Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 24, 2013

Moped Army founder returns to Kalamazoo

URSULA ZERILLI
Kalamazoo Gazette

---- — KALAMAZOO (AP) — Vintage moped enthusiast Daniel Kastner is re-rooting his 10-year-old moped business in Kalamazoo, and he’s brought some creative friends with him.

After a few years of building his vintage moped business, 1977 Mopeds, in San Francisco, Kastner is returning to Kalamazoo to anchor the largest vintage moped parts retailer in North America back where it started with a $500 tax return in 2003.

“I’m very happy to be back,” Kastner told the Kalamazoo Gazette. “I didn’t realize how much I missed it, and there’s so much opportunity here. There’s no way I could have found something like this in San Francisco.”

His company, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this May, now does business in all 50 states and ships and receives vintage moped parts around the country on a daily basis, with more than 100 dealers in its network.

He convinced a crew of friends from different cities and states to come with him to start The Reality Factory, a small business incubator, in a formerly abandoned building in Kalamazoo’s North Side Neighborhood.

“The building was ruined and abandoned,” said Kastner, a 35-year-old native of Sturgis and graduate of Western Michigan University. “It’s big enough that we’re using the building as a two-wheel incubator because I don’t need a lot of infrastructure for my moped business. It can easily be used to help others.”

The 1977 Mopeds retail company was started about five years after Kastner, Simon King and Brennan Sang formed Kalamazoo’s Decepticon moped gang in 1997, which eventually prompted the formation of the Moped Army, a national moped organization with nearly 600 members.

Kastner is also known for opening Rocket Star Café on Western Michigan University’s campus. The cafe closed in 2007, when he and his wife, Emily, moved to San Francisco.

His moped parts business flourished and grew into four retail store locations until the economy took a turn for the worst. Kastner closed the shops and moved back to Kalamazoo in 2010, where he has been running the business as an online store.

He purchased a 7,000-square-foot building, formerly of K & P Pattern and Manufacturing last year for $43,000, after convincing some entrepreneurial-minded friends, all members of the Moped Army, to move to Kalamazoo.

Jeb Gast moved from Seattle to launch Fido Motors at the incubator. Eugene Blesing, of Portage, will be making prototypes and working on launching Kalamazoo Bicycle Works. Ryan Perkins, of Ann Arbor, is launching his men’s apparel online store called RPMFG at the incubator, as well.

Kastner also owns another two-wheel motor parts company called Indigan, launched in 2011, which will be based at the site. All Indigan parts and designs will be made at the new shop.

Kastner’s wife, Emily, plans to use the space to create cooking and photography content for her food blog, www.tar-tryin.com. She has blogged the entire Tartine Cook Book, based on recipes from a famous bakery in San Francisco, and she is a freelance writer, published in Kinfolk Magazine and Gather Journal.

“Right now we’re in absolute renovation mode, the building was ruined,” Kastner said. “We’re doing it all ourselves. Our office upstairs is wrapped up and the rest of the renovations should be finished in two months. We’ll have two buildings, and the field behind will eventually be set up for community events.”

The first floor of the building will be a machine shop for each business to utilize for prototype models, small-scale manufacturing and repairs. The second story of the building is multi-use office space with hardwood floors, couches and computer tables.

A screen printing station is sectioned off in one corner of the office space, which is made distinct by flooring made of recycled and plastered real estate signs. A full-use kitchen will eventually be installed to be used for Emily’s food blog.

Connected to the building is the shell of what will be a finished warehouse, intended to store some 3,100 retail parts sold at 1977 Mopeds and possibly as a moped showroom, that will be accessible through a garage door.

When the building was purchased, it came with piles of old patterns and tools, which Kastner’s crew hopes to restore and reuse. Kastner says the basement could be used as a ceramics studio at a later time.

The crew decided to call the incubator “The Reality Factory,” Kastner said, after finding another site perfect for the incubating business environment they envisioned, which they coined “The Fantasy Factory.” However, the site was entirely out of their financial reach.

“We had to settle for reality,” said Kastner, with a laugh.

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Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, http://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo