Walking into babo: a market by sava, it’s easy to forget the fluorescently lit, barren grocery stores of shopping trips past.
Glowing light bulbs hang from the ceiling, and industrial metal appliances meld with the antiquated wood furniture and décor arranged on the walls. Full-length windows feature the corner of Washington and Division streets as the backdrop for the market, creating a blend of city life and rustic charm. The exposed high ceilings throughout the market yearn to be filled with the sweet smells of freshly baked bread and delicacies. Babo is a place where food meets art, and grocery shopping transforms from an errand to an experience.
The aesthetic appearance of the market, which opens today, even applies to the products. Paul Hannah, general manager of the market, said babo selects quality products whose labels play to the design of the market.
“We want the store to kind of have a sexy feel to it,” Hannah said. “We want people to walk in and want to buy everything that they see.”
Along with retail food products, the market will also offer prepared foods, baked goods, meats and cheeses sliced to order, coffee and fresh produce, according to babo owner and operator Sava Lelcaj, who owns Sava’s Restaurant on State Street.
Hannah, who previously worked as the wine director at Vinology on Main Street and was an employee of Zingerman’s Delicatessen, stressed the mission of the market isn’t simply to provide food to customers, but to provide a culinary experience.
“We want to sell food that enhances people’s lives — not only the people who consume it but also the people who make it,” Hannah said. “All these products have histories and stories, and there’s a romance to them and we want people to know that.”
Cards placed in front of each item in the store will detail why a product was selected for the market and what the item is, Hannah explained. The cards will feature the signature script of Dave Lafave, the local artist responsible for the design of babo.
Lafave, who previously worked at Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street, employs only repurposed goods in his chic, rustic designs and shops locally at reclamation centers in Detroit.
“Everything that I find literally comes out of the garbage,” Lafave said. “I clean it up, brush it down, sand it, paint it white, paint it some crazy color and implement (the item) somehow into the layout of the store.”
Lafave will also paint and decorate the full-length window displays in babo every 30 days to represent a seasonal theme or the introduction of a new product in the market — currently, a holiday theme graces its panes. He said he plans to keep the market’s appearance as fresh on the outside as the products within.
“Sometimes a window might sort of speak to the color or shape of the package a product comes in or if the product adds itself to a theme,” Lafave said. “We never want to go stale with our visual image on the street.”
Lelcaj said Lefave’s knack for reusing and repurposing has extended to the rest of the market, from appliances to the furniture. Wood, which softens the industrial look throughout the store, was restored from a barn that burned down.
“Everything is repurposed, and we found really creative people to help build out the space,” Lelcaj said. “We’ve been conscientious of our carbon footprint when working with the space and selecting Energy Star equipment and reusing and repurposing as many things as possible.”
Energy-efficient equipment will be used to create prepared foods, which patrons can eat at babo, take to go or order through a catering service, Hannah said. Lelcaj added the dishes, made in house by chefs in an open kitchen, will vary depending on the food in season and will include mostly ingredients from the market itself in a diverse way.
Chefs will join customers in the market as they select products to include in dishes, Lelcaj said. Customers will also receive recipe cards with their dishes, allowing patrons to return to the market and buy the ingredients to make their own rendition of a babo meal.
Customers can dine in at a community high-top table, which also stems from Lafave’s integration of repurposed goods in the market. The table, which seats 20 people, is made of two 125-year-old refurbished doors found at the Reclamation Center in Detroit. Inspired by the markets of London and other big cities, Hannah said he hopes the communal table will help bring patrons together in their experiences at babo.
“You’re going to be eating with people you don’t know, breaking bread and sharing wine,” Hannah said. “And I think that’s the fun part.”
Patrons can break bread in babo seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the market will serve prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner, according to Lelcaj. A beer and wine department will also be available after the market secures a liquor license.
While the food and experience babo will offer are distinctive, Hannah said the true character of babo lies in the face of the market — the full-length windows looking out onto Washington Street.
“I think when it’s all said and done, the most unique thing about the market are these windows,” Hannah said. “Most times you walk into a market and you walk from sunshine into a dark place that’s fluorescent lighting, and here, it’s part of the street.”
Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article misstated the market’s hours.