Babalu Tacos & Tapas celebrates two years this week in Fondren. But three Babalu employees have a little celebrating of their own to do. Tara Chez Britton (assistant GM), Kila Milner (lead server) and David Pennington (server, bartender and shift manager) each turn two (years of service) as well and talk to us about the excitement and energy of a week long party.
You’ve been here since day one? What was day one like?
Milner: Yep, day one. It was exciting; everyone was so pumped. We had two weeks of training prior to opening, getting the whole concept ingrained in us. We were SO busy! The community was excited. I mean, we were pretty much it as far as a night time full service bar and restaurant at that time. People came out in droves.
Pennington: And I came in nine days after, like December 10. I was in the first class after we opened. It was intense. We came in and they put us through three days, and said “here it is.” Kila trained me. This was the first first thing I’ve done like this. Before this job, I worked at Chimneyville and did catering. It was low key there, a different energy, the pace was slower and casual. But there is a lot of energy just walking in here.
So, Kila, where were you before you came here?
Milner: I had been in the service industry 10-15 years. Prior to this, I worked for NomiSpa for three or four years. I was looking for something to do at night, with no intention of leaving (the Sharpes), (owners of NomiSpa at Fairview Inn). They are amazing people. But I thought, I might as well make money (doing something at night). I heard about this, and here I am two years later.
From a spa to – this! How do you go from one to the other?|
Bill (Latham) and Al (Roberts) (owners of Babalu) have a way to train anyone who works to handle the front of house in a way I’ve never seen. It’s amazing how they teach you to handle chaos.
Britton: That why I chose to work at Babalu. I follow Bill and Al. I know they are great people who treat their employees right and their high standards match mine.
Milner: No question, THE best bosses.
Pennington: Hands down, the best. I was inspired. I remember my 3rd or 4thnight here, struggling, and trying to keep up. I looked over and Bill was busing my tables. That means a lot to see your bosses get behind you.
What makes this place different?
Milner: It’s a different concept. There’s nothing like it in Jackson, dare I say the state. People go out to eat every day but they’re looking for a new experience. Like over Thanksgiving, you had guests who wanted to bring their out-of-town family here.
Pennington: It’s sensory overload, especially on a Saturday night when we’re full to the door, Lucy’s on the wall, and it’s loud. That’s it. There’s so much energy here.
Milner: For me, food wise, we take something as simple as tacos, turn them over and flip them on their ear. My favorite is the Carne el Cerdo. Who would have thought? It doesn’t sound like it would taste good in your mouth. Pork belly, bbq sauce and peanut slaw? It is a PARTY in your mouth!
Pennington: (With our food), you can hit everyone. You suggest something like a bbq taco, and they walk out a raving fan.
Milner: They come back with two friends.
Pennington: That happens ten times a week.
We have to ask: you go from tacos to this wildly, insanely popular burger?
Pennington: Yeah, the Baba Burger. Eric Peters, our sous chef, was playing around on a slow Sunday. He just said “I’ll make a burger.” He had some beef and was using our torta buns. He threw on some white cheddar, avocado, sun dried tomatoes and bacon and did it as a special…
Milner: People went nuts
Pennington: Yeah, they were calling here on a Monday asking and we were doing it as a special only on Wednesdays. (It’s now a regular menu item.)
Milner: It’s an insane burger. Best in the state, hands down!
What will Babalu’s challenge be as it grows?
Milner: A unique concept is a funny thing. It caters to a certain demographic, a certain crowd. As we continue here, we have to continue to change the menu up.
Pennington: They plan to do this all over. 23 over next 6 years. They want three focused, almost exact replications of this one, with a lot of attention on them before they let it go. Then comes the second generation. I think keeping it consistent will be the challenge, just in making sure all of our team is in it all the way.
Do you have a tight knit group here?
Milner: We see each other like family and friends. It’s a super tight knit group of four or five dozen. And there’s no disconnect between front of house and the kitchen. None at all.
So are you guys getting into celebration mode for birthday week?
Britton: We love a celebration! It’s a party around here everyday of the week.
Milner: Oh, we’re excited to be here. Come in, drink fantastic cocktails, and eat great food.
Pennington: We’re just as excited as ever. We’re turned up all the way!
Milner: We need party sparklers!
Pennington: Yeah, for every table!
Britton: The people here – our employees and our guests – couldn’t ask for more. We’re having a good time, hopefully while doing our best.
Join Babalu this week (December 3-6, 2012), for specials like Social Hour All Day for $2 tacos, $3 craft draft, $4 Sangria, and $5 wine and wells. If YOUR birthday falls between the 3rd – 6th and you dine with Babalu, you get a $25 gift card to be used on your next visit. And, Babalu will be taking donated canned goods for Stewpot. Bring 5 cans, get a $10 gift card (now through Christmas). Hours are Monday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-11pm and Sunday, 11am-9pm.