Changing the original babo on Washington and Division into Fred’s, a casual café, sounds like a win-win decision for the Lelcaj siblings, Sava and Fred.
When Sava opened babo in 2011 on the ground floor of Sterling 411 Lofts, it became a destination for downtowners looking for prepared and packaged entrées, salads, and specialty coffee drinks.
“But every year the neighborhood was changing,” Sava says, as the Varsity high-rise sprouted next door, followed by Foundry Lofts across Huron. She says the new buildings are attracting mostly undergraduates, “and younger students are not that into grocery shopping.”
Last fall, babo was closed for three weeks to reopen with a new identity and new concept, less grocery store and more restaurant (Restaurants, January). But Sava says she realized pretty quickly that they might need to try something completely different to meet the needs of the neighbors.
And what it might take, she quickly decided, is the kind of menu and service Fred Lelcaj was offering up at his tiny pop-up eatery on South University. In the six months it was open in 2016, Fred’s drew a very devoted clientele for its mostly organic and vegetarian menu, including kale smoothies, avocado toast, and acai bowls.
Fred has the student demographic “dialed-in, with his ‘California snack food,'” Sava says, “and his café was so popular he needed more space. He knows what Ann Arbor needs, and this is an opportunity to highlight some of his projects and priorities.”
At the same time, Sava, now the mother of a five-month-old child, was realizing her own priorities were changing. “We’ve also really grown as a company and see our strengths are in restaurants,” she says. Sava owns Sava and Aventura restaurants downtown, as well as a commissary and catering operation on South State St.
Turning over the original store means “we can look at more types of growth,” including creating more branded products, which will be available at Fred’s as well as at the remaining babo outlets in Nickels Arcade and on Boardwalk.
“I found that I like running a company, but I don’t really like running a business,” Sava says. “That’s what babo felt like sometimes, a business; it really needed a hands-on operator, and that’s what Fred will be.”
Fred’s, 403 E. Washington, (734) 669–3552. Daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m. fredsannarbor.com (website under construction)