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April 10, 2008 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-04-10

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-- --Ann Arbors fnest
Michigan Theater_
Brandon Conradis Daily Film Editor

U

U

-W

-w

Tudt0,
One woman's experience starting By Julie Rowe
an independent restaurant in Ann Arbor Daily Staff Writer

Since its inception in independent film move-
1928, the Michigan Theater ment, the Michigan's most
has been one of Ann Arbor's immediately noticeable
most enduring and instantly characteristic is the slew
recognizable features - can of not-so-recognizable
you imagine walking down movie titles that adorns its
East Liberty Street without marquee. But the films it
seeing that glorious neon shows are consistently well-
sign looming above?In many received and notable, and
respects, the theater defines the theater continues to be
the arts scene in Ann Arbor, the place to see the next big
with its penchant for pro- Oscar contenders. In fact,
vocative and off-beat musi- its pure love of all things
cians - Yo La Tengo, Jeff cinematic is what sets the
Tweedy, Patti Smith - its theater apart from its con-
revolving lineup of the latest tenders. What other theater
award-winningindependent shows free Christmas clas-
films and, perhaps most sig- sics during the holidays?
nificantly, its lofty position A perfect counterpoint to
as the showcase for both the the State Theater's endear-
Ann Arbor Film Festival and ing "small town" vibe, the
the Ann Arbor Symphony. feel of the Michigan is one of
A true supporter of the a sleek, big city movie palace

unchanged by time, com-
plete with one of the coun-
try's few remaining original
Barton organs. When it was
originally built, the theater's
architect, Maurice Finkel,
pictured it as "a shrine to
art." It has now become
more than that - once alav-
ish theater dedicated to the
latest and best in entertain-
ment, it's now a symbol of
the rich history and culture
of Ann Arbor. When the
Michiganwas close to demo-
lition in 1978, for example,
students, artists and other
inhabitants of Ann Arbor all
gathered togetherto pull the
theater out of debt - a true
sign of the lasting impact
it's had on the people in and
around this city.

SHAY SPANIOLA/Daily
Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater has been open since 1928.

hen she opened her restau-
rant last June, Sava Lelcaj was
shocked the cafe's 23 seats
were rarely filled. It's hard to imagine the
same woman who speaks with fervor as
she makes menu suggestions to custom-
ers - most of whom she knows by name
- spent her first few months on State
Street depressed and worried about her
namesake cafe.
But Lelcaj struggled with a fact-of-life
for State Street eateries - not many stu-
dents stick around in the spring and sum-
mer terms. Even thoughher restaurant sits
only 300 feet north of E. Liberty Street,
she's isolated from the heavy foot traffic
that stops abruptly at the State Theater. A
small, simple banner marks the cafe, but
does little to draw would-be customers
from the Liberty-State intersection.
But once September came and brought
40,000 University students with it, Lelcaj
said her restaurant came alive.
Although Sava's State Street Caf6 just
broke even in March, its owner has made
considerable efforts to keep the business
afloat. The caf6 serves customers from
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and Lelcaj is
there "100 percent" of the time, she said.
This may change, however, with plans to
extend dining hours until 4 a.m. on some
nights.
"Anything you do, if you do it with pas-
sion, you'll do it well and you'll be success-
ful," Lelcaj said.
She describes her current clientele as
"really hip and really trendy," which fits
with her vision for the cafe. She achieves
her goal of creating a cozy, welcoming
atmosphere with soft lighting and warm
yellow walls. A support column in the cen-
ter of the room is covered with the head-
shots of musical theater students - whom
she regards as her most loyal customers.
She spoke affectionately of the more
than 30 musical theater seniors who dine
in the caf6 daily, but hastened to add that
she'll need the next class to start frequent-
ing the restaurant.
By Lelcaj's report, at least four other
independentrestaurantswere opened and
subsequently closed where her restaurant
now sits. Her space was home to Pita Pit
last year. Still, she's optimistic that her
restaurant will become an Ann Arbor
landmark. To meet her dream of serving
paninis and sweet potato fries to the clhil-

dren ofher current customers, she'll need
to keep pace with constantly-changing
Ann Arbor trends..
While she said adapting to new '
demands will be challenging, the spunky
proprietor also said she has the energy to
make the necessary adjustments. So far,
she has. She doubled her seating capac-
ity when she saw an increased number of
people dining in and added meatless dish-
es when customers requested more vege-
tarian options. In fact, it's the spinach and
artichoke dip she added in November that
customers request the most.
She said her first attempt to craft a
menu of high-quality, reasonably priced
food was successful, and though she's
made some additions, nothing has been
altered or taken off of her menu.
"I sat down and wrote
some of my favorite sand-
wiches from all over
the world," Lelcaj said. Vo
"Everybody loves a good
sandwich."
With the other four
sandwichshopsliningState
Street, she has some tough
competition. But she said
her caf6 provides hungry
students with "something
different." She's obviously
found something they
want, because despite little
advertising effort, she's
seen a 75 percent increase
in business since last sum-
mer.
"We are fresh, healthy
and we are homemade,"
Lelcaj said. "You can really
taste that in every dish."
Still, her four nearby
competitors - Amer's Del-
icatessen, Cosi, Potbelly
Sandwich Works and Earl
of Sandwich - have either
been around for alongtime
or have a major chain to
back them up.
"Twenty to 30 yearsI
ago, Ann Arbor was this
little hip town which
embraced its indepen-
dents," Lelcaj said. While
Ann Arbor residents still
embrace indie culture,

she said, big businesses have forced out
small, personal establishments like
hers.
When business slows at the end
of the month as students leave
Ann Arbor for the summer, Lel-
caj plans to develop an active
marketing plan to bring in new
customers. Young, active Ann
Arbor residents, she said,
would be attracted to her
promise of good food and aa s N T
friendly service.
once she's able to person-
ally welcome them to the
cafe and offer them some-
thing from the menu,
they'll keep coming
back.
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