TimelineThis timeline spans two decades and we finally added a collapse function — it’s long. We won’t take offense if you don’t finish. In the meantime, we’ll keep adding memories and lessons that we think a few of you might find interesting. This is optional reading at its very best.
Ever expanding waistlines were being blamed on fast food portions. So, despite the potentially negative effect on the profitability of our business, we introduced the Regular Size burrito, in addition to the Original size (large). The smaller size has outsold the larger size ever since. We hired our first experienced restaurant professional as the Director of Operations. We also won “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian.
The Wrap location total = 3
Using paid architects for the first time, Water Street (#4) location opened in Boston’s Financial District. With lines out the door like we had never experienced before, The Wrap eliminated the need for pennies by making sure that after-tax prices ended with a “5” or a “0.” Fishing for pennies cost an extra 2-3 seconds and every second really did count. The store was able to handle over 150 transactions per hour (and would eventually double that). A breakfast menu was introduced, including the Truckstop Special. It was supposed to be called the Flatbed Special #2 Burrito (of Harry’s Truckstop on I-89 fame), but we chickened out. We won “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian for the second year in a row. English lessons began and were (and still are!) taught in-house to Spanish-speaking team members. Gregg Harris left the business this year to pursue his MBA at Columbia Business School.
The Wrap location total = 4
The Wrap location total = 6
Jera’s Juice location total = 1
The Wrap location total = 6 Jera’s Juice location total = 1
After 5 years of letter writing, fortunate circumstances (as opposed to the content of the letters) allowed John to meet with Howard Schultz (of Starbucks fame) in Seattle. It is there that John posed to the coffee magnate the question as to whether The Wrap was a name that could endure. Schultz’s initial response was that it was hip and catchy, but he agreed to ask some colleagues what they thought. After over an hour of dropping in at various Starbucks departments, speaking to over a dozen highly caffeinated employees, and peppering (no pun intended) them with questions about wraps versus burritos, the two corporate titans emerged from the roasting support center at which time John asked “Do you see the problem now?” Schultz’s short response: “I do.” Monthly letters to Seattle since this infamous meeting have yet to receive a response.
The Wrap location total = 8
The Wrap location total = 10
Brand name analysis determined six potential names to compare The Wrap against. Concerns had grown about the evolving meaning of the word “wrap” to include things such as cold deli meats, pita bread, sprouts, and even convenience store items – things that The Wrap had never been associated with. In markets outside of Boston and even in Boston itself, The Wrap name fared poorly in the analysis (even as compared to the control name “mammoth,” which was intended to be the loser). A final decision was made and all 10 restaurants were converted from “The Wrap” to “boloco,” short for “Boston Local Company.” “Inspired Burritos” became the new tagline, intended to better describe the menu offering. Not one item on the menu, in fact, was changed in the rebranding process.
Sabbatical benefit (4 weeks) was introduced for those team members who work for the company for more than 10 years.
Boloco location total = 10
Boloco location total = 13 (not including Catering Center)
Sean Boyce officially became the local artist for all New England boloco restaurants. His oil paintings depict the unique aspects of our restaurants’ communities, while conveying a mood that fits with the boloco personality.
We won the first-ever Blind Taste Test conducted by the Boston Globe (in which all panelists were self-proclaimed devotees of local taqueria Anna’s Taqueria). We opened our first restaurant in the great state of Vermont: Church Street, Burlington, VT (#14 again). We won Best of Boston 2008 for “Best Location Within a Chain”… unfortunately, the lucky location (187 Elm Street in Somerville) closed its doors forever the very same day the award was announced. The closing party included champagne served in our boloco corn cups. We asked Boston Magazine to not select us for other awards in the future. We switched all plastic bowls to 100% compostable bowls derived from bamboo. We were cited by “Boston Globe” (12/3/08) as one of the “Greenest of Them All”:
“All of boloco’s meat comes from animals that have been treated humanely, fed a vegetarian diet, and kept free of hormones and antibiotics… uses highly renewable bamboo, paints low in or without volatile organic compounds, and PaperStone, a material with the hardness of concrete but made from recycled paper and an earth-friendly resin. Sinks feature water-restriction valves, and compact fluorescents light new stores… working with manufacturers on other lighting solutions. New stores get Energy Star refrigeration and heating systems where possible… eliminated Styrofoam; instead of plastic, the restaurants use cups made from corn and bowls made from bamboo fiber… trying to find an affordable alternative to plastic flatware, which would enable (composting).”We were selected #28 in Fast Casual Magazine’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers. Fort Eddy Road in Concord, NH (#14 once more) opened. Boston Common(#15) also opened that December.
Boloco location total = 15
John Pepper announced to the press he was running for Mayor of Boston at the School Street (#16) ribbon-cutting ceremony. The joke was not appreciated by our friend Mayor Menino who was there to support the opening and campaigning for reelection in November. Within a month of celebrating his presence on this earth for half a century, Mike Harder became the poster child for chain restaurants due to his passion for all things green. His concern for the inevitable increased number of sales calls and emails trumped any temptation to let his newfound fame to go to his head. Separately, Fast Casual magazine cited boloco as one of the “Leaders of The Pack” in its commitment to the environment.
Boloco location total = 16
We encouraged guests to “brave the (snow) storm” to visit us and work together to earn a burrito giveaway bonanza (aka Free Burrito Day). After a few mathematical errors and a 2000 presidential election-style recount, we finally calculated that 6,257 guests had visited during the ferocious winter storm and Free Burrito Day was formally earned. We celebrated our 13th birthday, 2/24, with a series of Free Burrito Days. Thousands of mouths were fed and $10,408.95 was raised for local charities. Two guests set an official world record for most number of trips through the line for free food – 7 times!
April Fools’ time – we “renamed” ourselves Miniloco and officially introduced the world to a disturbingly small version of our burritos, bowls, smoothies, and shakes — the Mini. As always with April Fools’ gags, too many guests actually believed the name change and called us stupid (again).
Thirty boloco team members ran the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge and 4,500 burritos were handed out in pouring rain. Team members Jason Clay and Mark Corsillo pushed a broken-down golf cart filled with hundreds of said burritos for a quarter of a mile, a feat greater than the 3.5 mile run.
Many steps forward sometimes require a step or two backwards – we switched from compostable bamboo bowls back to recycleable bowls, due to leaking Teriyaki sauce and unavailability of proper sizes. (Spoiler alert: in 2014, we brought back compostable bowls.)
Fall 2010 saw the inaugural classes of boloco University, a boloco team member training series focused on educating and empowering our team members with career and life skills within and beyond boloco. That fall, we also moved our boloco HQ to its current location at 2 Park Plaza, overlooking Boston Common.
boloco’s Cycling Team participated in the Prouty event for the third year in a row. 26 riders pedaled in the 50- and 100-mile rides, raising over $21K for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
We were ranked #3,237 as one of the top 5,000 fastest growing privately held companies by Inc. Magazine. Still not really sure what that means, but it’s on a plaque in our office.
Forty-nine riders registered to ride with Team boloco for the Hub on Wheels citywide ride. Only 20 showed up. We pedaled 10, 25, and 50 miles throughout Boston, sporting our official team boloco bike jerseys. We also hosted our boloco Block Party and debuted our boloco Smoothie Bike.
Burlington became our first restaurant to serve beer. We hosted a burrito and beer tasting with Magic Hat Brewery to benefit iCouldBe.org. We learned that burritos and beer are a magical pairing (duh).
Fall 2010 kicked off with the largest contingency of boloco Campus Mavens to date. They were psyched about their new t-shirts, ping pong balls, and free burritos and excited to represent boloco in their campus communities. On Halloween we (temporarily) changed our name (again) to Booloco and asked guests to say “trick or treat.” The treat? Surprise Free Burrito Day! We raised $2,926.80 for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.
Another search for “Boston’s Best Burrito” resulted in the boloco marketing team ambushing the Boston Herald’s “Burrito Boy.” He liked our burritos. But a winner has yet to be crowned.
We got to hear about 400 Emerson students filming Lady Gaga LipDub, just around the corner from boloco HQ. After figuring out what a LipDub was, we secured our first product placement in the shoot (still trying to write the lyrics for a boloco LipDub).
Holidays always mean giving. Four stores + more than 40 charities = 2nd Annual 12 Days of Giving. We raised $8,223 for local charities at our Burlington, Hanover, Concord, and Tufts restaurants. We anxiously waited (and waited, and waited, and waited) for the opening of our 17th location at 569 Boylston St. in Boston’s Copley Square. Highlights would include the Winston Lounge (named after Winston Flowers, the former occupants of the space), self-service kiosks, and inspired burritos. The estimated opening was late January 2011.
We finally gave up the fight to be different, unique, and inspired. On April 1, we announced a name change to Chipdoba… if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. As always, we fooled too many people on this special day and endured the insults and thrown stones of hundreds. After agreeing to donate 200 burritos to the city for a celebration of the city’s biking accomplishments, our friends at the Inspectional Services Department at 1010 Mass Ave (see also “The City”) called one of our restaurants less than an hour before the announcement and demanded that a permit be produced or our Federal Street location would be shut down. After a tense 15 minutes of debate (that’s as PC as we can put it), head chef Jason Hutchinson stripped his chef’s coat off and scrambled to 1010 and back to City Hall Plaza in the nick of time. Burritos were served and people were happy, but it was time for a business to speak up… in less than 140 characters, of course. “How a city can thank businesses for supporting its civic efforts with rudeness, threats, and disrespect has us reeling right now” said the tweet. And the Facebook contest that followed soon after asked for people (with the incentive of a magical free burrito) to show the city how to properly say “thank you” by publicly thanking those they love, owe, and cherish. And thank they did! To make a very long and unnecessarily pathetic story short(ish), the story hit the front page of the Boston Globe 36 hours later. The Globe staff editorial published a piece 72 hours after that entitled “At his own peril, burrito maker takes on the Big Enchilada” and called for an apology from the Mayor on behalf of the city. While no apology was ever issued, we continue to happily donate burritos to great causes, including biking events at City Hall Plaza. And for the record… we always get our permits.
We’re straight shooters. We call it like it is. And despite the fact that we get compared to every Mexican joint this side of the Mississippi, we are not, never have been, and never will be Mexican food (except for that hot second on April Fools’ Day when we changed our name to Chipdoba). But what about the Classic Mexican burrito, you ask? Okay, it’s true that about 18% of what boloco offers is Mexican-inspired and everything wrapped in a tortilla goes in the “kinda Mexican” category. But boloco is globally inspired. Trendy sounding? Yep, we know… we’ve heard that before. But we don’t know any better way to put it. All that being said, when Cinco de Mayo rolls around every year, should we take cover and wish the day away for fear we’ll be called out as Mexican impostors? The answer is HECK NO. In fact, in 2011, we celebrated by putting our friend, the Yucatan Habanero, on a pedestal. The Yucatan was grounded in Mexican culinary tradition, with tangy pickled onions, black beans, sour cream, boloco rice, and, of course, our fiery hot habanero salsa. As the weather turned to warm, we introduced to the world (or, at least New England) two new inspired flavors: the Spicy BLT and the Korean BBQ. We were told by a few burrito-eating connoisseurs that the Korean BBQ packed a serious punch and the Spicy BLT was an awesome twist on a classic with its smoky chipotle mayo. These friends stuck around for a while and flags were raised at half-mast when they were later taken off the menu.
The first Twitter firing ever took place — a “twiring,” some called it. But for the record, nobody was actually fired. A tired team member tweeted after work one day that his job at boloco sucked. John Pepper tweeted back “not anymore,” but forgot to include a smiley face, winky face, or any other indication that it was a joke. He later followed up with a Twitter-based apology (but no one made a fun combo word for that). After some serious research (on important stuff like which organic chocolate milk tastes better) and lots of feedback from the experts (hungry kids), we finally developed a delicious kids menu! We filled it with all kinds of mini goodness that kids were sure to enjoy (like cookies and strawberry shakes) and that parents approve (like organic applesauce from Vermont and steamed broccoli). And for good measure, we included little packs of crayons too. Our second location on Congress Street in Boston opened at Atlantic Wharf (#18) in December, next to Jody Adam’s new but already legendary Trade, as well as some other fine neighbors. With four self-service kiosks and two traditional cash registers, Atlantic Wharf was made to serve incredible food personally and faster than ever. After a few bumps and stumbles in the early weeks and a ton of free burritos given out as apologies, the team seemed to find its footing. That is, until one of our team members decided to steal a customer’s wallet in plain view of our new and super sleuth cameras. Yeah, that sucked. But we called the cops. Got the wallet back. And now the team really is on solid footing, and you can take your hand off your wallet. Promise. We signed two leases in Washington, DC. Nation’s Capital, here we come… in Summer 2012. As we agreed to the most staggering rents ever, we reminded ourselves that there was no recession in DC. There was no recession in DC. There was no recession in DC.
In July, we spread our wings and opened our first restaurant outside of our New England home base in Bethesda, MD (#19). We moved in next to some pretty awesome neighbors and we were excited to bring globally inspired burritos to the Mid-Atlantic for the first time. It didn’t take long for Boston transplants to find us… on our first day of business (which was, of course, a Free Burrito Day), we met tons of former Bostonians that knew boloco from back home! It was great to reconnect with old friends – even 500 miles from home base.
In August, our boloco ordering app finally made its Android debut (sorry, BlackBerry users…). With shorter wait times and boloco card integration, we were pretty stoked about all of the things guests could do with our app. As the year wore on, however, less than 3% of sales came from the iPhone and Droid app combined. We set a goal for 2013: to get all of our guests using this seamless tool. In September, we took on another suburban location and opened in Wellesley, MA (#20)! It was a TOUGH opening. But, we put all hands on deck, worked together, gave away lots of free burritos, and got Wellesley back on track. Nobody ever said that opening new restaurants was easy, regardless of how many times you’ve done it! Just as December rolled in, we opened our first “actual” Washington, D.C. restaurant (#21) at 19th & L. Never before had we seen a line as long as this one for Free Burrito Day. Apparently, the word “free” really is magic everywhere.
In April, the world’s first (unverified) burrito drive-thru opened as part of our new location in Warwick, Rhode Island (#21) – that’s near Providence. Because it’s the world’s first burrito drive-thru, it’s also the world’s fastest burrito drive-thru with the world’s greatest drive-thru customer service. Plus, it’s the world’s most accurate burrito drive-thru. It pretty much is the best at everything as far as burrito drive-thrus go… ;) In May, we took the Airstream on the road and road tripped from our home in Boston, MA down to our new(ish) restaurant in Washington, DC, as we followed the Ride on Washington cyclists. The incredible team, led by Tim Johnson, rode 400+ miles over the course of five days. We celebrated the efforts of the cyclists in the nation’s capital with burritos at boloco 19th Street. That summer, we embraced our “globally inspired” mantra and introduced four Middle Eastern menu items– the Jaffa Falafel burrito, the Kale-Quinoa bowl, pita chips, and a Lemon Mint Slush. Although they were only around for a limited time, they definitely made an impression on our guests (fast forward a few years later, we’re still getting falafel requests…). Although 2013 brought lots of exciting changes, there were some challenging ones as well. In the beginning of the summer, we said goodbye to our friends in Medford and finally closed the doors of our Tufts University location. However, our friends Jason Hutchinson and Adam Liebman took over the location and turned it into a cafe called Tamper – check it out at tampercafe.com! We were glad we were able to pass the location on to longtime friends and members of Team boloco. To make up for one location closing, we decided it was time to open another! In September we opened a Lynnfield (#22) at MarketStreet in Lynnfield, MA. Located twenty minutes outside of Boston, this is another adventure and foray into the suburbs for us.
That October brought some big changes at boloco. Our longtime CEO, John Pepper, stepped down from his position. In an attempt to do what he felt was best for boloco, he offered an ultimatum to our owners: accept an outside investment or accept his resignation. They rejected the deal and accepted his resignation. In John’s words, he “walked the proverbial plank and sadly never got to get back on [the] boat.” While John is no longer sitting beside us at boloco HQ every day, he is still integral to who we are and what we do and remains involved as part owner, friend, advisor, and the most enthusiastic fan of Buffalo steak burritos. In November, we cheered on the Boston Red Sox, along with the rest of our great city. Thanks to their first win on home turf since 1918, we dropped the “globally” and decided to just be Boston Inspired Burritos for a few days. We also offered a Red Sox-inspired discount and enjoyed our view of the parade from the windows of boloco HQ. For the holidays, we welcomed some seasonal friends back to the menu. The Late November and the Pumpkin Shake came back for a few months and, in December, we offered our “Naughty or Nice” gift card promo – all in all, a fairly normal and quiet holiday season at boloco. Although maybe we needed it, since we had BIG plans for January…
As usual, April brought startling news– the guacapocalypse was upon us! Avocado prices rose and that tasty green dip we call guacamole became cost prohibitive. So on April 1st, we had to call it quits on serving guacamole. In true boloco April Fools’ Day fashion, we had lots of unhappy guests and shocked avocado-enthusiasts. But we made up for the outrage with free guac on all burritos and $1 chips and guac all day. On a more serious note, April also brought with it the remembrance of the four lives lost on the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Several of our team members – from our CFO to our Harvard Square GM – and friends ran the Marathon and we even got to see them run by some of our restaurants on the course. In our 2014 spirit of making really big changes, on May 5th we introduced a new loyalty program, which was a far cry from the punch cards of 2001 and the boloco cards of 2006. Adios, boloco card, and welcome to the world, boloco passport! The boloco passport, powered by our friends at LevelUp, is an app-based rewards program that allows our guests to order from their phone, order online, or pay in-store with their phone, all while earning rewards. We definitely rocked the boat with this one and we’re still tweaking it. It’s a work in progress. In July, we welcomed two summer smoothie specials– the Tropi-Kale and the Orange Dreamsicle. However, the name “Tropi-Kale” didn’t come to us as easily as we’d hoped… So we went to our guests and ran a contest via Twitter and Facebook. Our friend Joe Luchison came up with the great name Tropi-Kale and won over our hearts (and our guests’ hearts!) with it. Thanks again, Joe! As we mentioned, the last year brought with it a lot of changes and we knew it was time to listen up. So, in August, we invited some guests over for dinner. After hearing all of their thoughts, we decided that maybe it was time for a few more changes… But as we’ve learned, change can be very good! On September 3rd, we kicked off Free Burrito Days (we really do love giving away free burritos) at our twenty locations across New England. We also welcomed back our friend, the Small Bowl, after an eight month hiatus, and re-named our Little Bowl its true name, the Original Bowl. To highlight our bowls, we introduced a new specialty salad called the Charred Broccoli. We also decided to keep the Tropi-Kale as a permanent menu item.
In October, we decided to throw it back to one of our original burrito friends. But mostly we just plain missed the Yucatan burrito. So we brought it back (for a limited time) along with our Halloween favorite, the Pumpkin Shake. While we can’t confirm the exact numbers, we’re pretty sure the amount of pickled onions consumed in the world was doubled in the month of October. Most falls at boloco mean that the elusive Late November burrito will return. This year, we said, “Let’s talk turkey and really squash this promo!” Welcome back, Late November. And, speaking of menu items we missed, the Eggnog Shake had been forgotten in 2013 and we weren’t going to let that happen again. So, in December, we brought back our beloved Eggnog Shake (sorry though, no rum). We also re-vamped our Naughty or Nice promotion, this time offering our guests a chance to be naughty with scratch-off card prizes with every $25 gift card purchase. Or, they could choose to be nice and we would make a donation to Cradles to Crayons (or, in Burlington, VT, to King Street Center). Try as we might, we just couldn’t seem to find our footing in the DC market. So after a little over two years, we officially closed our DC and Bethesda locations. It was a very tough decision, with a lot of reasons behind it, and we were sad to leave those communities. But it was time to focus on our roots in New England. 2014 was a big one for us, and we had big plans for 2015 too. We already had some fun planned for January but we just couldn’t tell our guests about it just yet. We thank you, thank you very much, for your patience ;) (Get it? Thank you very much? No? Oh well, you’ll find out soon enough…)