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BABALU TAPAS & TACOS® LOOKS INWARD FOR OUTWARD GROWTH; CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER ABE RUIZ TAKES RESTAURANT GROUP BACK TO ITS ROOTS
Spanish-Meets-Southern Style Tapas Restaurant Ensures Smart Expansion with Small Kitchen Footprint, Community Connection and Local Market Approach
ATLANTA (April 19, 2018) – ® is keeping an eye on its past while looking to its promising future. The Spanish-meets-Southern-style tapas restaurant is poised for continued expansion, but much like the revival of the historic neighborhoods where Babalu restaurants are located, the company is experiencing its own rebirth this year with responsible growth strategies that harken back to what originally made this casual dining concept take the Southeast by storm back in 2010.
“We look internally first; the way we are building and designing restaurants has to make sense for our brand and today’s labor market,” says chief operating officer Abe Ruiz, who oversees the organization’s daily operations and currently drives the restaurant’s growth across the Southeast and Midwest.
Ruiz’s career has included executive level operations and marketing roles at Famous Dave’s of America, Colon Gerena Restaurant Group and Il Mulino NYC. Now at Babalu, he has been focused on making the company operationally centric and ensuring the restaurants’ design is catering to all five senses.
“What made our first restaurants in Jackson, Memphis and Birmingham so successful was that the bar was an extension of the kitchen itself,” says Ruiz. “We’re going back to our roots and making sure all our restaurants are small, tight units where guests can experience the energy of the kitchen and feel invigorated. This trickles down to our staff and the entire atmosphere of Babalu.”
Babalu opened five units between 2010 and 2016 before undergoing an aggressive growth spurt in 2017 with the opening of four units in one year. Concerned that the company was taking its eye off operations during this rapid expansion, Ruiz hit the reset button. After refocusing on strengthening the company’s foundation and circling back to what made the concept successful in the first place, Ruiz is leading the opening of three new locations in 2018/19 and has plans to open 10 to 15 additional units in the next five years.
When choosing these future restaurant sites, Ruiz and his team believe in the restoration of older neighborhoods that cater to young families rather than focusing solely on growing metropolitan areas. The company looks to refurbished buildings with a historical past such as the abandoned JC Penney building where Babalu’s Knoxville, TN restaurant is now located. “We want to be part of the DNA of the community and believe in giving back to the neighborhood,” he says.
This community support is part of Babalu’s local market approach, and although each restaurant’s menu reflects the use of local farmers and producers, this approach extends far beyond the food. The restaurant company also utilizes local construction teams, designers and artists in an effort to help the area’s local businesses thrive.
Ruiz is confident that Babalu will be ready for nationwide expansion once the restaurants reach a total of 15 units. The company is currently eyeing Tennessee, Georgia and Florida for future locations.
Babalu Tapas & Tacos® is a fun, one-of-a-kind, sharing-style dining experience. Founded in 2010, in Jackson, Mississippi, the restaurant has quickly taken the Southeast by storm. The Latin-inspired dishes -- each with a unique Southern flair -- are sure to bring people together. Babalu is proud to use hyper-local produce and products for its made-from-scratch dishes and handcrafted cocktails. Babalu is a wholly owned subsidiary of Eat Here Brands. For more information, visit eatBABALU.com.
About Eat Here Brands
In early 2012, Bill Latham and Al Roberts teamed up to establish Eat Here Brands, LLC. Headquartered in Atlanta, Eat Here Brands is the restaurant holding company for Babalu Tacos & Tapas® and Table 100. For more information on Eat Here Brands, visit www.eathere.com.