Babalu Tacos and Tapas Finalizing Plans for J.C. Penney Bldg. Location


In March I wrote about the J.C. Penney Building, focusing on the residences which will be available soon. A month or so later, I wrote about Maple Hall, the bowling alley planned for the basement of the building. Today we’ll look at what’s coming in the larger of the two commercial spaces fronting Gay Street. I had a chance recently to talk to co-founder Bill Latham of Babalu Tacos and Tapas who told me a bit about the plans.

He said he is excited about entering the east Tennessee market. Knoxville will be the fourth location following Jackson, Memphis and Birmingham. While the concept is consistent between the various locations, an executive chef and sous chef located in Knoxville will also be given latitude to shape the concept to fit their vision and local tastes.


The previous locations, like the new one, will not be found in suburban strip malls. He and co-founder Al Roberts favor urban areas which are experiencing a comeback. Babalu is, “just not a strip mall kind of place. We do everything local as much as possible. Everything is from scratch from the tortillas to the bar mixes. We try to be a little different.”

Interestingly, he cited Bill Regas as a factor in their choice to move here, saying, “Bill has been a good friend and talked to me about Knoxville being a great city for our concept.” After a bit of exploration, they decided that the extensive interest in downtown Knoxville would make it a very good choice for their next location. He said, “We thought it was a great looking area.”


The restaurant, as the name indicates, does focus on tacos and small plates, but with quite a few twists thrown in. Sandwiches, for example include a burger, but also “Grilled Lamb Sliders.” You don’t see that everyday. Several salads are offered and the tacos include beef and chicken, as you might expect, but also include tuna and redfish, as well as an oyster taco. That last one has my interest piqued, for sure.

The small plates are a real point of interest and even the most ordinary offer some sort of flavor twist. Some you might not expect include Mississippi Delta Tamales, Crab Fritters, Beef Empanadas and Black Bean Cake. The tacos (3 to an order) and small plates all run just below or above $10, so it’s an attractive price for interesting food. Several desserts and signature cocktails are also offered. You can view the full menu here.


When last I spoke to Mr. Latham, the hope was for an opening early this fall, though he pointed out that a number of variables are beyond their control. Last week a proposal regarding the facade/entrances to the business were presented to the Downtown Design Review Board. Plans include a large, covered seating area similar in size to the Downtown Grill. Tri-fold doors will allow the front of the restaurant to be opened to the street (with a bug-screen lowered around the patio).

It sounds like a good addition to Gay Street and the menu sounds different from the other various restaurants downtown. The building is looking better and better. We should be just a few months away from new residents, bowling and a fresh, new menu. We have a lot to look forward to in the city this fall. Head over to their Facebook Page and give them a “like,” if you’d like to welcome them to the city.


The Downtown Knoxville Ten Day Planner (5/24 – 6/2/2015)


If you want to be certain Your event is included on this calendar, I’ll need your event two weeks in advance. The absolute best way to make sure I include your event is to make a FB event and invite me – two weeks in advance. My FB “events” are the one place I’ll go to every time – if you invite me before I post.

If you see an event I’ve missed and you’d like to plug, please comment below or e-mail me ( and I’ll try to add it. The list may, accordingly, be expanded through the week. Staying true to the scope of the blog, I’ll only list downtown or near-downtown events. Any number of venues outside of downtown have some great events, but I have to draw a line somewhere. If you want to add those in a comment, that’s fine. Please : “Friend” me (Alan Sims) on Facebook and invite me to your events. Look over to the right of this post and not only “friend” me, but “like” Inside of Knoxville. Subscribe (also to the right) to make sure you catch all the posts.

Sunday, May 24

Monday, May 25

  • Memorial Day
  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Kirk FletaMarbin (Fusion), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • 5th Woman Poetry Slam and Fundraiser, Scruffy City Hall, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
  • The AQEDemy Awards, Pilot Light, 7:30 PM, Pay What You Want
  • Dave Eggar/Marbin, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • The Blueprint, Barley’s, 10:00 PM


Tuesday, May 26

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Sarah MorganLook Homeward (Folk), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Look Homeward, Preservation Pub, 7:00 PM
  • Singer/Songwriter Open Mic, Preservation Pub Speakeasy, 7:00 PM
  • City Council Meeting, City County Bldg. Main Assembly Rm, 7:00 PM
  • Einstein Simplified, Scruffy City Hall, 8:00 PM
  • Jazz Tuesdays with the Marble City Five, Market Square, 8:00 PM – 10:00 PM
  • The Brummy Brothers, Barley’s, 10:00 PM
  • The Fever, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM

Wednesday, May 27

  • Market Square Farmers’ Market, 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Kelley SwindallGold Heart (Bluegrass), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Tennessee Shines presents Levon Helm Birthday Tribute to the Band featuring Sam Quinn and Friends w/ poet Jack Rentfro, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM, $10
  • Whiskey of the Damned, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM

Thursday, May 28



Friday, May 29

  • Knoxville’s Largest Kid’s Party, World’s Fair Park, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Natalie YorkGallows Bound (Bluegrass/Punk), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Rocky Top BBQ Fest, World’s Fair Park, 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM, $5 – $100
  • School of Hard Knox, Lindy Dancing and Music All Weekend, Various Venues, $115 – $150
  • Steel Magnolias, Theatre Knoxville Downtown, 8:00 PM, $15
  • Tim Lee 3/RB Morris, Pilot Light, 9:00 PM, $5
  • Lucidea/C2 the Brothers Read/Treetops, Scruffy City Hall, 9:00 PM
  • Mr. Bill/Psymbionic/Cosmoore/Pyschonaut, The Concourse at the International, 9:00 PM (Doors), $8/$12
  • My So Called Band, The International, 9:00 PM (Doors), $1/$5
  • Four Leaf Peat, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, 10:00 PM
  • Badlands, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • The Grand Shell Game, Barley’s, 10:00 PM

Saturday, May 30

  • Market Square Farmers’ Market, 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • Rocky Top BBQ Fest, World’s Fair Park, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, $5 – $100
  • WDVX Blue Plate SpecialWDVX Blue Plate Special: Will Overman Band (Americana/Folk) / Erin McLendon (Americana), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Hard Knox Rollergirls vs. Richland County Regulators, Pink in the Rink, Knoxville Coliseum, 5:00 PM, $5/$10
  • Sean Patton (comedian), Scruffy City Hall, 8:00 PM, $10
  • Ira Glass, Tennessee Theatre, 8:00 PM, $30 – $50
  • Steel Magnolias, Theatre Knoxville Downtown, 8:00 PM, $15
  • RALF/Burnin’ Hermans, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Shriek Operator/Smoker/Shilpa Ray, Pilot Light, 10:00 PM, $5
  • Cory Branan, Barley’s, 10:00 PM
  • Lost Dog Street Band, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, 10:00 PM


Sunday, May 31

Monday, June 1

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Ian Fitzgerald (Singer-Songwriter) / Jocelyn Ardnt (Indie Rock), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Mighty Musical Monday w/ Nostalgia, Tennessee Theatre, Noon, Free
  • Allen Stone, Bijou Theatre, 8:00 PM, $20
  • Susto/Caitlin Harnett, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Ryan Cavanaugh, Barley’s, 10:00 PM

Tuesday, June 2

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Reverend Freakchild / Susto (Americana), Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Steve Inskeep, Bijou Theatre, 7:00 PM, Free
  • Jazz Tuesdays with the Marble City Five, Market Square, 8:00 PM
  • Spechlis, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Andrew Duhon Trio, Barley’s, 10:00 PM

Brewfest (June 20) Aims to Help Cure Duchenne

Knoxville Brewfest

Festival Season is winding down and downtown residents and visitors will soon find a summertime rhythm. After the big weekend of the International Biscuit Festival and the Children's Festival of Books, we have a three-weekend break before the Big … [Continue reading]

Demolition/New Building Proposed for Old City

2 122 S Central-050415-page-0

A surprise tweet started a series of communications for me a couple of days ago. The tweet suggested that two buildings in the Old City might be torn down to be replaced with new construction. The address concerned is 120- 122 South Central. You may … [Continue reading]

Development Plans for Depot Avenue

Rendering of Brewery and Restaurant Planned for Depot and Williams Street, Knoxville, May 2015

Last March I took a stroll down Depot Avenue with a large group from Knox Heritage through some of the development projects planned by Dewhirst Properties. David Dewhirst led the way and talked quite extensively about plans and possibilities. It was … [Continue reading]