‘I am lucky’: Community raises $50,000 in 36 hours for severely injured chef

Mamadou “Sav” Savané, 52, chef and owner of Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine
Courtesy Bagalay Savané
Mamadou “Sav” Savané, 52, chef and owner of Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine, continues smiling even after suffering burns on more than 50 percent of his body. Today

It was a nightmare scenario. A Lexington, Kentucky restaurant owner was handling a 20-gallon pot of boiling peanut sauce on June 3 when the unthinkable happened—he slipped and fell, spilling the bubbling sauce on himself, causing second-degree burns on more than 50 percent of his body.

“It was awful. But I am here right now talking to you, and I am lucky,” Mamadou “Sav” Savané, 52, chef and owner of Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine, told TODAY.com from his hospital room Thursday night.

It’s no wonder that the community quickly rallied around the chef—known for finding the best in every situation—raising an astounding $50,000 in just 36 hours, to help with his medical expenses and to help keep his restaurant afloat.

“It was a natural response. I thought, ‘Heck, I can do an online fundraiser,’” said Chuck Creacy, a publisher of three local magazines, who helped raise $1.7 million for local non-profits last year. Already familiar with the online platforms for crowdfunding, he quickly set up a fund and raised $4,000 in the first 30 minutes.

“Sav’s just the nicest fella in the whole world. You want to help him because he works really hard—he works seven days a week—he has this huge, contagious smile, his food is wonderful and everyone loves him,” Creacy said. “And we have an amazing community—very generous people.”

Fortuitously, just a month or so before the accident, Savané’s son, Bangaly, who is about to turn 20, started to write down his father’s recipes, which Sav learned from his mother while growing up in West Africa. Until then, all of the restaurant’s recipes had been in the chef’s head.

“We just had a feeling,” Bangaly said about what prompted him to transcribe the recipes. “When my dad is the only one who knows how to make these sauces, and this restaurant is my family’s livelihood… Had this happened before, we could not afford that. We have bills to pay and employees who depend on us.”

Savané moved to the United States 21 years ago with his wife, Rachel, a former Peace Corp. volunteer, and opened the restaurant six years ago.

Bangaly, who is studying to become a commercial airline pilot one day, has been holding down the fort in the kitchen, along with his mom, sister Diaka, 15, fellow employees and even volunteers.

“By the time I am well, the restaurant would have been bankrupt,” Savané said. “I’m so proud of him. In the last two weeks, he grew up very, very, very fast.”

The chef, who suffered burns on his face, neck, chest, stomach, sides and arms, is expected to make a full recovery. He has little recollection the fall, but the incident was captured on security camera.

“What he told me, eventually, was, he thought he was going to die, he was so scared,” Bangaly recalled. “It poured on him—sauce that just a minute before had been boiling.”

The chef expects to be back at work within 12 to 18 weeks—a long time for anyone to be out of work, let alone a small business owner, Creacy said. “We hope we can help bridge that expense for added payroll. And even for a well-insured family, there’s going to be quite a bit of out-of-pocket medical expenses in a case like this.”

Bangaly can attest to the workload. “I kid you not, the amount of work [my dad] does is equal to five or six or seven people, every day, seven days a week. He works 70 to 80 hours a week. I think that is partly why it happened—he works so hard, he didn’t realize he needed to take a break.”

Needless to say, the family has been blown away by the community’s generosity. “All I say is, ‘How is your food?’ and ‘Thank you for coming,’ ” Savané said. “I don’t know how that affects people, but I am shocked.”