Capitol Coney Island gets modern makeover

 Restaurant transformed from 1950’s style eatery with jukebox to modern diner

By Jeremy Allen
The Flint Journal

FLINT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Since 1966, Capitol Coney Island has been a staple at the corner of West Bristol and Van Slyke roads, serving up Flint-style Coneys and fries for General Motors employees at the nearby assembly plant and any other hungry passersby.

Until September, the diner looked virtually the same as it did when it opened its doors 47 years ago.

That is, until co-owner Philip Pirkovic decided it was time for a change.

“When my parents bought the restaurant in 2005, we didn’t really do much to it, other than some painting and just minor repairs, so it’s looked pretty much the same, I guess, since it opened,” he told The Flint Journal.

“But my brother and I saw how downtown Flint was changing and lots of places in the area were being renovated, and to keep up with the times I knew we had to do the same thing. We did a complete remodel of the entire place.”

The restaurant was transformed from a ‘50’s-style eatery — complete with juke boxes and red-back booths — into a sleek, modern diner.

Pirkovic said that he got a lot of the design inspiration from his travels, as he lived in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., for some time, and that everything took about a year from conception to reality

“We talked to our parents about it and they thought we were crazy. We took about four months trying to convince them of the vision for it — this young, modern, fresh look — and just let them know that if we didn’t keep up that we would lose business,” Pirkovic said.

“We needed to basically rebrand, but keep our Flint heritage with General Motors and the airport down the road, so we were able to remodel and keep those themes in place.”

The remodel includes new paint and metal sheeting on all the walls, new booths, a new floor, new decor and even wall cutouts with table tops for additional seating.

In addition to the new look, the menu also got a facelift.

The new menu features about 10 different styles of Coneys, including Chicago- and Detroit-style dogs, a drastic change from just the Flint-style, which was offered on the previous menu.

The restaurant even offers a frequent-diner reward program that lets customers rack up points for their meals and offers rewards such as creating a menu item or having a Coney party for friends.

“We’ve just stepped things up a little. We’re still a classic Coney place, but we have new menu items like a mozzarella stick that’s rolled in Doritos that’s just really good,” he said.

“We got a lot of ideas from (The Food Network show) ‘Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,’ and just played with a lot of different things that we thought people would like.”

The restaurant’s head chef Michael Hardwick said that coming up with the new menu was very inspirational and that it was fun to revamp some of the old-time favorites.

“Playing around with some of the classic dishes was a little bit scary, but in the end it turned out to be part of the recipe,” Hardwick said.

“I’ve been cooking for 29 years and some of the highlights of my career have been feeding three presidents — Ford, Reagan and the first Bush — but it’s been great working here and doing what I love and seeing this place evolve.”

For Mike Burden, a Lapeer man who’s been frequenting Capitol for more than eight years, the change was a welcome one.

When he stopped in the diner on Oct. 8, it was his first time in the restaurant since the bulk of the renovations began a couple months ago.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the doors. It had been a couple months since I was in here, but I’m normally in at least once or twice a week,” he said.

“After getting past the initial shock — shock in a good way — I see they added a lot to the menu. I’ve always loved this place for the service and the fact that it’s a cheap place to get a good meal. I haven’t had one bad meal yet and I’m sure it’ll stay that way.

For Pirkovic, the redesign meant more than just investing in his restaurant.

Pirkovic, a Flint resident whose great-grandfather — John Todorovsky — was one of the original Flint Coney Islanders, said that he loves Flint and he believes in the city, and sees it as an investment back into the area.

“I’m a huge supporter of Flint and the downtown area, even though we’re about a mile-and-a-half outside of downtown,” he said. “I graduated from UM-Flint and I just want to continue to see the city get better outside of just Saginaw Street.”

Flushing’s Gary Sullivan was another customer who was happy with the redesign and also said he saw the changes as a good investment.

“The changes took a while to grow on me because I’ve been coming here at least two or three times a week for the last seven or eight years,” he said.

“Even though I miss some of the old things like the jukebox, the updated feel is nice.”

Pirkovic said that it was important to him and his family to keep Flint’s heritage present throughout the restaurant, doing so with dozens of old photos of the city and famous buildings plastered on the walls throughout the restaurant.


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