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Posted on Tue, May 28, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Sava's Restaurant owner reveals plans for Spanish tapas eatery in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


Aventura will open at 212-216 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor. The Spanish tapas restaurant and bar is opening in the former Mahek Indian eatery as well as the neighboring building.

Melanie Maxwell |

Ann Arbor restaurateur Sava Lelcaj, inspired after a trip to Spain, is finalizing plans for her latest downtown project: aventura, a Spanish tapas restaurant and bar.

Using food ingredients like padron peppers, Marcona almonds, olives, dates, boquerones, saffron, octopus, Manchego cheese and honey, Lelcaj hopes aventura’s small plates-style menu will bring something new and unique to Ann Arbor.


Ann Arbor restaurateur Sava Lelcaj's latest venture is aventura, which is a short ways from her businesses babo market and Sava's Restaurant.

Melanie Maxwell |

“Everything that we’re doing we keep going back to a photograph of a display or a booth or a chair from Spain,” Lelcaj said. “Everything we are doing is inspired by our trip to Spain.”

Lelcaj is opening aventura at 212-216 E. Washington St., just down the street from her existing babo market and Sava’s Restaurant. She signed a lease in February to take over the former Mahek Indian restaurant space, and purchased the neighboring building to create a multi-level restaurant with an outdoor deck.

The space, which is roughly 6,500 square feet on the first floor, has been gutted and Lelcaj hopes to start construction in the coming weeks and open aventura in September.

Plans include: a 36-seat bar that wraps around the middle of the buildings, a high-top seating area, a dining room with booths, a mosaic tile wall, a kitchen for cold foods upstairs and an open kitchen downstairs, an “intimate” cocktaileria lounge in the basement, a wine cellar, and a raised outdoor deck behind the buildings.

“This is such an adventure to us,” Lelcaj said. “We’re building these rooms that are so connected but so different. It’s just really fun because there are so many things happening in one building.”

Lelcaj hired a chef, who is experimenting with ingredients to create a menu. Lelcaj said it will be mostly Spanish tapas — some with an American twist — but the menu might also include some larger dishes that are meant to be shared. There will be a variety of pinchos, which are popular appetizers in Spain served on bread.

“Our chef, for us to sample, made one with herbed goat cheese, a pickled red pepper and a little drizzle of honey,” Lelcaj said. “It’s really simple, but you can really be creative. They make for fun spreads that people can share.”

Added Chene Peña, aventura’s creative director: “We’re really inspired by the flavor of foods. Boquerones on things add a little saltiness, and padron peppers, once paired with certain things, completely change the flavor.”

The restaurant will also offer a variety of homemade Spanish cocktails and a Spanish wine list.

Peña, who spent time living in Spain, said friendly service and a community-focused atmosphere will be important at aventura.

“We did love how friendly everyone was in Spain, especially in restaurants where it feels like they know you,” he said.

Lelcaj entered the Ann Arbor dining scene in 2007, when she opened Sava’s State Street Cafe in a small second floor space on South State Street. After expanding Sava's and then opening babo market, Lelcaj said she was ready for her next challenge.

“As a company, we were ready to do something else. …I think (aventura) fits in because this is just a little more mature. I feel like (each business) has its own personality, but they’re all so connected.”

Lelcaj and Peña have started hiring and training an aventura management team, and they will hire additional wait staff this summer.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Love the idea of a proper Spanish tapas restaurant in A2, but skeptical because this is a Sava venture. I've eaten at her restaurant several times and found the food to be quite awful. Hopefully, the chef at this new establishment knows what he's doing.

Terry Reilly

Wed, May 29, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

i missed it, what is a "babo market?"

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, May 29, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

babo is the market on East Washington and Division on the first-floor of the 411 Lofts student apartment building. It sells prepared foods, coffee, market items, wine and beer, among other things. There is a photo gallery here:

Rose Garden

Wed, May 29, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

I think it is great that Ann gives new restaurants some free publicity by making them a news item. It helps the owners to succeed and informs the readers. Without the information being printed/posted in the news, I would have less than a one percent chance of finding out about it.


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 9:39 p.m.

I thought Cafe Felix was tapas; I see now their website says "french diner," but I know I went there for several times for tapas about 5 years ago, no? We stopped going because it stopped being good. So they don't try the tapas thing any more? Or was it never technically tapas? Prett darn small portions if it wasn't.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, May 29, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

I don't believe they do tapas anymore..but someone correct me if I'm mistaken!

Kellie Woodhouse

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Something interesting to me is the trend of not capitalizing the restaurant name. babo, aventura, aut bar, grange. Is there significance there, or just an editorial decision?


Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 11:59 p.m.

blame it on eve, the restaurant

Lizzy Alfs

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

@Kellie, Sava said she likes having the consistency with all the names being lower cased. When she did it at the restaurant, she just continued it with the market and aventura.


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

She sure gets a lot of promotion on Wouldn't even consider this newsworthy.

David Barnett

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

She get's a lot of promotion on because she does a lot of interesting things around Ann Arbor. I for one appreciate these kind of updates.

Lizzy Alfs

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

We cover many new business openings, including restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor. After Sava purchased the building and leased the Mahek space, she was still considering what kind of concept to open, and I think many readers are interested to hear the outcome. You can certainly email me - - with story ideas.


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

But first get your food right where you are at Sava's


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Nice idea! Would love such a place if a)the food were really simple, light and fresh, the way good tapas should be and not the overdone stuff most downtown restaurants serve, and b) it would be a place to relax and not be assaulted with loud music and TV sets! Gone are the days when you could go to a nice cafe and read a newspaper or book without earplugs. Why do we need whining singers in our ears in every single public place?


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

There actually was a tapas restaurant here in Ann Arbor about ten years ago. It lasted a year or two, then closed. Hopefully, this one will succeed. I'd worry about Ms. Lelcaj spreading herself too thin, but with the right people working for her, I'd bet that she can handle it.

Tom Teague

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

I remember that when I first came to Ann Arbor in 2004 that I made plans to join friends at a tapas restaurant but that it closed before we got around to it. My southern accent was a little stronger then and one of my colleagues thought I was saying "topless" restaurant, which led to some confusion about what exactly we were planning. When I searched for tapas, the Share Wine Lounge and Small Plate Bistro at the Sheraton Hotel popped up. It's a niche that has long needed filling downtown. Good luck to Sava on this.

Lizzy Alfs

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Interesting, where was the tapas restaurant? Sava does credit the team she's created..she went to Spain with seven people, and all of them will be involved with aventura.

Joel A. Levitt

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Sooner! Sooner! Yumm!

Urban Sombrero

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

What a cool idea. I can't wait to try this.

Linda French

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

Good Luck, Sava. It's fun to watch you grow and become more successful trying new things.

Tex Treeder

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

I believe the term is "restaurateur", not "restauranteur".

Kyle Mattson

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Correct Tex, we've updated that caption.


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

You're right, I never knew that. It appears it's "okay" to use the version with the "n" but it's much less common and not really considered proper.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

Yummy! One of my favorite memories of Spain was a really great tapas place in Barcelona.

Daniel Piedra

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

I am surprised that it took so long for a traditional tapas eatery to emerge in Ann Arbor. Authentic Spanish tapas, particularly if it's inexpensive yet delicious, is a great business idea. I hope that the chef will stick to traditional tapas and not veer too much into "American twists."

Kellie Woodhouse

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

I agree with this comment. I was surprised when I moved here two years ago that, given all the options downtown, there was no traditional tapas option. This is an exciting endeavor, and I am looking forward to its opening!


Tue, May 28, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

I'm excited to see this -

Walid Yassir

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 10:32 a.m.

Smells like.....A Home Run! I could eat boquerones for 3 meals a day. Reminds me of a dish we used to get at our favorite Tapas in Boston (Taberna de Haro) called Matrimonio - boquerones alternating with anchovies. Thanks for doing this - Ann Arbor has clearly embraced the small plate concept (Mani, Isalita) and we would love to add aventura to our rotation.