The regulars at Sav's Grill & West African Cuisine got a pleasant surprise when they walked in for lunch last week. Sav was back.
Nearly two months after being badly burned in a kitchen accident, Mamadou "Sav" Savané has begun spending a couple of hours a day working the counter and walking around the dining room, greeting and thanking customers.
Sav's Grill, 304 South Limestone, is known for the delicious food Savané learned to cook in his native Guinea. It also is known for his big smile and friendly manner.
"He's quite the community-spirited person," customer Alice Dehner said. "He always has that smile. He never forgets a face."
Customers didn't forget him, either, when news spread about his June 3 accident.
Friends at Smiley Pete Publishing created a fundraising page on the website Giveforward.com. They knew Savané did most of the restaurant work himself, and that his family would need to hire help in his absence — and pay medical bills not covered by their insurance.
Publisher Chuck Creacy set an ambitious fundraising goal of $50,000 in 90 days. That goal was reached in less than three days, and money keeps coming in. The page has raised more than $67,000 from nearly 1,200 donors. "It was an interesting and wonderful thing to watch," Creacy said.
In addition, local businesses contributed food, beverages and silent auction items for a fundraiser at Smiley Pete's office that attracted 1,500 people and raised $11,000.
Savané and his wife, Rachel, whom he met when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea in the early 1990s, have been overwhelmed.
"I don't have words to describe how this community stand up for us," Savané said. "What am I doing to make people so happy? When I think about it I just want to cry."
Savané had just opened for lunch June 3 when he tried to move a huge pot of peanut chicken stew off the stove. Something caught it and caused some to spill on the floor.
Rather than wait for his son to arrive and help, Savané held the pot with one hand and reached for a cart with the other. He slipped, pulling the pot down on him. The boiling liquid burned his arm, torso and face. His screams alerted an employee to call for help.
Savané spent 10 days in the hospital, including six in ICU. His second-degree burns required skin grafts on his arm. He is just glad skin grafts weren't needed for his torso, which would have required another two weeks in the hospital.
His wife cared for him at home while friends managed her jewelry shop, Savané Silver, 130 North Broadway. Their son, Bangaly, 20, stepped in to run the restaurant with help from employees, family, friends and Alex Ortiz, an experienced restaurant manager they hired.
Although his son had worked at Sav's Grill for years, Savané had only recently taught him to cook his signature dishes.
"God knows how to do things," Savané said. "For me to have an idea three months ago to say, 'You know Bangaly, you know everything here except the cooking I do.' In Africa, we don't have recipes; it's in our head. To put that in writing, that was the first time. It's like something warned me: prepare this boy. I am so proud of my son and the job he is doing."
Savané thinks it will be at least three weeks before he can resume normal work. The wounds are healing, but he is still in pain. There are mental scars, too. The first couple of times he stepped back in the kitchen, he said, "I had to sit down. I cry like a baby. I have a long way to go before I forget that memory."
The restaurant's security cameras recorded the accident. "I watched it once," he said. "I don't think I like to watch again."
Savané said getting back to business will be the best therapy. And business is good.
Mark Hoffman said he had never eaten at Sav's Grill until he read about the accident. He came in to show his support "and now I'm hooked," he said. Bangaly Savané introduced Hoffman to his father last Tuesday as a new regular customer.
Savané said the accident has made him appreciate life more.
"It's unfortunate you have to get hurt to know what the community's about," he said. "We are lucky. This city is exceptional. Today, honestly, I can proudly say I'm from Lexington."