Seated in an upholstered booth surrounded by a sparkling jewel toned interior and lit with a warm, bright glow, Sava’s Ann Arbor has everything a millennial foodie needs for the perfect Instagram picture — the trendy, boho ambiance pairs perfectly with their token Sweety Fries, of course.
When Sava’s first opened its doors to the Ann Arbor community, they weren’t located in the large, aesthetically designed sweet spot on State Street, where they are now. They were actually right across the street in a modest 23 seat café which they were pushed out of due to the opening of State Street CVS. Since its humble beginnings, Sava Farah (restaurant owner) has transformed Sava’s into one of Ann Arbor’s hot spots — taking that small, quaint café and creating a full service, 300 seat dining experience. Sava’s has gone on to become, indisputably, one of Ann Arbor’s most popular restaurants.
The restaurant now serves over 800 guests on any given Sunday for brunch, says general manager Melanie Brown, who has been a part of the Sava’s family for seven years. Brown is part of the reason the place seems to have so much heart — her commitment to being set up for success every day is both admirable and inspiring.
“I come in and open Sava’s and my main motive is that we are set up for success. Everything from the music, to the lights, to the atmosphere. I just want to make sure all of the guests have the best experience possible,” she said, when asked about her typical day. It seems that hospitality is at the core of so much of Sava’s culture, which is what sets the standard of such a tremendous experience every time you walk through the front doors.
My experiences in Sava’s over the past two and a half years have been nothing short of exceptional. Everything from its diverse menu options to trendy atmosphere has made my wide array of brunch dates, birthday celebrations and meals with visitors from out of town special and delicious. I am a firm believer that you can’t find better sweet potato fries anywhere you look in Ann Arbor, which is a testament to the “Sweety” sauce I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d willingly drink.
Ann Arbor has a diverse and intriguing restaurant scene — with over 300 restaurants dotting its streets and filling the hearts and stomachs of University students, professors, tourists and townspeople alike. But something about Sava’s puts it above the rest — it is always packed with customers, whether it’s a Sunday morning, a Friday night or a Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. I was curious about just what makes Sava’s so irresistible.
“I think the location really helps, but the diverse menu options really makes Sava’s appealing to all walks of life. Sava’s has everything,” Brown answered, before Adrienne Brady, marketing and media coordinator chimed in: “And our Insta game, of course. We really know our audience.” I couldn’t think of a better person than Brady to be in charge of coordinating the social media and marketing for all of the SavCo Hospitality locations, including Sava’s and Aventura. She is bright and bubbly, astute and curious.
Sava’s is a known hot spot for all occasions — from casual lunches with friends, to important dinners, to the idiosyncratic Sunday brunch buffet, they never seem to miss a beat.
“We started the Sunday brunch buffet because on Sunday we’re so busy that the kitchen couldn’t keep up. The chefs create a variety of amazing options every week, and the brunch has become so popular it’s more busy than Sunday nights,” Brown said when asked about the brunch phenomenon that Sava’s masters so well. I would venture to say that if I only ate the chicken sausage for the rest of my life, I’d be more than happy.
“Our audience is the students, and we market to them,” Brady added to emphasize the University brunch habit that Sava’s helps people to indulge in.
Whenever I go to Sava’s, I have my favorite dishes on the menu that I can’t resist. It’s really something special and alluring that the menu is able to tackle so many options, so much so that it is impossible to dislike Sava’s. I usually opt for the Hippie Bowl — a delicious variety of fresh vegetables and grilled tempeh tossed in a tangy lemon-tahini dressing. The mediterranean salmon bowl is also one of my go-tos — the mushroom medley and roasted pearl onions it is served with are to die for.
I was curious about finding out which of their iconic menu items sell best, considering the restaurant is a revolving door of hungry students all day long.
“The mac and cheese and the greek salad are without a doubt our best sellers,” Brown said without missing a beat. The mac and cheese is one of Sava’s most recognizable dishes, with students coming back time and time again for the beloved bowl of cheesy goodness.
“In terms of breakfast, I think the avocado toast and kale breakfast bowl are the best menu items,” Brady finished. Lucky for Brady, her job is based out of the downtown SavCo offices, so she’s away from the heat of the busy kitchen, yet still has the privilege of coming into the restaurants to photograph and taste the memorable dishes. This is a job I know many University students would die to have, as so many of us would select Sava’s as our favorite option for a meal out in Ann Arbor.
Sava’s is one of the beating hearts of this community — with its reservation list filling up weeks before major weekends in town and the students’ consistent loyalty to its delicious food and one of a kind dining experience. When asked what it is like to be a part of such a large college community, Brown had so much to say about her experience working at Sava’s in Ann Arbor the past seven years.
“(The University) keeps us alive. The hospital, the students the professors, the employees, the tourism — we have new guests from around the world all the time but we also have our devoted regulars. I get the opportunity to meet so many interesting people from so many walks of life every single day.”
Brown is passionate and enthusiastic about continuing to make Sava’s as remarkable as it can be, and it’s clear just from speaking with her that she’s successful in her mission. The restaurant business is no easy corner of the world to live in — with its erratic hours and constant challenges to tackle — but it is one that both Brown and Brady are ecstatic to be a part of.
“I mean it’s never boring in this business. It’s so fast paced and exciting. I love just meeting all of the different unique people involved in this process. It’s just simply addicting,” Brady said of her experience with her first year in the restaurant business. She also mentioned that she knows she’ll be here for a while — the business has such an intoxicating and high energy, and this fits her personality so well.
“I love to make people’s days and connect with anyone. It is the best way to foster human interaction and meet people,” Brown said of her experience with the business. She circumvented challenges and confusing situations with ease even during our brief conversation — her go-getter attitude and organized form of leadership is the backbone of the whole place. It is known that the restaurant business is different and new everyday — fighting new fires that arise each day is one of the main jobs of a general manager, and she is perfectly suited for such a job.
When asked what’s next for Sava’s and SavCo at large, the ladies shared with me the inside scoop about the new SavCo restaurant — the DixBoro house, opening this spring. Even with new restaurants opening, and others thriving just down the road, Sava’s is continuing to up the ante.
“We’re tailoring what we do to the needs and wants of the community constantly,” Brady remarked, and I found this the perfect time to attempt to convince them to put the gluten free pancakes, porridge bowl and chicken sausage back on their fall brunch menu. They took the suggestions very seriously, noting that they always take the students’ advice and ideas into consideration.
“We’re always aesthetically improving, we have a new fall menu and drink menu coming and we’re constantly diversifying the menu and what we do here,” Brown said.
I left Sava’s with an intense craving for Sweety Fries, as one does, and not without inquiring about reservation openings for parents weekend, which is over a month away. They are already fully booked, which is unsurprising and makes me wish one place could seat more than 300 people. With their current success, they would certainly thrive with an even bigger location, if at all possible. My biggest take away from my experience speaking with Brown and Brady, was their amiable nature and positive energy. They confirmed for me that what Sava’s does for our community is important and lasting, and left me hoping that I will be able to return for my favorite chicken sausage and banana topped porridge bowl sometime this fall.