Last month, Dick Schubach said that he and his partners closed Zanzibar because it was “a destination restaurant in a nondestination neighborhood.” As if to confirm his observation, its successor, Sava’s, aims not at destination diners but at State Street’s captive market: U-M students.

Sole owner Sava Lelcaj, twenty-six, moved from Sava’s Cafe across the street with a downtime of only five days. “I don’t require a lot of sleep,” she explains. The one part of her plan that she admits was unrealistically ambitious for her turnaround was the liquor license. “We’ve got so much going on,” she says. “I feel like we’ve moved from a studio apartment in the city to a mansion in Connecticut. The cafe was the pilot restaurant, this is the dream restaurant.” She has an option to buy Zanzibar’s license and hopes to be serving alcohol by January.

While Sava’s Cafe had forty seats, Sava’s can seat up to 300 (counting outdoor tables). Though she employs close to fifty people, Sava likes to interact with her kitchen as well as her customers and is still on a learning curve. When we visited, her left arm was striped with burns: “From the fryer,” she says ruefully. “The baskets are heavy, and I’ve got scrawny little wrists. Across the street I had little electric tabletop fryers.”

Sava’s makeover involved mainly cleaning and painting but also eliminated some of Zanzibar’s iconic touches. The African kente cloths that hung from the ceiling are gone, and the two African-themed murals have been painted over. Since several customers let Sava know they miss the larger mural, she plans to do something spectacular to replace it.

Sava’s new menu continues the cafe’s emphasis on sandwiches, but, with a bigger kitchen and more cooler space, she’s upgrading ingredients–using fresh pineapple instead of canned, for instance. And though she’s added some fancier entrees, even those are compatible with student budgets: roasted duck breast with fig compote and redskin potatoes at $14.99 is as expensive as it gets.

Sava’s breakfast menu has also grown more elaborate, with crepes, French toast, waffles, croissant sandwiches, omelets, and hashes. “My goal is to turn this place into the power breakfast joint on the east side” of downtown, Lelcaj says, adding that Cafe Zola “is the power breakfast place on the west side, but some people don’t want to walk that far.”

Sava’s, 216 S. State. 623-2233. Daily 8 a.m.-midnight.

Got a retail or restaurant change? Send email to or, or leave voicemail at 769-3175, ext. 309.