Babylon Eats

Cloey Payne, left and Haddiyyah Abdul-Kareem invite you to enjoy Monday night brunch with Babylon Eats tonight at Tootsie’s in Red Hook.

There are three things you rarely hear in the same sentence: Monday, brunch and a gentleman’s club. That’s exactly what the young entrepreneurs at Babylon Eats are putting together, finding creative pairings to keep their food business thriving.

Haddiyyah Abdul-Kareem, from Philadelphia, and Cloey Payne, originally from Michigan, both grew up in the kitchen. Abdul-Kareem’s mother was a chef and Payne, whose family was from Tennessee, grew up spending much of her time on a farm picking her own vegetables, with her mother in the kitchen.

“Basically, we both had a common denominator of cooking for friends in college and family, just always being the one cooking. We just decided to take it serious,” said Abdul-Kareem.

Both attended the University of the Virgin Islands, though Abdul-Kareem went back to the states after hurricanes Irma and Maria and graduated from Salem State University in Massachusetts, studying communications, international relations and sociology. She also has a certificate in culinary arts.

The pandemic was the catalyst for Babylon Eats. Because everything shut down, Payne no longer had her job at Margaritaville or her job bartending at Tootsie’s, a gentleman’s club in Red Hook on St. Thomas. She knew she could make some money cooking out of her house offering stateside style food, seafood and soul food. And Abdul-Kareem worked behind the scenes up in the states to help out. The platters immediately drew a following.

“I started out with a few dinners and a Taco Tuesday and it went like crazy. Haddiyyah was still in the states, so I was doing the shopping, the prepping, cooking and literally delivery from town to country, past UVI to Bordeaux, and it was getting too hectic,” Payne said. “Some days I couldn’t even fulfill all the orders and on some days, I’d start from country to town, and by the time I got to town, the food wasn’t as fresh anymore and I didn’t like that.”

They drew up a business plan on Abdul-Kareem’s 24th birthday and she moved back to St. Thomas. They took a two-month hiatus before starting to cater for villas, events, private charters and offering private chef services. They decided not to do deliveries anymore because the client base was too big. They were planning a debut during Carnival Food Fair, but it was cancelled.

In the meantime, they wanted to keep the name going while looking for their own location, so they wouldn’t lose their clientele.

Payne is back to work bartending at Tootsie’s and Abdul-Kareem is working in the kitchen there.

The owner of the club agreed to let them hold a Sunday brunch and it was a success, but a contractual issue prevented them from doing another.

Instead of giving up, they decided to move brunch to Monday nights.

It may seem like an unusual venue for a brunch, but these two young business partners are confident it will work.

“We liked the ambience,” Abdul-Kareem said. “It does bring a lot of tourists to the area and a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays. I like how we can transform it from a strip club to a restaurant. It’s different. Our biggest thing is not only bringing in the good stateside food, but also bringing a different type of experience as well. We really wanted to create a really nice ambience to share a little piece of home with people here, but also integrating within the community as well.”

They will maintain the original brunch menu they came up with, including items such as cheese grits with jumbo shrimp or snapper, a breakfast burger, a cut of the day and a dinner special such as crab cakes with garlic aioli.

As COVID restrictions ease, Babylon Eats is gearing up and getting ready for business to pick up.

They are looking for their own location so they can eventually expand their menu and reintroduce some of the dishes that were popular on their delivery menu. For the time being, they invite diners to join them for Monday night brunch with Mimosa specials, hookahs and music from 7 p.m. to midnight.

For more information visit the Babylon Eats Facebook page.