By John Schaffner

January Hodgson moved to Atlanta from Kentucky five years ago to be closer to her now husband Robert, the geologist she was dating at the time. Dating led to marriage, which led to a business partnership and on Jan. 17 that retail venture, Savor, was named the 2007 Business of the Year by the Buckhead Business Association (BBA).

The couple, who married four year ago, opened Savor in mid-December of 2004. January had experience in the food business running a store in Kentucky, similar to an Eatzie’s concept with lots of prepared foods but “not nearly as eclectic as we are,” she explained.

She describes Savor as “a pretty eclectic specialty food store with tabletop, and antiques and kitchen ware. And, for us, it has more of a European feel because it is a little bit quirky. I don’t mean to sound corny, but it is sort of a hidden gem store where you come in and see peanuts and some things you see other places, but if you start really looking, we have things that no one else in town has,” she said.

“When I moved here there was no Whole Foods or anything in Buckhead,” she said. “We decided to do this and then we had to tweak the concept and really go a lot more upscale so we could compete with Whole Foods and places like that.”

January and Robert, who goes by Ren, opened Savor with just half of the space the store now occupies at 3187 Roswell Road. A hair salon next door closed in May 2005 giving Savor the opportunity to take advantage of some additional space.

The upstairs of the store is filled with displays of cooking oils, spices, pastas, crackers and breads, coffees, condiments, kitchen ware, etc. But one elements that seems to immediately draw the attention of visitors is the section with 100 artisan cheeses, meats, pates, etc. from around the world.

For the record, there are approximately 75 extra-virgin olive oils, 50 exquisite vinegars, jams and jellies, chutneys, 30 sea salts and much more.

Downstairs there is lots of wooden ware and tabletop items, sharing space with the kitchen, where Savor turns out luncheon sandwiches to order daily as well as prepares cheese, antipasto, vegetable and desert trays for customers for parties.

“We have been doing a lot of office luncheons lately,” January said. Lunch and catering services have become 20 percent of the business and she would like to expand it.

“Customers were asking us if we were ever going to do sandwiches with all of the stuff that we have,” she explains. “We had almost everything here. It took a while to catch on and then all of a sudden…..” she added.

January said most of their business growth has come by way of word of mouth from customers. “We have a really strong core group of customers and we have people who show up every single day for sandwiches,” January explained. “We have people who come once a week for their cheeses. We have people who always come to us for their olive oil. We also do things like private olive oil tastings.”

She said they recently had one of the tastings with a group of 15. Fourteen of the 15 had never been in the store before. The 15th person was a regular who brought friends with her.

The couple would like to expand Savor’s physical space and want to do prepared foods — to be able to offer salads and items like that, she said. “There is a real need for that here,” January explained. “You can’t get a good home-cooked style meal to go. That would be our next step.”

She suggested there is a possibility the store may be able to expand in its present location, rather than having to move elsewhere.

“We also may get a focused menu for office luncheons, because I think there is a need for that,” she added.

Robert, who is a native Atlantan, lived in San Francisco for about 15 years and moved back to his family and friend base in Atlanta. He worked for a while for the Georgia Land Trust before the opening the shop with his wife. The couple lives in Buckhead with their three cats and two dogs.

Savor was one of the merchant participants in the Saturday Cathedral Markets last summer in the parking lot of the Cathedral of St. Philip on Peachtree Road and they expect to participate again this summer.

January said the couple was surprised that Savor was considered for the Business of the Year award. “We weren’t really familiar with what the BBA was all about,” she explained. “So, it was obviously a good introduction for us. We were very pleased with it.”