Savvor serves up Southern and island comfort in Boston’s Leather District
When Eddy Firmin was ready to start his own restaurant after spending years in the corporate world and as a restaurant co-owner, he created the kind of place he would want to go to.
On the web
Savvor restaurant and lounge is at 180 Lincoln St., Boston. For more information and to make reservations, visit: www.savvorbostonlounge.com.
“This is me,” he says, sitting recently in the dining room of Savvor, the restaurant and lounge he opened in downtown Boston in 2014. “It’s stuff I like to eat — good food, nothing crazy. Our recipes come from all over — from my mother, from family members, borrowed from a lot of places.”
The menu at Savvor combines two types of food Firmin favors: the island flavors of the Caribbean and the comfort food of the American South. Customers craving Caribbean might choose the fried whole fish with escovitch salad, coconut curry stew or oxtail; those looking for southern soul will find it in dishes like chicken and waffles, gumbo, crawfish hushpuppies and mac and cheese.
A dream grows
Firmin’s family came to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 10, and he grew up in Dorchester. As the oldest of four siblings and as witness to his parents holding multiple jobs to support the family, he learned about hard work and taking responsibility, he says.
Though soccer was the sport he knew best, he set out to master basketball after learning that it could lead to a college scholarship. His method paid off. He won a scholarship to UMass-Amherst. Armed with a degree in economics, he entered the world of banking and finance, working for State Street Bank and then Arthur Andersen consulting.
All the while, the entrepreneurial bug kept him thinking about having his own business one day. His first taste of this was as co-owner and managing partner of the Blue Wave restaurant and lounge in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood. When Blue Wave, which specialized in casual Italian-American and pub fare, closed its doors in 2011, he decided it was time to create an establishment that would reflect his own tastes.
His vision turned into Savvor, a welcoming “one-stop shop” for many types of people, he says, describing it as a “restaurant-slash-lounge with great food, a great bar, a great drink list and a lounge with cool music.”
It took nearly two years to open the new restaurant — between choosing a space, putting a business plan together, finding financing and going through the licensing process. The fact that he’d been in the business consulting industry and had a decade of restaurant co-ownership experience gave Firmin some leverage. But even so, eight banks said No, he recalls, before he finally secured a business loan. On the positive side, the Leather District location he found had been a nightclub previously and he was able to buy the existing liquor license.
Finally, everything came together. The lease was signed in fall of 2013 and Savvor opened its doors in February 2014 downtown at 180 Lincoln Street, a short walk from South Station.
A versatile space
With 2,000 square feet, the high-ceilinged 145-seat restaurant contains a main dining area and a smaller room that can be reserved for more intimate parties. A large lounge area contains two bars, banquette seating, a sound set-up for live music and DJs, and room for dancing.
Savvor draws a diverse range of customers on any given night, Firmin says.
“It varies. We have a 70th birthday party scheduled soon. We’ll have younger people who don’t show up until 11 o’clock. All kinds of people feel comfortable here,” he says. Downtown-area professionals will pop in for a post-work cocktails or dinner. Others come in for dinner dates, nights out with friends, or family celebrations. Music lovers stick around for live music or DJ-spun tunes in the lounge, open until 2 a.m. Dinner is served until 10 (10:30 on Saturdays), with a smaller late-night menu offered until midnight.
Success has not been a straight line. Firmin and his staff went “back to the drawing board” a few times to adjust the menu when dishes they thought would be great didn’t hit the target with the typical customer. A chicken and quail dish was simplified to chicken and waffles, for instance. Little by little, they distilled their ideas into a menu that Firmin believes hits the mark in being simple, authentic, made from scratch and tasty, at a reasonable price. (Entrees range from $15 to $24, and side dishes from $4 to $8.)
The name, pronounced “Say-vor,” is meant to bring to mind the concept of savoring the food, the moment and the atmosphere, in different languages — savor, sabor, saveur. The double-V turns the name itself into a conversation-starter.
Savvor has 12 employees, most working part time. Firmin has two cousins as business partners, but he functions as the “face” of the business. He estimates he is at Savvor 95 percent of its open hours. Most nights he is shaking hands and chatting with diners and performing tasks from serving drinks at the bar to answering the phone and busing tables. General Manager Courtney McCall, who previously managed at Boston Harbor Hotel and No. 9 Park, has been on the Savvor team from the start.
Firmin feels the business provides opportunities for the community, with monthly art exhibits showcasing the work of local artists, and the live music offering exposure to up-and-coming local musicians. Future goals include continuing to grow the business and being recognized as a welcoming place with high-quality food, and eventually being able to open additional locations.
After three years, owner Firmin is by no means feeling settled or bored. Hard work and long hours notwithstanding, he continues to savor the satisfaction of business ownership.
“I like that you plant a seed, you wait for it to grow, and you have to nurture it while it’s fragile,” he says. “The journey is what drives me, watching the seed growing into something.”