Repurposed for refueling: Detroit Street Filling Station

. January 31, 2018.
Photo Credit: Karen Smyte
Photo Credit: Karen Smyte

Once upon a time in Ann Arbor— specifically beginning in 1925 when it first opened— the building at 300 Detroit Street served to fuel automobiles as the Staebler Family Oil Company. Some forty years later, it shifted to offering a different kind of fuel when it became the Ann Arbor Fish Market, and its drive-through front area was closed off with white stucco, creating the triangular-shaped edifice still in existence today. In 1977, the building became Argiero’s Italian Restaurant. With the addition of an outdoor covered porch fronting the corners of Detroit and Catherine St., the warm, welcoming dining spot served the city for four decades as a place to eat hearty, authentic Italian food in a family atmosphere.

With co-founder Tony Argiero’s death in January, 2016, the restaurant eventually closed on Mother’s Day, 2017, with the posted message, “Love Always, Argiero Family.”

Purchased by Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo, co-owners of the popular vegan-fare Lunch Room, the Detroit Street Filling Station (DSFS) opened in August, 2017, as a high-end, fine-dining extension of the more casual Lunch Room. Within a few months, the restaurant underwent yet another revision, ditching the white linen and separate lunch and dinner menus to redefine itself as “Casual Dining and Creating Community.”

A restaurant that brings people together

“Basically, we wanted our food to be in price ranges that are affordable to everyone,” says Engelbert. “We have a big beautiful space right in the middle of things, and we wanted to open it up to everyone. People need each other. There’s a lot of isolation out there, and if we can bring people together, that’s what we want to do. There’s a natural synthesis.”

Flyers posted around the restaurant ask patrons to partner for community events such as poetry readings, book groups, knitting cohorts, concerts, charity events and bingo nights. Weekly bluegrass music nights take place on Wednesdays following the after-school, open-time artwork session on Wednesday afternoons. The restaurant plans to host an exhibit created by UM’s Prison Creative Arts Project, hoping to become a permanent host of rotating exhibits featuring PCAP art. Other ideas include a potential game night on Thursdays, a showtunes night, and a concert featuring a string quartet.

The food offerings include a sub featuring chick pea-mushroom meatballs and pepperoni seitan. Similarly, the Loaded Nachos Tots (seasoned tater tots, cashew nacho cheese, jackfruit carnitas, salsa, cilantro) don’t so much imitate the nachos experience as morph it, with tater tots dipped in a particularly flavorful and spicy queso. The jackfruit carnitas are also present in the highlight dish of the night, the Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos (three corn tortillas, jackfruit carnitas, tofu queso, jalapeño, pickled red onions, avocado, lime). Again, you’re not going to experience the precise taste of a meat taco with this re-imagined selection, but the flavors mix exquisitely to deliver a meal that is satisfying.

Founding and supporting the Youth Justice Fund

The restaurant stands behind the notion of serving as fuel for community activism. In June, 2017, The Lunch Room teamed up with local prisoner rights advocates to start a new non-profit organization, the Youth Justice Fund (YJF) with a mission to “assist returning citizens, sentenced as youth to a term of imprisonment, with services and resources necessary to ensure human dignity and full participation in their communities.” A significant portion of each week’s proceeds at DSFS go toward supporting the organization. In fact, the restaurant pays an employee to work part-time to serve as the program’s administrator while looking to hire formerly incarcerated youth and helping them adjust to participating in the community.

“We’re hiring people,” Engelbert says. “We got our first young person, he went in at 14, he’s 23 now, so after nine years inside, we’ve taken him clothes shopping, helped him get a scholarship at the Y because he likes to work out, helped him get ID and learn the bus system. He would have been sent out homeless into the Michigan winter, but instead he’s working for us.”

This ability to reimagine a life-trajectory is at the heart of what DSFS wants to do. “In terms of the work we’re doing, it’s all that,” says Engelbert of the notion of affording people the opportunity to restart their lives. ”I was talking to an employee on New Year’s Eve and I asked him what he was doing a year ago, and he was homeless. Now he has a steady job with benefits. He has a new set of teeth because we offer health and dental insurance. He’s been sober for a year. He and his wife are moving into a house. It is really all about second chances.”

300 Detroit St., Ann Arbor 
11am-9pm, Tuesday-Saturday. 
10am-3pm, Sunday Brunch.
734-224-2161 | facebook.com/detroitstreetfillingstation

  • Cody Winchester

    Amazing food and staff! Always supporting the community!

  • Dan Michniewicz

    No mention about how they fired a huge chunk of their staff with little (no?) notice just a couple of months ago when they made this shift? Kind of painful to see this social justice-style whitewashing of a business that is an active participant in a system that has little regard to the well being of working people.

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