Babalu is the brainchild of successful restaurateurs Bill Latham and Al Roberts. Collectively, the two business partners have owned or operated various restaurants both in and outside of Jackson, Miss., for more than 30 years.
Their latest concept – upscale Latin-inspired cuisine, was born out of the love and respect for food and for music genres such as the guaracha, cha-cha, and Latin jazz. Understanding that music unites and energizes people and is a common inspirational thread, they quickly realized they were on to something. They named their new restaurant concept Babalu, in honor of composer and singer Miguelito Valdes, a.k.a. “Mr. Babalu” and after the signature song of the television character Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz in the television comedy series I Love Lucy. Music is a big component of Babalu, and Cuban, Spanish, and Latin music of all genres is consistently being played in each Babalu.
Roberts began conceptualizing the menu, while Latham began scouting possible locations. At the time, Jackson’s historic Fondren neighborhood was undergoing a rebirth as the hub of the city’s Arts District. Latham found the perfect location in Duling Hall – a former elementary school (coincidentally, Latham’s wife Betsy attended first grade here). Babalu renovated the school’s former first grade classroom and great care was put into preserving as much of the original architecture as possible, while still creating a fun and energetic space for guests. In 2010, the first Babalu location opened in Jackson with great success.
Little did Latham and Roberts know, but setting up shop in neighborhoods experiencing revitalization would become as much a part of the Babalu brand as their philosophy that great food, much like great music, should always be shared. Our food and our service style is based upon sharing….sharing of great food, sharing of great service, and sharing of great times. Thus, our slogan: "Yours. Mine. Ours. Food Worth Sharing®" was born!
In early 2012, Latham and Roberts formed a new restaurant holding company, Eat Here Brands. Under the new holding company, plans immediately got underway to expand Babalu into other markets.
In late 2013, Babalu Memphis opened in the former TGI Friday’s at Overton Square. A third location in Birmingham’s Lakeview District followed in 2014. The fourth Babalu opened in the historic JC Penney building in downtown Knoxville, TN in 2015. Babalu Charlotte opened in July of 2016 in the historic Dilworth neighborhood.
The year 2017 brought a second Babalu to Memphis along with the largest Babalu to date in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. Later in the year, Chapel Hill opened North Carolina's second Babalu followed by the newest location in Lexington, Kentucky. Look closely, as a Babalu may open in your neighborhood soon. No matter where you are, you can be assured every Babalu consistently serves the freshest ingredients. We invest in our staff because we believe happy employees translate to great service. We also take pride in our communities by investing our time and talents into making them great. The next time you are in the mood for food and fun, let us show you how great Babalu is!