Sava's bridges culinary gap between undergrad grub and fine dining

Thursday, April 28, 2016 - 10:31pm

Ann Arbor’s sprawling restaurant scene is one of the city’s main attractions;  however, one may argue the local restaurant scene is actually a tale of two cities— Main Street versus State Street. Main Street is where young, urban professionals dine at upscale and pricey eateries, while State Street is for cash-strapped students seeking to maximize their calorie-to-dollar ratio.  

Sava’s restaurant, located across the street from the iconic State Theatre on State Street, attempts to bridge that gap by offering fresh, farm-to-table cuisine that embodies the best qualities of Main Street restaurants with the affordability of a State Street establishment.

The restaurant, owned by Sava Lelcaj, is part of her larger company, Savco, which operates Aventura and Babo Market in Ann Arbor as well. In an interview with the The Michigan Daily, Lelcaj said her aim is to have an open space filled with customer interaction. 

“I began Sava’s in 2007 in a small space across the street,” Lelcaj said in an interview. “My original focus was on quaint service and hospitality.  When I opened the restaurant, I was the only employee for the first six months, and I really loved the space and my business because it gave me the opportunity to interact with my customers and take care of them.”

Lelcaj said catering to the diverse tastes and clientele that reside in Ann Arbor, as well as hospitality and close customer interaction, remain integral parts of Sava’s mission.

“Even when we moved to a place that had 10 times the seating capacity, I still wanted to have my restaurant to be able to service all of the different people that come,” Lelcaj said. “Students, professors and the town-and-gown demographic that would come for performances at Hill Auditorium or come for game days. Our goal has been to make Sava’s a melting pot for all different kinds of people that live or work here.”

The result of this business model is a diverse menu and seating areas that evolve over time and cater to the variety of tastes that come through the door, according to Lelcaj. Her self-described “restaurant chameleon” uses customer feedback to keep popular dishes and to introduce new ones that use fresh, locally grown produce.

Lelcaj said Sava's has expanded impressively from its original size. 

“When we started Sava’s as a cafe, our focus was on sandwiches, light breakfasts and crepes,” Lelcaj said.  “Not long thereafter, we started offering dinner options.  But when we moved into our current space, and we had a real full-sized kitchen, we expanded lunch and brunch, and for dinners we took off with pastas, seafood and steaks.”

Sava’s rapid expansion began with a wide variety of options, but Lelcaj, working with her team at Sava’s, began to hone in the menu offerings to be more focused and reflective of what her patrons enjoyed.

“If I had to define our food now, I would call it eclectic comfort food done very well with the use of seasonal and local ingredients,” Lelcaj said.  “Throughout the summer season and early spring we like to work with local farmers to use what is in season, like fiddlehead ferns, spring peas, asparagus.  Much of what we offer as specials is developed from the produce that we get from local farmers.”