Resolve to try Bad Habit in 2014

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bad Habit owners Sheldon Crosbie (left) and Zahid Khan, in their Upper Darby restaurant. Crosbie tempts with a Bad Habit Burger.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bad Habit owners Sheldon Crosbie (left) and Zahid Khan, in their Upper Darby restaurant. Crosbie tempts with a Bad Habit Burger.
Posted: January 03, 2014

SO, a Trinidadian auto specialist and a Guyanese-Muslim business strategist walk into a combination restaurant, grocery and carpet-installation center in Delco . . .

That sounds like the setup to the most convoluted crack in comedic history, but it's not a joke - it's the seed that sprouted Bad Habit, a distinctive Caribbean restaurant in diverse Upper Darby. Exploring the cuisine of the islands through American-influenced street food and a halal-friendly approach, owners Sheldon Crosbie and Zahid Khan are addressing a void many don't even realize demands filling.

A native of Trinidad, Crosbie has long been searching for the right entrepreneurial opportunity. In Philly for the last 15 years, he last worked road-certifying vehicles for Honda, exploring outside opportunities all the while. Water-ice shops, Laundromats and even a medical center back home in Trinidad were all on the table at some point, but, coming from a family with strong cooking roots, "I always wanted a restaurant," he said.

Surveying real estate, Crosbie landed on a potential location in Frankford. Shortly after, he ran into his friend Khan and got to chatting about the opportunity. "I jokingly said to him, 'If you're ever looking for a partner, let me know,' " said Khan, a data-strategy manager with Johnson & Johnson who got to know Crosbie through a shared interest in the stock market.

Crosbie took Khan's off-the-cuff offer to heart. A few months later, through a recommendation from Khan's cousin, they acquired a different space on the corner of 69th and Walnut, a few blocks down from the Tower Theater.

At the time, the space was technically being used as a Caribbean restaurant, but the former owner also dedicated square footage to sundries-stocked shelves and carpet samples. Crosbie and Khan, with the help of Crosbie's kids (his oldest daughter runs the counter), dramatically overhauled the space, opening Bad Habit last summer.

An international taste

With the exception of a handful of well-known places, "Caribbean food was always something we've felt was missing from Philadelphia," said Khan, born in Guyana to a family with mixed Chinese and Indian ancestry. Conceptually, however, Bad Habit stands apart from the island-inflected competition thanks to a deliberately open-ended approach. Not specific to any one country, it's accessible to both uninitiated Americans and the area's large, halal-abiding Muslim population.

"Any Caribbean islander can come in here and get something from their island," said Crosbie. The core menu is built around "real Caribbean plates" - platters with jerk chicken, oxtail or goat, rice-and-peas and various sides - plus stuffed roti, plantains and beef patties.

Bake, a West Indian fry bread, is served with fillings like salt fish, shrimp and shark, the latter of which Crosbie says is a notably popular option. His Trinidadian touch comes in the form of doubles, crispy flatbreads stained yellow with turmeric and split-pea powder, and filled with curried chickpeas.

The menu's most unexpected items, however, are its burgers, beginning with the one-of-a-kind specialty that inspired the restaurant's unconventional name. In the Trinidadian coastal city of San Fernando, there's a strip called "The Cross," well-known for trucks and carts specializing in late-night street food.

"I don't care where you go, at the end of the night, it's where everybody winds up, ready to eat," Crosbie said.

Among the most in-demand items in The Cross is a "Bad Habit Burger," a combination of tender cubed chicken, shrimp and beef on a bun with various toppings and scratchmade sauces. (Crosbie's spicy pepper sauce, in particular, used to be available at tables in squeeze bottles but customers kept making off with them, a weird kind of compliment.)

"It's more of an American thing, fusing with a Caribbean theme," said Crosbie. Both he and Khan loved the idea of naming their spot after this Trini tradition, but not everyone felt the same.

"They're not going to come to a place called Bad Habit," Khan recalls a restaurant consultant warning him and his partner, preopening. "It has a bad connotation. It doesn't sound right."

But every time they'd use their business-branded credit card, they'd get curious questions from sales associates - instant name recognition. "That reaction alone made us stick with it," Khan said.

About those burgers

The burgers, which come in turkey, chicken and seafood varieties in addition to the three-meat signature version, have become some of Bad Habit's best sellers among Caribbean devotees and the many Muslim customers drawn to the restaurant by its halal certification. (In fact, their listing on Zabihah.com, a popular halal business database, has attracted customers from as far away as Seattle.)

"If you look around right now, you can't find a halal Caribbean spot," said Khan, the son of an imam.

On a broader level, the Bad Habiters hope to boost the viability of 69th Street and Upper Darby as a shopping and dining district. The recent opening of an H&M, with a Ross and several other national chains coming in the near future, suggests increased momentum for the working-class township, which has had its commercial ups and downs.

"It's not growing at a fast pace," said Crosbie of his and Khan's fledgling business, catering to a distinct but wide-spanning audience. "But the bottom line is, it's actually growing."


Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene since 2005. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at andrewlazor@gmail.com or on Twitter @drewlazor.

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