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Union Joints Revives Two Long-Delayed Restaurant Projects in Oak Park and Birmingham

The owners of Vinsetta Garage are finally moving forward at the WWJ Building with help from a Brownfield grant

The interior features a circular center room with three corridors leading off to the right, left, and front. At the top of each corridor are strips of Art Deco style paintings with people walking in a line and riding horses. One man raises his arms in fro
The interior of the WWJ Building on Eight Mile in Oak Park, where Union Joints plans to open a restaurant.
WWJ Building [EGLE courtesy image]
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Southeast Michigan restaurant group heavy weights Union Joints are moving forward with two major projects after years of delays. The owners of Union Joints made two big moves last week, reintroducing plans for a previously scrapped Birmingham restaurant project called Lincoln Yard and receiving a $600,000 grant from the state to remediate contamination at the historic 8MK building in Oak Park.

The popular restaurant group, known for such restaurants as Vinsetta Garage and Gran Castor, is once again aiming to bring an “American comfort food” restaurant to a site a 2159 E. Lincoln in Birmingham, the Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday. Union Joints previously pulled plans for Lincoln Yard in 2017 after determining that the Birmingham bistro license would not suit the restaurant. (Whole Foods and Adachi received the licenses instead.)

However, with new exterior renderings in place, the group is now aiming to join an economic development area surrounding the property and pursuing a Class C liquor license instead of a bistro license. Similar to Gran Castor, which features a cafe and a restaurant on the premises, Union Joints is aiming to open two slightly different format restaurants at the Birmingham site. Lincoln Yard would be the larger, dine-in establishment, flanked by a quick-service style restaurant called Little Yard. The city’s planning board reviewed the project on Wednesday, August 14, but Union Joints is still awaiting a city review.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited 8MK project inside the historic WWJ Building on Eight Mile Road appears to have finally overcome a major hurdle that put the restaurant on an indefinite hold. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy approved the 1936 Clarence Day-designed broadcast station Oak Park for a $600,000 Brownfield Grant.

In May, Union Joints had asked the City of Oak Park for assistance in pursuing the grant due to the prohibitive cost of cleaning up contaminated soil, concrete, and asbestos-containing materials at the site. The contamination was caused in part by a 2014 flood inside the building, which caused a transformer in the basement to explode, per a release.

The exterior of the WWJ Building features an Art Deco-style exterior surrounded by grass on a sunny day with a radio tower coming out of the left side near a bushy tree.
The exterior of the WWJ Building.
WWJ Building [Courtesy EGLE]

The 8MK and Lincoln Yard/Little Yard restaurants would join several other Southeast Michigan projects that Union Joints is already pursuing. In Ann Arbor, restaurant group co-owner Curt Catallo filed plans earlier this year under an entity Arbor Bar, LLC to repurpose the former Fingerle Lumber sheds for a two-story restaurant and brewery. Co-owner Ann Stevenson also confirmed plans this spring for a new establishment in the Columbia Street area of the Little Caesars World Headquarters. Union Joint’s Latin American-influenced restaurant Honcho also expanded to Ford Field this month.

Corrections: The original version of this story mischaracterized the Birmingham project bid as “unsuccessful.” It was actually pulled due to limitations of the bistro license. The WWJ building was designed by Clarence Day, a protege of Albert Kahn.

Vinsetta Garage Owners Return to Pitch Restaurant in Former Birmingham School Bus Yard [Freep]
Oak Park Awarded $600,000 EGLE Grant for Historic WWJ Building Revitalization [EGLE]
Vinsetta Garage Owners Converting Historic WWJ Building Into Restaurant [ED]
All Coming Attractions [ED]