The LaFontaine Touch
Which isn't to say the tornado passed unnoticed. General manager Shadrick Bennett was on site at the time: "It was a little scary, because we didn't have anywhere to go--there's no basement or anything. But we were lucky. The tornado followed the valley. Our old building was still up," protecting the new building from the winds. The next day, franchise owner Matt LaFontaine started the Dexter Relief Fund that raised over $200,000.
Bennett graciously denies that running the relief fund delayed the opening of the new building, but he does acknowledge that attending to all the hail-damaged cars on the lot did. In late August, much landscaping and outside paving work remained, and the restaurant was way behind schedule.
Restaurant? Yes, and it's not their first. The LaFontaine family's flagship Cadillac dealership in Highland (roughly halfway between Flint and Ann Arbor) not only has a cafe, but a nail-and-hair salon and a boutique.
There's been a Chevy dealer in this spot since 1962--first Groh's Chevrolet, then Dexter Chevy, both heavily emphasizing the used-car side of the business. When the LaFontaines bought the franchise and the property in 2005, the tiny sales room didn't even have inside space for new cars, and they immediately began plans for an ambitious remake.