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Farewell to Savana

Village restaurant closes its doors

Savana Café owner Cathy Dewar and manager Joëlle Schmid. Credit: Neil McKinnon

After 24 years, Savana Café owner Cathy Dewar closed her doors for good on Fri, Aug 26.

Dewar wants to spend more time with her family. Ironically, when she opened Savana’s in 1987, she was nine months pregnant and gave birth to her daughter two weeks later.

Last June, that same daughter made her a grandmother for the third time, with a granddaughter named Hayley Savana.

“I’m going to enjoy being a grandma. I was nine months pregnant when I opened Savana. [Retirement] won’t last long,” says Dewar.

Looking back, Dewar, 51, remembers Savana’s earlier years, its ups and downs. Even though she lived in LeBreton Flats, she did not know much about Centretown except that it was a sleepy place.

In the mid-’90s, the corner of Bank and Gilmour streets was rated Ottawa’s most dangerous intersection, and some women were afraid to go to that part of town. Luckily, Savana was a destination location and Dewar’s clients kept coming.

“Like running any small business, you keep outreach when you keep talking. My line was ‘I still walk to Bank and Gilmour all the time and I never have a problem. It could be nine in the morning or four in the morning. I always feel fine in my neighbourhood.’ Everything changed so much [in Centretown]. Now we have a beautiful Village,” Dewar says.

Dewar made Savana a Caribbean/Thai restaurant because she loves Caribbean culture. Before opening shop, she loved the local reggae and arts scene and often travelled to Jamaica and Barbados.

It might be worth noting that she is the daughter of popular former mayor Marion Dewar. But like many people born into prominent families, young Cathy, independent and marketing savvy, decided to carve her own niche in the restaurant business.

“We used to be told [Savana] was a socialist restaurant. And we’d say, ‘No. We’ll take anyone’s money.’ I never really put my name out. I worked on it as a small business with a tight staff,” Dewar says.

Dewar has sold her property to Richard Brouse, part owner of the former Inn on Somerset bed and breakfast. He plans to open shop in January as a new seven-room bed and breakfast. He has not decided on a name yet, but he is leaning toward calling it the Gilmour Bed and Breakfast.

“[The new bed and breakfast] is definitely going to be gay-friendly. I’m hoping my current clientele will move with me to the new place. It’ll be smaller, more intimate, with the same good hospitality and service they had at the old location,” Brouse says.