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Babalu Tacos & Tapas opening on Gay Street on Monday 
Babalu Tacos & Tapas General Manager JT DeWitt, center, poses with City Community Development staffers in front of the original J.C. Penney sign that had hung at the Gay Street store.
Babalu Tacos & Tapas General Manager JT DeWitt, center, poses with City Community Development and HUD staff in front of the original J.C. Penney sign that had hung for decades at the Gay Street store.


Craving a new Latin-style cuisine choice? Or simply eager to see how the former J.C. Penney store on Gay Street has been brought back to life with fun new uses?

Your wait is almost over. Babalu Tacos & Tapas is scheduled to open Monday, Nov. 23, at 412 S. Gay St.

The former department store is been lovingly restored by a redevelopment team that includes David Dewhirst, Mark Heinz, Mike Hatcher and Tim Hill. Besides Babalu, the project will include Archer's Barbecue (scheduled to open in a few months), two downstairs bowling lanes (scheduled to open in early 2016), 15 condomuniums (many already pre-sold) and two apartments.

The redevelopment also illustrates how City of Knoxville facade improvement grants can help convert eyesores into attractive properties while creating economic activity and jobs.

The City's Community Development Department awarded the owners $235,000 in grants for improving the facades of buildings at 412, 414 and 416 S. Gay St.

The owners have invested close to $7 million of their own money into the restoration of the buildings, and the Babalu Tacos & Tapas owners have put another $2 million into customizing their restaurant space. The restaurant will hire 200 employees.

Welcome to Knoxville, Babalu! Good luck with the grand opening!

Babalu will open Monday, Nov. 23, with a full menu and bar selections.
Babalu will open at 412 S. Gay St. on Monday, Nov. 23, with a full menu and bar selections.

Babalu invested about $2 million to customize its fourth restaurant. The Gay Street space carefully preserved original J.C. Penney store wooden floors and brick walls.
Babalu says it has invested about $2 million to customize its fourth restaurant. (Existing Babalu locations: Memphis, Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss.) The Gay Street space carefully preserves the original J.C. Penney store's wooden floors and brick walls.

Here's a "before" photo showing the condition of the J.C. Penney building prior to the restoration.
Here's a "before" photo showing the condition of the J.C. Penney building - the ground level where Babalu is now located - prior to the building's complete overhaul.

No heat lamps! Babalu managers say everything is served fresh to order, including tableside guacamole.
No heat lamps! Babalu managers say everything is served fresh to order, including the signature made-to-order guacamole (which can be personalized, since it's made tableside).

Community Development Department project managers Gwen Winfrey and Ken McMahon try the Babalu entrees during a lunch "soft opening."
​Community Development Department project managers Gwen Winfrey and Ken McMahon sample the Babalu entrees during a "soft opening" lunch on Wednesday.

It's Babalu, so OF COURSE you'll be able to watch "I Love Lucy" reruns projected on the wall!
It's Babalu, so OF COURSE you'll be able to watch "I Love Lucy" reruns with Ricky and Lucy projected on the wall!
Posted by evreeland On 20 November, 2015 at 1:46 PM