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Babalu Development to grow local tapas concept

Four restaurant veterans have teamed up to create Babalu Development LLC, a partnership that intends to expand the single-unit Jackson, Miss., restaurant Babalu Tacos and Tapas into new markets.

The founders include Ned Lidvall, Friendly’s chief executive from 2008 to 2010; Mike Stack; Bill Latham; and Al Roberts.

Latham and Roberts, who have been restaurant partners for 30 years, founded Babalu, which offers specialty tacos and Spanish tapas-style small plates featuring local and regional foods. The average check is $12 for lunch and between $15 and $17 for dinner.

“Babalu Tacos and Tapas is well-positioned to capitalize on the growing interest in Latin American and Spanish-style cuisine,” Stack said.

“Gourmet tacos are a hot niche right now,” he added. “But I believe Babalu has real staying power because they’re about more than just tacos or traditional Mexican food. It’s a fun dining experience. People love the idea of tapas, because the small plates allow them to sample a wider variety of flavors.”

The first three Babalu units are planned for Atlanta; Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn., Stack said. Each restaurant will cost $750,000 to open.

The company plans to raise $10 million in equity in 2012 and 2013 to open the new restaurants. The first units will be company-owned, but Babalu plans to consider franchising in late 2013, Stack said.

The restaurant features a small footprint of less than 4,000 square feet, including a patio area for outdoor dining.

Lidvall said the company will begin approaching investors immediately to secure capital for the initial phase of development.

“I believe this restaurant has all the key elements in place — a strong concept, an experienced team and, most importantly, a fantastic menu that’s unique, flavorful and has broad appeal,” Lidvall said.

Stack and Lidvall approached the Babalu founders to expand the restaurant brand. Stack has more than 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry, including serving as chief executive of McAlister’s Deli from 1999 to 2005.

Lidvall has extensive restaurant experience leading Friendly Ice Cream Corp., Rock Bottom Restaurants, Old Chicago Pizza & Pasta, and Brinker International’s On The Border Café brand. Stack said he and Lidvall have teamed up before when they franchised Chi-Chi’s restaurants in the ’80s.

Stack was formerly an executive chairman of Quaker Steak & Lube and currently serves as a director on its board. Lathan and Roberts also own a restaurant company called LR Restaurants whose holdings include two Five Guys units in Mississippi.

Babalu Development plans to locate its company headquarters in Atlanta or Nashville, Tenn.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN

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