NEIGHBORLY GESTURE: Friendship paves way for garage’s transformation to pizzeria

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FORTVILLE — Fritz Fentz used to regularly make the short walk to the auto repair shop right next to his house to visit with the business’s owner, Denver Lee.

“I’d go over there about three nights a week, talk to Denver,” Fentz said. “We just got to know each other for the past 15 years.”

The uniqueness of Lee’s property wasn’t lost on Fentz, particularly the way its large overhang sloped toward the building, and he’d often talk to his neighbor about selling it to him one day so he could turn it into a restaurant.

After that moment came a few years ago, Fentz and his brother are getting ready to open Denver’s Garage Pizza and Brews at 110 E. Broadway Street, Fortville.

The property was built in 1956 as a gas station with a gift shop inside. Lee owned and operated it as an auto repair shop for about 20 years.

Fentz bought and started renovating the house directly to the southwest of the property about 15 years ago. His friendship with Lee started shortly after.

“A lot of times I would come over here and visit with him and talk and he would have visitors all day long,” Fentz recalled. “Especially in the morning. His crew of guys would always be sitting on that couch over here and chitchatting all day long. Even though they weren’t buying anything here, they would just show up and chitchat and hang out.”

He admired how Lee ran his business.

“This is my backyard and Denver always kept it nice,” Fentz said. “He didn’t park junk cars out here. Everything always was nice and clean.”

But he knew there was a possibility that a future property owner wouldn’t share that quality. So he asked Lee for right of first refusal, having always thought the building would make a nice doughnut shop, coffee sop, pizzeria or burger joint due to its distinctive appearance.

“There’s no gas station anywhere that looks like this,” Fentz said.

Four large underground tanks from its days as a gas station had to be removed from the property. The interior underwent extensive renovations, including a new heating and cooling system, new ceiling, new bathrooms and a tile floor in part of the dining area.

Along with its name, the restaurant’s automotive decor also pays homage to its roots.

New overhead doors are slated for installation that will be able to open up when the weather is nice.

The restaurant will seat about 60 inside and 60 outside. A parking lot is going in behind the building. It has a liquor license for beer, wine and spirits. Fentz said it will employ at least 20.

Denver’s menu will offer artisan pizzas.

“More of a date-night pizza,” Fentz added.

Fentz runs a fire and water damage restoration service in Greenfield and Muncie with his brother, Karl Fentz, who has joined him in the Denver’s endeavor as well.

Karl Fentz said he’s looking forward to getting back into the restaurant industry, having worked for MCL Cafeterias for 18 years before moving to distributors Sysco and U.S. Foods.

“I miss the customers,” he said.

He was drawn to the pizzeria project by the building and its location along with he and his wife recently becoming empty-nesters.

“We’re going to have great pizza at a reasonable price,” he said. “It’s not that hard to make pizza good; just use good toppings. If you use garbage, you’re going to get garbage. You can’t dress it up. Serve it at a fair price, and in a cool location.”

What’s around their pizza is just as important as what’s in it, he said.

“We want to make this a destination type of a feel, that’s our goal — where people want to come hang out,” he said.

The brothers plan to open soon and are currently waiting on the restaurant’s pizza oven.

Lee praised how the Fentzes transformed his former property.

“I think it’s wonderful what he did, both of them,” he said. “I think it couldn’t be any better.”

He’s looking forward to eating there.

“My family can’t wait,” he said.