You know you've made it when you can open a market with your name in it and people come. This is the case with Sava Lelcaj, owner of Sava's State Street Cafet in Ann Arbor, and now babo: a market by sava just down the street at Division and Washington. I visited babo on the weekend they received their liquor license to sell wine and beer, and it was a flurry of activity. The staff was busy, but remained warm and friendly.
First, a little about Sava for those outside the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. While I was unable to meet the woman herself, she has a reputation in the area thanks to the appeal of Sava's State Street Cafe . She worked her way up in the restaurant business from busing tables in high school to managing in college. After college, she used her experience and expertise to help other restaurateurs get up and running until she opened Sava's State Street Cafe, which later moved across the street into an expanded space.
Her latest venture is babo, a specialty market and cafe. While there are several differences between a restaurant and a market, there are also a couple of key ingredients that Sava brings to her projects: fresh, local, hand-crafted food. In addition to a nice selection of imported gourmet items, babo carries local produce, as well as cheeses and preserves made in Michigan. There is no frozen food section full of pre-packaged, bulk-made, reheatable meals. Instead, she offers a deli counter where patrons can purchase sandwiches, sides, and entrees made by her kitchen staff. There is a small seating area to eat in.
In another nod to a time of more civilized eating, babo breaks out the white linens and fine china every Saturday for Tea at 3. For $12, patrons get a pot of the tea of their choice and a plate of treats, either sweets from the bakery or savory sandwiches from the kitchen.
Creative Director Dave La Fave ensures that babo has a distinctive look, using anything and everything to create visually appealing displays, including a ladder and vintage kitchen appliances the weekend I was there. Photos from babo's opening include a window display that included a floating bicycle and baguettes and is the most unique and captivating display I've ever seen.
Sava Lelcaj has something truly wonderful to offer the Ann Arbor area - an approach to food as more than just sustenance but as a full sensory experience, a community activity, a social experience. As so much of America willingly accepts the marketing myth that we no longer have time to seek out local food, prepare our own meals, or even put down the smart phones to eat as a family, babo is a refreshing reminder that there is more to food than the act of eating.