Editor’s note: This is another in the Star’s series on ethnic markets in Tucson.
If you’ve a hankering to whip up a Middle Eastern meal, Babylon Market could be a good spot to start.
In addition, the market, which also offers food items from Africa, India and countries throughout Europe, has a small restaurant and a meat counter, which serves only Halal meat.
“It’s a great market — a great adventure,” co-owner Feras Rashid says. “You’ll find everything you need here, and things that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Rashid, originally from Iraq, came to the United States 27 years ago. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in mechanical engineering, he realized his love for business. In 2009, he opened Babylon Market with business partner Hussein Haki.
Since Tucson didn’t have many other markets to reference at the time, Rashid and Haki took a trip to California to visit other international markets.
“We studied the markets in California and decided it was a good idea to create a market here,” he says. “Business grew very fast for us.”
But Babylon Market is different from the typical Middle Eastern grocery.
“Most Arabic countries only have a market, a restaurant, or a butcher,” manager Mohammad Kamal, also from Iraq, says. “We have all three. A lot of other places don’t do it that way.”
Despite the store’s appeal to Middle Eastern families, Rashid and Kamal say that Babylon Market’s customers are from all cultures and nationalities. And in its eight years of business, Babylon Market has become very customer-oriented.
“Customers will tell us they’re looking for something but can’t find it at other stores,” says Kamal, who is Haki’s cousin. “They ask if we can bring it here, so we do.”
Adnan Hadi shops in the store almost daily. He says the market makes him feel at home.
“Everything I use to get from my country, I can find here,” Hadi says. “And the quality of the food is very good.”
A year after opening, Rashid and Haki added the butcher section of the store. A few years after that, they opened the accompanying restaurant.
The restaurant experienced a difficult launch due to a lack of space. But Rashid had an idea — a food truck. He purchased one and attached it to the back of the market’s building. After six months of construction, the restaurant was ready to serve.
“Since the restaurant is small, the idea is that while you’re shopping, you can order something and pick it up as you’re leaving,” Rashid says.
The menu reflects one that would be seen at a restaurant in the Middle East. Waleed Haqi, the restaurant’s manager, says the dishes are healthy and fresh.
He says the menu is unique to Tucson but traditional to the Middle East.
“I like every dish because it has a different touch,” Haqi says. “Many customers come back often just to try something new.”