Article © Jeremy Benson, 2009
Photo © Gina Myers, 2009

The South has barbecue and California uses a lot of avocado; what does Saginaw eat? Applebee's? Sugar beets und kartoffelsuppe? The answer resides at 127 S. Franklin street in downtown Saginaw: the Savoy Bar and Grill, owned and operated by Jim Atwood and Steve West (the Bar portion is owned by Pete and Gayle Kenan), serves up comfort food six days a week—from French toast and coffee on Monday morning, to a dinner of Baked Cod Saturday night. It's especially famous for its rotating selection of soups, the chicken BLT and Cobb salads, and its hot sandwiches—including Val's Hot Beef Sandwich, a mound of roast beef lounging atop rye bread, getting friendly with a pile of French fries, everything bathed in brown gravy.

But perhaps Val Noe's legendary gravy-smothered beef-on-rye is not enough to classify the Savoy menu as Mid-Michigan cuisine. Rather, what turns the Savoy from any old diner into a Saginaw institution is its sense of community.

Besides food and drink, the Savoy, nestled on the corner of Franklin and Federal, offers a place to work, study, relax, and meet with colleagues, clients, or friends. WIFI is available, and they won't kick you out if you feel like hanging around long after you've finished your meal—after all, Steve and Jim say owning the store is like "having your friends over for dinner every day." It seems everyone, staff and clientele alike, is on a first-name basis, and newcomers don’t stay strangers for long.

Granted, with its share of empty storefronts and vacant lots, the neighborhood has seen better days. Yet the Savoy is doing its part to preserve the memory of Saginaw's former grandeur. Visitors are greeted not only by a chalkboard listing daily specials, but by a trio of photo albums and a display case filled with Saginaw memorabilia. In the dining room, photographs and posters lining the walls depict local monuments and scenes from downtown’s heyday. The collection of artifacts itself is a testament to the restaurant’s communal atmosphere—most of the Savoy's décor has been donated by its patrons.

The management of the Savoy hopes that its presence will help spur the revitalization of downtown in the near future. Meanwhile, it's committed to supporting the community in the present, often donating time and food to local charities and organizations. This week, the Grill will onced again served Thanksgiving dinner, free of charge, to anyone and everyone who walked in the door on Wednesday. Although Jim and Steve would gladly provide the meal directly out of their own pockets, their efforts are gracefully supplemented by the generosity of their customers, from the business people who donate turkeys, to the students leaving extra-large tips and the neighborhood couple who have nothing to offer but their own energy. The event is now in its third year.

Indeed, its clientele is as responsible for the restaurant’s success and role in securing Saginaw culture as the building's iconic neon sign and Jim and Steve's turkey pesto ciabatta. So go to the Savoy once for Navy Bean soup from the grille and a beer from the bar, but go back again for friendship and community—for that other vital sustenance.

The Grill is open Mondays and Tuesdays 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Wednesdays through Saturdays 8 a.m .- 8 p.m. For more information, call 989-754-9660 or just stop in for lunch.

© Jeremny Benson, 2009