When Pioneer High School forbade U-M fans from reserving extra parking spots to tailgate this year, they lost a prime party spot within 500 feet of the Big House. But the party continues just fifty yards from the stadium at the North End Zone—behind two houses on S. Main.
Tom Wall, retired Willow Run special education teacher and founder of All Star Driver Education, and his wife, Marie, acquired the adjoining houses and their spacious backyards in 2000. They began renting the yards out for tailgating and events in 2007, and five years later, turned management over to their daughter, Kari Becker, who had moved back from Chicago with her husband, David, and their daughter, Adeline. David works for DTE, has his own business, Mothfire Brewing Company (“The whole family is serial entrepreneurs,” laughs Kari), and manages operations on football Saturdays.
A 1,000-square-foot Clubhouse, a remodeled pole barn, behind the first house offers a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, a seven-foot TV, and a fieldstone fireplace. Outside on the blue stone patio is a commercial Weber grill, another big-screen TV, and outdoor speakers. A few picnic tables nestle within a fenced area. The outdoor space can accommodate 500 people, while the Clubhouse can hold fifty.
The Clubhouse was once a part of All Star Driver Education; now, a portion of it is the office of the T. Wall Foundation, which aids special needs children and their families. A portion of the proceeds from the two event spots supports the foundation, as do profits from “the Hot Dog Stand” outside the stadium, where an all-volunteer staff, some with special needs, sell hot dogs, pizza, snacks and more.
The backyard of the house next door has room for another 200 guests, and the two properties can be rented together to fit a bigger crowd.
Kari Becker says that the North End Zone’s exclusive relationship with Zingerman’s Catering has made her job much easier. While guests can supply their own refreshments, Zingerman’s, in addition to supplying food and beverages, also arranges tent and table rentals, as well as bartenders, servers, and other staff.
Groups that have rented the North End Zone include the U-M’s radiology department, and Oregon State and Rutgers alumni groups. Jim Beam is an annual client, usually for the Michigan State game. The properties are also rented out for away games and other events, such as commencement parties, social gatherings, and corporate meetings. Couples who married at the Big House have held their wedding receptions at the North End Zone. But unlike traditional tailgates, parking is not included.