buildings to give,” DDA Director Michael Burns said. “They are solid people with solid reputations and very good backgrounds. I think both would be successful.”