One of Israel's Most Celebrated Fish Restaurants to Close at Year's End

Savida in Acre - which has served only fresh, local catch - will shut its doors at the end of the month. 'You can’t make profit in Israel without lying or compromising,' laments chef

File photo: Fish at Savida, Acre, December 2017.
Dan Peretz

The Acre fish restaurant Savida will be closing its doors in 10 days. Founded in 2013 by chefs Dan Smulovitz and Ohad Horvitz, Savida’s menu was based entirely on fresh catch by local Acre fisherman, with nothing from fish ponds. The dishes were created from raw materials available in Old City markets and were in the tradition of the local cuisine. The Jewish chefs, both Galilee born and bred, worked in rare cooperation with local fishermen and the mainly Arab staff at their eatery.

“I’m grateful to the customers who visited our restaurant for more than five years,” Smulovitz said. “It’s not to be taken for granted that people let go and give themselves over to what the sea and the season dictate rather than what we dictate to the world around us.”

But Smulovitz added that “there were plenty of people who didn’t understand the concept. People who felt bad if there were days when the selection was small and the sea was not generous. The Israeli customer is pretty busy with the size of the dish and the price and less with what’s on the plate and what went into obtaining it. I didn’t explain myself well enough either. I thought that in the name of the principle of simplicity, it was enough to lay things on the plate and let them speak for themselves.”

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Smulovitz, who separated from his partner a year ago, sounded sad and sober when talking about the place he had spent almost every waking moment of the past few years. “I’m closing first and foremost because I’m a bad businessman,” adding that he also contended with the same challenges faced by the entire Israeli restaurant industry. “You can’t make a profit in restaurants in Israel without lying or compromising, and I’m proud of the fact that we stuck with what we believe in all along the way. I couldn’t make a profit from the restaurant, I could only support the suppliers and the staff. Restaurants in the north, far from the center, have it even harder. Especially if they’re not the usual and accepted mold. The Tel Aviv crowd knows us better than the locals, and it’s hard to hold out over time based on a weekend and holiday crowd,” he added.

Savida began as a modest gastronomic bar in the Turkish Bazaar compound, which stands mostly empty today despite having undergone a well-publicized renovation. In time, it moved to a larger space near the wall of Acre’s Old City.

The two-story restaurant, with its simple design, followed two guiding rules: Use fresh local fish and a charcoal grill. Both the concept and the menu won praise from local and international critics, who wrote enthusiastic articles about Savida.

File photo: Savida’s owners, Ohad Horvitz and Dan Smulovitz, December 2017.
Dan Peretz

“We never intended to enter the honor roll of the best restaurants in Israel and the world, as actually happened,” Smulovitz said. “We just wanted to serve fish taken from the sea, and for us, this place was a school. I learned a lot here about fish, about the Mediterranean Sea, about the Old City and especially about the people who live there, like Sado Saadi, the native fisherman and fishmonger who made this possible.”

Savida is closing down at a time when several new and highly touted local restaurants, like Igra Rama and Abie in Tel Aviv, have adopted a similar principle of exclusively using local fish. “I see this influence and it makes me happy – to the degree that it’s possible to say this when I’m closing down – that this concept, which didn’t exist five years ago, has caught on,” Smulovitz said.

“I’ve run out of energy,” he added. “I gave what I could. But I still hope someone will take over Savida, continue its path and show that a place like this has a right to exist in Acre.”

The restaurant will be open every day until December 31, 2018.