Joe: Like every good story, this one begins with a dream.
Owning a Detroit icon like the Majestic Theatre and Garden Bowl is impressive. But for Joe Zaniea, a resident at American House Grosse Pointe Cottage, the rewards of being part of this landmark building for over 75 years goes much deeper. Working side by side with his father, Albert, Joe gained a lifetime of wisdom. He learned the importance of connecting with the community, that Detroit is a city of people, and that caring for those people is bigger than business, it’s part of life.
A Detroit Story.
Detroit in the early 1900s was a town of immigrants. It was, in fact, the largest non-English-speaking city in the nation. The booming auto industry and influx of workers were putting Detroit on the map. This was a city on the rise, ripe for the ambitious, creative people arriving from faraway places. One such person was a young man named Albert Zainea. Landing at Ellis Island from his home in Damascus, Syria, Albert set out to make his mark in the vibrant, up-and-coming city of Detroit. He opened a creamery—the first to bring yogurt to the city—and operated a meat-processing company. Then came the bowling alley.
Built in 1913, the Garden Bowl’s finely crafted, mid-century design caught Albert’s eye. He saw it as a place of refuge in the heart of the city, where workers in the auto and banking industries could relax after long, hard days. He bought the business in 1946, joining seven other bowling alleys in the busy area. To set his business apart, Albert, a man of vision, was the first to welcome women bowlers, hanging curtains and carpeting the floor. This type of outreach underscored the importance of inclusiveness and was just one of the many lessons by which Albert’s son, Joe, was schooled.
Connecting with the Community.
From the time he was twelve, until the bowling alley became the Majestic Theatre complex, Joe soaked up his father’s business philosophy like a sponge. The overarching pillar of success was in creating a connection with the people. By Albert’s logic, the Garden Bowl was not just a place to go in the city, it was part of the community. He was a businessman who put people first, supporting those in need during hard times and building and maintaining long-lasting relationships. And he taught that to Joe and his brothers.
Listening to Joe, you’ll often hear, “If you give it, you receive it...twice,” or, “You give a dollar, you get two dollars back.” It’s not a lecture, it’s a lesson, and it’s become part of the fabric of his story. “I’m not a preacher, I’m a businessman. I know how to bring the people in. My children, my two sons and my father and my brothers knew how to do that.”
And They Kept Bowling…
During WWII, Detroit was the arsenal of democracy, the factories were bustling with activity, building planes and tanks. People worked…and they bowled. In 1967, the police, firemen, National Guard members and anyone else needing relief were welcomed with open arms, and they bowled through the riots. They kept bowling in the years that followed even though many fled the city. “My family reached out to the community, contacting well-respected area ministers who helped us set up bowling leagues for our African American neighbors,” says Joe. The bowling alley also unionized, appealing once again to the heart and soul of their factory patrons.
“The reason we were able to do well, thank God, was a four-letter word, L-O-V-E, love. You extend yourself, put yourself out there, volunteer. We learned that from my father,” says Joe. “You’ve got to open up your heart to your neighbors and succeed together.”
In 2008, Joe received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Preservation Wayne for his commitment to community involvement. He also has served on many boards, including the Children’s Center, a mental health clinic for children.
Still Going Strong.
These days, the Majestic consists of music venues, the Majestic Theatre and the Magic Stick, as well as restaurants, bowling and billiards. And it’s still going strong, with Joe’s sons David and Joe at the helm. Like many theaters and businesses, there were setbacks during COVID, almost forcing them to sell. “The only thing that could stay open was curbside service for the pizzeria, Sergeant Pepperoni’s,” says Joe. The Majestic received business relief and was able to refund tickets and pay its employees. “Now, we’re back in business. I would say the company is doing three times the volume we did pre-COVID.”
It's nice to think this is karma, giving back to big-hearted people who earned success from good deeds. Or it could just be a well-run business surviving through adversity. Whatever it is, it works for Joe. In June 2021, Joe stepped away from the company and he and his wife Mary Louise are now happily enjoying their next chapter at American House Grosse Pointe Cottage. How does he feel about retiring? “I love our life now! I’ll tell you that the nicest thing about where I live is the people. You see, it’s the people again. The people that work here and the people that live here. There are a lot of nice people.” For someone whose life’s work was serving and caring for people, that certainly says a lot.
We all have a story. A story that taught us something, changed us and helped define who we are. At American House, your next chapter is waiting to be written. We’re here to help you write it. Your way.
More to read
Let’s find your community
Maintaining a home and your health can become a challenge as you age. American House provides the care, amenities and services that make life easier. Find out how American House can help you live life to its fullest.