A Conversation with Chef Garrett Lipar of The Dixboro Project

Find out how things are going at The Dixboro Project, his priorities, and plans for the future.
Garrett Lipar (left) and The Dixboro Project owner Sava Lelcaj Farah. // Photograph by Sophia Gojcaj, courtesy of The Pulpo Group

I first met Chef Garrett Lipar in 2013 at Torino, the critically acclaimed nine-table restaurant in Ferndale.

His Scandinavian-influenced food, the ingredients for which were sometimes grown or foraged by him, was locally focused, edgy, creative, and sophisticated. He earned praise in publications like Hour Detroit, the Detroit Free Press, and Eater. He was also a two-time semifinalist for a James Beard Award. I saw him again in 2021 at Albena. At both restaurants, he was the star of the show.

When I visited with Lipar recently to learn about his new role as chef-partner at The Dixboro Project, the 12-acre multiconcept dining and event outlet in Ann Arbor, his look and attitude were noticeably more relaxed. He’s ditched the starched white coat and, he might add, the ego.

As a new husband and father, he finds that being the center of attention doesn’t have the same cachet anymore, he shares. He’s working on a longer-term goal that’s not all about him. Now he’s focused on what he can build for his family, the community, and generations to follow. Here’s how he plans to do it.

How did you hear about the position and connect with The Dixboro Project’s owner, Sava Farah of The Pulpo Group?

We came here at the end of spring for dinner last year, and I just sat in this restaurant. I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This is the coolest place with infinite potential,” and I started dreaming.

I heard the chef was leaving, but at the time, I was still involved in Albena. But we accomplished what we had set out to do. I did a lot of spiritual work during that time and let go of my ego the best I could. I looked inward, and eventually, I reached out to Sava.

You just got here on April 1. How are things going?

It’s such a new challenge; I find it really exciting. This has been in the works for a long time; we finalized everything in December. I’ve been coming every weekend since to work with the team.

Developing relationships early helped ease the transition and let them get to know me. By summer, we will be operating at our highest capacity when it matters most.

What are your priorities as you get started?

There are 130 passionate employees here that did a good job developing this. My job is to take it to the next level and integrate this massive restaurant, and its outlets, to be more in tune with the land. Part of that is slowly changing the ingredients and replacing them with more sustainable options.

We’re making the conversion to grass-fed and -finished products by working with The Farmers’ Creamery, an Amish farming co-op in Mio.

What’s been the hardest part so far?

Integrating old and new cultures is always a challenge. They see I can help provide the middle ground because of my experience both in the kitchen and the land. The challenge for me is to merge all the different needs while also respecting the land.

What will guests discover when they visit The Dixboro Project?

The property is meant to be very integrated while also providing a full-service elegant dining room experience. We offer events, wine dinners, and special tasting menus. There’s room for 116 in the dining room, 60 on the patio, and another 100 on the greens. There are games and places for kids to play and see the chickens.

The Boro is a takeout that sells pastries and pizza. Dixboro at Home is a family dinner we make to order that you take home hot.

Can you share any insight about the new dishes on the menu?

We’re trimming the menu down to offer eight small items, eight large items, and three to four desserts. Our first phase will be simple dishes with minimal, clean ingredients that are equally bold but also distinguishable. Making them to shine to their fullest has been my style since the Torino days.

The prices are similar: $16-$25 for appetizers, $25-$45 dinner entrées, and desserts in the $16-$20 range.

This story originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on June 6.