Savor Is Opening Soon in Carmel
Coming soon to Carmel—Savor—a fusion of European/Mediterranean and modern ambiance with a gorgeous corner view of Main Street and Third Avenue Southwest in the Arts and Design District in Carmel, Indiana. Savor’s owners, Henri Najem and his wife, Shelley, are no strangers to the Indy food scene. Najem and his wife built a solid reputation as restauranteurs with their previous restaurant, Bella Vita, that was a popular waterfront venue in Geist. Najem is also known for his Flamme Burger locations that feature the award-winning Flamme Burger and other delectable options that are prepared with fresh ingredients from local purveyors and in a true wood-burning oven.
Savor, Najem’s latest endeavor, will also feature healthy, fresh and local ingredients and also with an authentic wood-burning oven like at Flamme Burger, but that’s where the dining similarities end.
Najem shared with us that Savor’s menu will feature dishes with an Italian and Mediterranean flare with an emphasis on fresh ingredients—especially fresh seafood.
More than a decade ago, Najem met Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard at a fundraising event at Belle Vita.
“Mayor Brainard brought the idea of opening a restaurant in the Arts and Design District about 12 years ago,” Najem recalled. “The city was in the early [redevelopment] stages, and so I came out here and met with people from the city, and at that time, there wasn’t a whole lot here yet—just a few businesses. Over the years, I’ve watched the growth, and it really has been unbelievable to watch. I got excited with what [Brainard and the city] have done with this business-friendly area, and the walkability, connectivity to the business community, pedestrian traffic and accessible parking are all very important to me, as is the close proximity to the residential areas. I decided it was time for me to figure out what [concept] I was going to create for this area.”
Najem noted that there is a parking garage behind his restaurant and valet parking is available.
The Savor Dining Experience
“I looked at what I’ve done in the past, and the upscale, polished casual dining [experience] is my niche,” Najem shared. “We are in between casual and fine dining. I’ve never been a white tablecloth person because I don’t want [my establishments] to be for special occasions only. When I started creating the concept of Savor, I had to define who my guest will be, and they are everybody for any occasion.”
Najem and his wife, Shelley, have worked tirelessly at creating a comfortable ambiance, paying close attention to detail to complete a first-class, quality experience for their guests. Buying and working with local purveyors and artisans is incredibly important to the Najems. The wood for the wood-burning ovens is supplied by a family-owned business out of Seymour, Indiana, and all the meats and produce are purchased from within the state of Indiana. As they are the preferred caterer and exclusive in-house caterer for Daniel’s Vineyard, Savor carries all of the local vineyard’s wines. Even the art displayed within Savor is created by local artists.
“I’ve always been a ‘bar’ person,” Najem said. “It goes back to my family roots. As I’ve gotten older, I like to sit in the bar area and have that full-service experience. What we’ve done with this location is we’ve installed a NanaWall system and have a 25-foot section in the bar where the doors fold in and the bar extends out to a dedicated patio section on the west side of our location that will seat up to 40 people. The city has worked with us on this, and we will be able to create a Mediterranean ‘look’ out there on the patio with vines and a wooden trellis system that will create a diversion from the cars and streets without completely barricading it.”
Najem describes the ceiling treatments as suspended “clouds” that absorb noise but don’t enclose the space the way dropped ceiling systems do.
“We have hung a beautiful trellis system over sections of the dining and bar areas that will create a warm and inviting feel that’s not too fancy but is aesthetically pleasing,” Najem described. “One of the first things our guests will notice when they come in is a 25-foot-long fire pit that runs through the middle of our dining room. It goes along well with the wood-fire oven that people are always intrigued with once they see the open flame.”
Najem continued, “My wife, Shelley, has done a great job as far as the colors. She’s a little more patient with the colors and the decor, and she’s done a great job keeping the features subtle to where you don’t feel like you have to come in dressed up.”
The couple shared the meaning behind a prominent artistic feature that captures the imaginations of all who walk past its designated wall: a pair of closed eyes that represents a woman caught in the moment between a blink and a dead-on stare along with a quote, “A strong woman looks at a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink.” The Najems saw a similar art installation in the Bahamas and were inspired to feature something similar along with an inspiring message in Savor.
Savor’s 5,600 square feet of space allows for a maximum seating of 140, including the bar, patio and a private dining area that can seat 35 to 40, depending on the configuration. The private dining room has retractable doors for privacy and includes an 85-inch flat-screen with full audio capabilities. Guests can also enjoy ordering from a private menu. When the room is not booked, it serves as overflow space for the main dining area.
Getting the Band Back Together Again
Many of Najem’s original kitchen staff have been with him since he opened Bella Vita in 2004, and two have been with him since 1999. Najem has remained in close contact with most of his original crew, and many rejoined him at Savor.
“I’ve always kept in contact with my employees and have told them that I’d like to work with them if we opened another concept,” Najem stated. “Many have come to Savor, and one thing that I’ve learned with staff—especially when you’re a restaurant—is that the kitchen is the heart of the operation. I’m excited to have all these people back because we know it’s going to be good.”
Savor the Food and the Entertainment
Najem shared that he began experimenting with wood ovens in 2012 and 2013 when he created Flamme Burger.
“Over the last five years, I’ve really grown to like that cooking method because of the flavor it gives the food,” he said. “I don’t use hickory because it overpowers the flavor of the fish and/or meats. Flamme Burger is a burger concept, but we do fresh seafood there too, and that’s really how I grew to understand this method of cooking and began creating different ideas that I could take from a casual environment and step into an upscale, polished casual atmosphere.”
Patrons of Savor can expect a straightforward menu that offers many of Najem’s best recipes—new and even a couple edible gems from his previous establishment.
“For us, Savor is about the seafood element,” Najem explained. “I like fresh fish, and we deal with one purveyor out of Chicago who does a great job and provides the freshest fish I’ve seen in the last 15 years. I always say that your protein is the star of the dish. You begin with a great quality protein, and from there, the rest should be easy preparation. I don’t like to saturate my fish with sauces. I like Mediterranean-style, Italian- or Middle Eastern-influenced recipes, so the menu will be modern American cuisine with the Mediterranean and Italian influences. I like putting fish over different ingredients, like couscous. I love lentils with fresh spinach, tomatoes and kalamata olives sauteed with a little lemon, butter and garlic. For me, it is about the good flavor of the fish and complementing it with whatever you’re serving it with. We also have pasta on the menu because I love pasta, and we have a few steak options and of course—our award-winning Flamme Burger that has been voted the ‘Best burger in town’ for four years now. We will also have pizzas that are prepared in the wood-burning oven.”
The bar area will feature a DJ booth—an important element in creating the entertainment factor without being a nuisance to the diners.
“I’ve always felt that music adds to the ambiance,” Najem said. “I’ve brought in [live] bands over the years at Bella Vita, but it’s hard to control the sound, and you can’t carry on a conversation. With a DJ, we can control the volume and the playlist. We’re not a nightclub and we didn’t put in a dance floor, but it is important for us to be able to provide musical entertainment, and if you want to chair dance, it doesn’t bother me at all. We understand that you chose to spend your hard-earned money with us, and I want to create not only the best food experience for you but one that makes you feel well fed, well served and well entertained.”
While Savor’s dinner menu is impressive, the craft cocktail menu is equally as enticing.
“I have 10 different local taps and the national brand domestics,” Najem said. “While we are focusing on featuring local breweries on our taps, we are also promoting our handcrafted cocktails. I had always wanted to offer this at Bella Vita, but it was such a monster, and I wasn’t able to do it with 25 bartenders, so the cocktail list is going to be a really cool cocktail list. I infuse a lot of different simple syrups with fresh herbs and ingredients, like basil, ginger, Serrano pepper and such. I like to mix it up.”
Enjoy great food in a comfortable and fun atmosphere with your co-workers, friends and/or family—be sure to check out Savor in Carmel! Call-ahead seating will be available, and reservations can be made by phone at (317) 564-4126 or via Open Table—post grand opening!
Follow Savor on Facebook and Instagram @savorcarmel for updates and special announcements!