As soon as the big blue doors opened, we entered a walled-in oasis. The scent of hookah tobacco hung in the air. Attentive staff carried colorful, delicious dishes and drinks. It was hard to believe we were in Dallas, let alone right in front of Deep Ellum DART Station.
"The number one thing we wanted to do when we designed this space was to create an oasis," Imran Sheikh, CEO of Milkshake Concepts told me. "The idea was that you're away from all the hustle and bustle." You literally don't know where you are and that, says Sheikh, is by design.
"People tell me that the space feels very transportive," said Sheikh. "Someone told me that they felt like were in Cabo, someone told me that they felt like they were in Dubai, and I said that it doesn't matter where you felt you were as long as you felt like you weren't where you are. The idea is that you feel like you're somewhere else and you lose yourself."
Originally from London, Sheikh has a background in economics and management. Milkshake Concepts is the restaurant group with a portfolio that includes STIRR, Harper's, The Finch and Vidorra, among others.
"We are standing right in the middle of the entertainment district — so lots of nightlife," said Sheikh. "There is a cluster of restaurants, of which we have one, Harper's. So, over here we wanted to do something that was a little bit against the grain — the anthesis of everything around us." Sheikh decided to go with Mediterranean cuisine because it was missing in the area and it was a nod to his Middle Eastern heritage as well as his travels to places like Dubai and Greece.
The patio is gorgeous, but inside, it's chic, yet comfortable and relaxing, which can be a difficult needle to thread. The staff is incredibly attentive, and the service was excellent. My wife spilled a bit of food on her dress, and as she was dabbing a napkin in water, the staff brought over a Shout wipe packet as if on cue. A small, moving gesture.
Milkshake Concepts takes the culinary experience seriously, and at Saaya, you can taste that in the food. What we had plated well and tasted great. But even when the food is on point, the cocktails can be poorly executed. Here, they were not. All of the ones we tried were on point. Whether it's the food, the drinks, the staff or the space, everything works together to make the experience better. Nothing detracts. Bravo.
"This is really an amalgamation of our travels, influences and our heritage all brought together in a fun, approachable environment," said Sheikh. "It's designed to be a place to mingle, eat and celebrate life." Mission accomplished.
In case you missed it, check out Local Profile's visit to STIRR.