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Small Business Spotlight: LR Restaurants

One the latest successes for the team is Babalu in the Fondren district of Jackson. Another Babalu is in the works in Memphis. Special to the Mississippi Business Journal.

The two men who created the popular Jackson restaurant Amerigo are back in the kitchen, cooking up eateries like Babalu and Table 100 and opening Five Guys Burgers and Fries metro-area franchises.

Restaurateurs Bill Latham and Al Roberts teamed together more than 20 years ago at the Sundancer, and the result has been a formidable relationship and the base of successful restaurants.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Latham said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a fight.”

Latham tends to the restaurants’ front-of-house and business duties, while Roberts works the kitchen aspects, and “we overlap where we need to,” Latham said.

Roberts attributed his and Latham’s success to having a similar philosophy.

“We have a similar philosophy on what a business should be — we provide a place that puts the customers first, and we provide a place where employees enjoy coming to work,” he said. “We both bring something different to the partnership. If I need help he helps me, and if he needs me I’m there.”

Roberts began his culinary career with the Steak & Ale Restaurant Corp., at a Bennigan’s Tavern Restaurant in Houston, while Latham started as a waiter at a Jackson T.G.I.Friday’s and quickly moved up the managerial ladder.

They first partnered in 1982 with the ownership of Sundancer, and success soon followed. They opened the American-Italian restaurant Amerigo in 1987 and the Chicago-style steakhouse Char in 2002.

They weren’t looking to sell the restaurants, but in 2006 a Nashville company made an offer they couldn’t turn down.

“We worked hard, and we worked a lot,” Roberts said. “That paid off when we sold our company. We were blessed with enough capital to start over and do it again.”

The two next formed LR Restaurants and have spent the last year opening a slew of restaurants.

In 2007 they opened Interim Restaurant & Bar followed by Sole Restaurant and Raw Bar, both in Memphis, in 2008.

But they really cranked up the kitchen heat in the past year – LR Restaurants opened a Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchise at the Renaissance at Colony Park in Ridgeland in September 2010. Two months later, Babalu, a gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas restaurant, opened in Fondren. They followed the Babalu opening with Flowood’s Table 100, a Euro-American bistro in Flowood that includes a piano bar.

The most recent was another Five Guys franchise, which opened in June in Flowood.

“We’ve opened more restaurants in the last six to eight months than we have in almost 30 years together,” Latham said. “It was a lot of fun to create these restaurants, particularly Table 100 and Babalu. They’re brand-new restaurants, brand new concepts, new menus, new people; it’s a lot of fun to see all that come together.”

With their new ventures, Latham and Roberts are in full go-mode — they are back at work doing what they’re passionate about and what they know and love.

“Those 12- to 14-hour days get long,” Roberts said of opening the new restaurants. “I told Bill they don’t come as easy as they used to. But, there’s no need to stop, and if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

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