Once Fingerle Lumber Co. closes its doors Saturday, Arbor Bar, an entity of Union Joints, will move forward with plans to open a restaurant on Fingerle’s former 45,000-square-foot site at South Main Street. They presented a restaurant proposal to the Ann Arbor Design Review Board on Feb. 13. Curt Catallo, co-owner of Union Joints restaurant group, feels confident about their plan to repurpose the old storage sheds of the Fingerle Millworks building by turning it into a two-story restaurant.
After 88 years of business, Fingerle will close on Saturday. Fingerle is a family-owned business that has been operating in downtown Ann Arbor since 1931. The third-generation owners, brothers John and Mark Fingerle, will retire once they close their business. Fingerle did not respond to requests for comment.
Catallo noted that all of the lumber came from Fingerle when their first restaurant, the Clarkston Union, was built in 1995. Additionally, Union Joints co-owner Ann Stevenson, Catallo’s wife, lived in Ann Arbor for several years and has always appreciated the site. Catallo said Union Joints is honored to have this opportunity.
“This Fingerle Millworks building just checked all the boxes,” Catallo said. “It’s a building and a site that we fell in love with years ago and we’re very proud to be able to repurpose it and create a little something down by the railroad tracks.”
Catallo felt that this project naturally unfolded due to his team’s familiarity with the company, land and the city of Ann Arbor.
“In a way, we obviously knew the mill building and then it kind of came to us organically in that we knew it was there and we felt that it was a good fit,” Catallo said. “Friends told us about it and then we really worked with the Fingerles to try to make it so you could repurpose that structure not knowing what they were doing with the larger parcels that they sold to U of M.”
On Dec. 6, the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents authorized the $24 million purchase of 6.54 acres of another piece of Fingerle’s property located along Fifth Avenue and south of East Madison Street, but the University’s plan for this land remains up in the air.
Catallo said the restaurant's working title is “Fort Fingerle,” and the goal is to bring to life the expansive concrete on the lawn by making a commons area, as well as to include a bar area on the second floor that leads out to a “groovy, charming” rooftop.
“We’ll have a little portion of it dedicated to carry-out and dedicated to grab-and-go,” Catallo said. “Between that element, the rooftop, the restaurant, and then the way we activate the sheds, it’s just going to be something that you don’t find anywhere else because you can only do it if you have a little micro-campus like Fingerle has.”
Catallo also shut down recent rumors about the proposal also being for a brewpub.
“We’ve always been able to buy better beer than we could make and we’ve stuck to that,” Catallo said. “It has allowed us to focus on scratch-producing all of our food and then partnering with different brewers that are proud of practicing their craft. We’ve always been happy to support micro-breweries and craft breweries and focus on the kind of comfort food that we’re proud to create. That’s the same with what we’ll do at this space.”
All of Union Joints’ projects thus far have involved taking an old building and repurposing it, while still respecting its original purpose and structure.
“We’re familiar with Ann Arbor, but I don’t know if Ann Arbor is necessarily familiar with Union Joints,” said Catallo. “We’ve been proudly repurposing buildings since 1995 and practicing place-making in these buildings that always served one purpose and were destined to serve another. And we think that this Fingerle Millworks building just checked all the boxes.”
Catallo emphasized they are not going to change Fingerle’s footprint or original purpose through their development. Rather, he feels this is an opportunity to have something old become new again.
Jack Ferber, a Business freshman at the University, said he appreciates Union Joints’ intentions in honoring the lot's original use while adapting the space.
“I’m a huge fan of keeping integrity of buildings and I think that’s what this project seems to be trying to do,” Ferber said. “They’re trying to bring in a new age to an old building.”
Catallo said they intend to play a part in all of the action in the college town.
“Just with the way you can come in off of Main Street or Madison and whether it’s on a Wednesday or your way to a game at the Big House, we just think that people will use this building and this restaurant as they see fit,” Catallo said.
Ferber said he believes the new restaurant will do well by getting involved in student life.
“I think it’s a very, very cool idea that they’re keeping the building intact and they’re trying to get involved more with the University and the student body by making it a part of game day or a part of student life at night,” Ferber said. “I think it’s going to be financially successful because it seems to be in a good spot, and kids are always looking for meals outside of things they cook themselves or dining hall food.”
Business freshman Maggie Dahlmann said she believes this establishment will enhance the city and the University’s popularity and culture.
“I think it will have a really positive impact on the city, as restaurant culture is ingrained in Ann Arbor,” Dahlmann said. “Unique brands encourage tourism, which would make U of M an even more attractive university.”
Catallo said he is excited to share updates as his project progresses, such as what they’ve “got cooking menu-wise” and with the space.
“It’s been a while since the saws in there were milling trim,” Catallo said. “And now we’ll be milling food for people to enjoy, hopefully.”