After four years of planning and construction (and a pandemic,) Ann Arbor restaurateur Sava Farah’s vision for the Dixboro Project is now closer to reality. The complex encompasses three distinct concepts under one roof: fine dining restaurant Dixboro House; everyday cafe the Boro; and takeout service the Boro To Go. The latter opened earlier this year for breakfast, lunch and dinner with outdoor seating available on the deck. Both the Boro and Dixboro House should open in May and June, respectively.
The Dixboro Project resides inside a remodeled barn on over six acres of land in northeast Ann Arbor. Originally built in 1880, the barn first served customers as the Farm Cupboard in the 1920s, and then as the Lord Fox — a legendary local hangout for more than 50 years. Most recently it was the site of bar and restaurant Roger Monk’s, before shuttering in 2016.
Having moved nearby, Farah and her husband frequented Roger Monk’s for cocktails. She recognized the potential there. When plans were announced to convert the barn to office space, Farah says she jumped at the opportunity.
Farah, along with partner and chef Louis Maldonado, envision the Boro as a sort of community gathering spot with its vast outdoor spaces and connections to Fleming Creek nature area and nearby subdivisions. “We’ve already heard from people interested in meeting here for their clubs,” says Maldonado. “I feel that there’s a demand for for fine dining in this area. But there was also a need for an everyday place,” Farah adds.
For Maldonado, the opportunity to open the Dixboro Project merged with a desire for a change of scenery for his family. He built a successful culinary career in the San Francisco area, including stints at the French Laundry, Aziza, and Cortez — where his work was recognized with a prestigious Michelin star. Later, he would make it into the finals of Top Chef, and received another unique accolade in 2018 as People magazine’s “Sexiest Chef Alive”. His wife, Annemarie, is also a chef and led the pastry program at Michelin-starred Mourad Restaurant, with stints at Tartine Bakery and French Laundry.
For five years, the couple had been planning a simpler, more affordable lifestyle. When the opportunity at the Dixboro Project presented itself, the chefs left California for Ann Arbor.
Then, the pandemic hit.
While waiting for the Dixboro Project to move forward again, Maldonado worked to update the menu at Farah’s downtown Ann Arbor restaurant Sava’s. With each cycle of COVID-19 restrictions, closures, and re-openings over the past year, Maldonado and Farah used the opportunity to assess Sava’s operations, fine tune the menu, and perfect carryout service. Months of delays also meant not compromising on the overall vision for the Dixboro Project. “Each time it happened, we doubled-down on everything,” says Maldonado.
The existing structure for the Dixboro Project had been used as a restaurant since 1934. Farah was hoping for a remodel and possible expansion. However, it became increasingly clear a complete redevelopment was in order. The barn that housed the previous restaurants still features the original stone fireplace, but the main bar (where Farah first dreamt of the project) was replaced with a striking dark-honed granite version adjacent to a open-concept modern kitchen with wood-fired stove.
The dining room includes a vaulted ceiling with a two-story glass wall. The 19th-century timbers give the space an airy, rustic, yet elegant ambiance. Multiple decks and expansive lawn spaces provide patrons with views of Fleming Creek.
Described as a luxurious, fine dining destination, Maldonado says Dixboro House “will be unlike anything else in the area.” Likening the restaurant to establishments found in Chicago, the chef envisions customized, four-course prix fixe menus filled with modern French dishes and seafood and table-side preparations.
Once open in May, the Boro will serve breakfast in the morning and a variety of sandwiches, salads, and entrees for lunch and dinner, highlighted by a selection of wood-fired pizzas. Chef Annemarie Maldonado’s desserts and pastries round out the menu here. All items are currently available for takeout through the Boro To Go. The bakery and cafe even features its own dedicated entrance on the side of the building.
While each of the three concepts at the Dixboro Project target different price points, Maldonado says the quality will be consistent across the board. “There’s one kitchen for all three restaurants, and every single item will come from one place, from the same sets of hands,” he says. “So the techniques and attention to detail will be evident across the board.”
As Farah and Maldonado prepare to finally debut the Dixboro Project in its entirety this summer, the partners see it as a culmination of their careers. “We’ve invested so much here,” says Farah. “This is a rare opportunity to take a place that has 100 years of history and build something for the next 100 years.”