- This timeline spans two decades and we have not yet added a collapse function to it — its 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.
- Gregg Harris and John Pepper meet in their hometown, Cincinnati, OH. Gregg is the dog walker for a friend of John’s.
- Adam Liebman and Gregg Harris meet while students at Boston University. Gregg is friends with Adam’s brother but not with Adam.
- Gregg Harris and John Pepper meet again while living in San Francisco. They are both fans of the Mission District Taqueria scene and the early Wrap concepts popping up throughout the city and talk about how the rest of the country needs such things. Gregg gives Pepper the book “How to Open a Restaurant.” (Pepper never reads it) Gregg and Adam reunite in San Francisco and both quit their jobs to work at burrito shops (they are now friends). They meet Jason Hutchinson at one of those joints – night after night the trio whisper over the grill about their future dreams back East. Gregg and Adam decide that while Jason’s culinary skills are welcome, his music taste is not. Pepper heads back to New England to get his MBA at Tuck. Early on, he befriends those in his class from the Bay Area so that he can talk endlessly about the country’s desperate need for more burritos and wraps.
- Gregg, Adam, and Jason move back to Boston determined to open an Inspired Burrito (aka Wrap) shop. Landlords don’t take them seriously. The search is endless for a first location. Pepper works on Wall Street for the summer. Hates it (and is still trying to figure out what “it” is). Pepper and Gregg correspond regularly during Pepper’s 2nd year at Tuck, which he dedicates in large part to studying the food and beverage business and writing the first business plan as part of his Entrepreneurship Class. Under Wraps, Inc. is formed. Adam, Gregg, and Pepper officially join forces. Jason is the company’s head chef. The lease at Mass Ave across from the Berklee College of Music is signed in November and construction begins.
- On February 24, the first Under Wraps opens at 137 Massachusetts Avenue (#1) across from the Berklee College of Music. The idea is simple: make the best Traditional Mexican Burrito possible, and then use that same tortilla to add a limited number of other unexpected, bold and addictive flavors that give more people a reason to visit. Bring in the potential frozen beverage fad known as smoothies to bolster the slower day parts and add to the “freshness” perception. No chance of anything other than a homerun. (200 people visit the first day versus our expected 500 – work to be done) The partners receive a “cease and desist” letter from Marriott saying that they own the trademark to the name Under Wraps. A customer contest takes place for a new name. “The Wrap” wins. Other wrap competitors open in Boston, including Wrap Culture and Fresh City Wraps. Talks with the owner of Wrap Culture lead to an acquisition of its two locations. Talks with the owners of Fresh City lead nowhere special. The Wrap location total = 1
- Under Wraps and Wrap Culture are all converted to The Wrap. Harvard Square (#2) and Cleveland Circle (#3) are now open. With ever expanding waist lines being blamed on fast food, and despite the negative effect on the profitability of our business, the Regular Size burrito is introduced in addition to the original size (Large). The smaller size has outsold the larger size ever since. Health insurance made available to all full-time and most hourly employees. Hires first experienced restaurant professional as Director of Operations. Wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian. Advertises in Improper Bostonian. The Wrap location total = 3
- Introduces matching Simple IRA plan for all full-time and most part-time employees. The Buffalo Chicken is first introduced as a Special, eventually to become a cult favorite and permanent menu item. A group of customers lobby for the name Tatanka, but when they imitate Kevin Costner with fingers in the air from Dances with Wolves, we stick with the safety name. Using paid architects for the first time, Water Street (#4) location opens in Boston’s financial district. With lines out the door like never before experienced, The Wrap eliminates pennies by making sure that after tax prices end with a “5″ or a “0″. Fishing for pennies costs an extra 2-3 seconds and for the first time every second really did count. Able to handle over 150 transactions per hour (would eventually double that). Breakfast menu is introduced, including the Truckstop Special. Was supposed to be called the Flatbed Special #2 Burrito (of Harry’s Truckstop on I-89 fame, but the founders chickened out. Wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian for the 2nd year in a row. Advertises with Improper Bostonian for the 2nd year in a row. English Lessons begin and are taught in-house to Spanish-speaking employees. Gregg Harris leaves the business to pursue his MBA at Columbia. The Wrap location total = 4
- The Wrap and Jera’s Juice join forces. Each with 4 locations, the idea was to convert the 4 Jera’s locations that only served juices and smoothies (“Best of Boston”, Boston Magazine, 1998) to “The Wrap featuring Jera’s Juice”. Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 Jera’s Juice locations are closed by the end of the year because a) of the significant and unstoppable losses at these stores, and b) space and lease constraints did not allow the full Wrap menu to be incorporated. The Jera’s Juice founders (2) leave the company to pursue other interests. Newbury Street (#5) opens. Wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian for the 3rd year in a row. Advertises with Improper Bostonian for the 3rd year in a row. Northeastern University (#6) opens. A moratorium on all new restaurants is put on place until the company can prove that current locations can all be profitable. Company offices are moved to the “Dungeon”… a one-window basement space of a building on Boylston with access only through the alley. The Wrap location total = 6 Jera’s Juice location total = 1
- Sales grow in all restaurants. All restaurants are profitable. Berlitz is hired to teach English and Spanish to all employees to improve internal communications and to help immigrants for whom English is a second language take on greater responsibility. The Summer Burrito is first introduced as a Special, eventually to become a customer favorite and permanent menu item. Introduces first Wrap Gift and Loyalty Card the same month as Starbucks introduces theirs (except we actually rewarded people when they use it) Does not advertise with Improper Bostonian. Does not win “Boston’s Best Wraps” by Improper Bostonian. The Wrap location total = 6 Jera’s Juice location total = 1
- Sales grow in all restaurants. All restaurants profitable. Thinking about growth again. Fleet Bank agrees to lend enough money to open 3 restaurants. The Wrap location total = 6 Jera’s Juice location total = 1
- Children’s Hospital (#7) location opens. Pearl Street (#8) location opens in Boston’s financial district. Invests in B.Good, a start-up healthier burger concept in which Pepper is a co-founder. All employees are eligible for performance-based bonus plans. The last Jera’s Juice is closed at the end of its lease. After 5 years of letter writing, fortunate circumstances (as opposed to the content of the letters) allow Pepper to meet with Howard Schultz (Starbucks) in Seattle. It is there that Pepper poses to the coffee magnate the question as to whether The Wrap is a name that can endure. Schultz’s initial response is that it’s hip and catchy, but agrees to ask some colleagues what they think. After over an hour of dropping in at various Starbucks departments and speaking to over a dozen highly caffeinated employees, and peppering them with questions about wraps vs. burritos, the two corporate titans emerged from the roasting support center at which time Pepper 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
- Dartmouth College (#9) location opens in Hanover, NH. Federal Street (#10) location opens in Boston’s financial district. B.Good opens its first location at 131 Dartmouth Street. The Cajun Wrap is re-positioned as the Cajun Burrito. No changes to the ingredients were made except for the name, and sales doubled nearly immediately. Founders continue to question the name “The Wrap”. The Wrap location total = 10
- Mike Harder joins as President and COO. With over 25 years in the business, he makes drastic improvements to operations immediately. Referring to them as “low hanging fruit”, he “insults” the founders who never even knew such “fruit” existed. Customer lines accelerate (from 150/hour to over 250/hour), food becomes fresher than ever, safety and customer service practices reach new levels. Customers seem to notice. Lines grow, sales increase. Brand Name Analysis determines 6 potential names to compare The Wrap against. Concerns have grown about the evolving meaning of the word “wrap” to 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 fares poorly in this analysis (even as compared to the control name “mammoth” which was intended to be the loser). All 10 restaurants are converted from “The Wrap” to “Boloco”. Inspired Burritos is the new tag line 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) is introduced for those employees who work for the company for more than 10 years. Boloco location total = 10
- Dental Insuranceis offered for the first time.The Consumerist.com proclaims “This CEO Sucks Less” based on Boloco’s long-standing determination to listen to all feedback and Pepper’s commitment to respond to customers personally. Tufts University (#11) location opens. Wins “Boston’s Best” award from the Improper Bostonian for “Stupidest Name Change”. In-store signs retaliate by quoting from the mid-80′s movie Johnny Dangerously “My mother called me stupid once… once!”. Did not advertise with Improper Bostonian. Wins “Best of Boston” from Boston Magazine for Best Neighborhood Takeout. Boloco location total = 11
- Commits $15,000 to a local non-profit, Community Servings and institutes a speaker series for management called Delivering Leadership where local leaders come to speak to Boloco managers and in return a donation is made to Community Servings. Boloco also volunteers in Community Servings kitchens once per month and dedicates portions of “Late November” Burrito sales and President’s Day sales to CS. After 39 presentations over a six month period, raises expansion capital from Winona Capital for expansion and growth. Commits $5,000 to the Prouty event supporting the Dartmouth Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover, NH. Wins “Best of Boston” from Boston Magazine for Best Neighborhood Takeout. Naturally-raised Carnitas is re-introduced as a permanent menu item after having been a successful special in years past. Steak is converted to a naturally-raised product as well. Naturally-raised at Boloco is defined as vegetarian fed and no added antibiotics or growth hormones. Boston Red Sox win 2nd World Series in 4 years!! Somerville (187 Elm in Somerville) (#12) location opens. Natick (#13) location opens. Congress Street (#14) location opens. Water Street #4, a few hundred feet away, becomes Boloco Catering Center. Boloco location total = 13 (not including Catering Center)
- First fast-casual chain in New England to be Certified Greenby the Green Restaurant Association. Steps taken to achieve certification:
- **All-Natural Meats
- **T-shirts and Uniforms made of organic cotton
- **Comprehensive Recycling Program (with goal to be composting by end of 2008)
- **Replaces all Styrofoam Cups with Corn-based Cups
- The Boloco Airstream is launched in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the Mardi Gras parade in Burlington, VT. 400 Original Boloco pong balls were lost during the parade which led to a reward offer of 2 burritos for every pong ball returned. The Boloco Airstream did not win the float beauty contest… we’ll be back. John Pepper announces to the press he is running for Mayor of Boston at the #16 School Street ribbon-cutting ceremony. The joke is not appreciated by our friend Mayor Menino who is 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 becomes 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 new found fame to go to his head. Separately, Fast Casual magazine cites Boloco as one of the “leaders of the pack” in commitment to the environment. Boloco location total = 16
- Boloco’s original restaurant on Mass Ave is relocated to 1080 Boylston Street. Surrounded by musical talent, local Berklee School of Music students create The Boloco Song. Change our menu board layout based on guest feedback thanks to group of Boloco lovers (and haters) gathered by the venerable BostonTweet. Replace long-standing lime rice with boloco rice. Even rice matters, and this rice rocks. Encourage guests to “brave the (snow)storm” and work together to earn a burrito giveaway bonanza (AKA Free Burrito Day). After a few mathematical errors and a 2000-style recount, we finally calculated that 6,257 guests had visited during this ferocious winter storm and Free Burrito Day was formally earned. Celebrate our 13th birthday, 2/24, with a series of Free Burrito Days. Thousands of mouths are fed and $10,408.95 is raised for local charities. Two guests set an official world record for most number of trips through line for free food – 7 times! April Fools! Rename ourselves Miniloco and officially introduce the world to a disturblingly small version of our burritos, bowls, smoothies, and shakes, the Mini. As always with April Fools gags, too many guests actually believe the name change and call us stupid (again). In May, Boston is placed under a Boil Water Order. We spring into action and take all steps necessary to ensure guests’ health and safety (and of course create another “bologo”). Thirty boloco team members run the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge. 4,500 burritos are handed out in pouring rain. Team members Jason Clay and Mark Corsillo push a broken-down golf cart filled with hundreds of said burritos for quarter of a mile, a feat greater than the 3.5 mile run. Hailed by the press as one of the greatest marketing capers of all time, boloco offers the FourSquare mayor card. Current reward – Mayor Mondays (a guest and two friends eat for free). Like all rewards, it’s subject to (and will) change. Many steps forward sometimes require a step or two backwards. Switch back to recyclablable bowls from compostable bamboo bowls due to leaking Teriyaki sauce and unavailability of proper sizes. Guests upset by the change (many) will be relieved no later than later this decade, as we continue to search for a solid compostable solution. Fall 2010 sees 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. Boloco’s Cycling Team participates in the Prouty charity ride in Hanover, NH, for the third year in a row. 26 riders pedal in the 50- and 100-mile rides, raising over $21K for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (in all, we raise over $75,000 to benefit various charities throughout New England in 2010). Ranked as #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 register to ride Team Boloco for the Hub on Wheels Citywide ride. Only 20 show up. We pedal 10, 25, and 50 miles throughout Boston sporting our Official Boloco Team Bike Jerseys. Also: Boloco Block Party and debut of the Boloco Smoothie Bike. Burlington becomes our first restaurant to serve beer. We host a burrito and beer tasting with Magic Hat Brewery to benefit iCouldBe.org. We learn that burritos and beer are a magical pairing. Fall 2010 kicks off with the largest contingency of Boloco Campus Mavens to date. They’re psyched about new shirts, pong balls, free burritos, and repping boloco in their campus community. Halloween: we (temporarily) change our name (again) to Booloco and ask guests to say “trick or treat.” The treat? Surprise Free Burrito Day! We raise $2,926.80 for the Boys & Girls Club and Big Brothers, Big Sisters of New England. Another search for “Boston’s Best Burrito” results in the boloco marketing team ambushing the Boston Herald’s “Burrito Boy.” He likes our burritos. A winner has yet to be crowned. Partner with super-cool PeopleMatter to streamline our hiring process. Hear about 400 Emerson students filming Lady Gaga LipDub just around the corner from Boloco HQ. After figuring out what a LipDub actually is, we secure our first product placement in the shoot (still trying to figure out a boloco LipDub). Holidays mean giving. Four stores + more than 40 charities = 2nd Annual 12 Days of Giving. We raise $8,223.00 for local charities at our Burlington, Hanover, Concord, and Tufts restaurants. We anxiously await (and await, and await, and await) the opening of our 17th location at 569 Boylston St. in Boston’s Copley Square. Highlights will include the Winston Flowers Lounge, self-service kiosks, and inspired burritos. Estimated opening – late January 2011.
IPhone app? Yeah, we’ve got one (finally). And it’s pretty dang cool, too. But it’s V1. It will get better. It must get better. Nobody uses it. That’s ok, it’s a start. Nothing was built in a day.
Restaurant #17 opens at Copley Square. Free Burrito Day in early February draws lines down to Clarendon Street, and in the end over 3,000 brave souls wait up to 45 minutes for freebie. A group of 2nd Years at the Tuck School of Business publish a paper on the magic powers of the word “free” trying to explain why so many customers are willing to accept the equivalent of less than minimum hourly wage for a pound of rice and beans (ok, and some other goodies) wrapped up in a simple tortilla.
Boloco celebrates it’s 14th b-day with 14 Days of Inspired Specials. After more than a decade of serving darn good guac, we decided it was time to step it up. If we weren’t making it fresh with our own hands every single day, then we couldn’t really stand behind it. We took matters into our own hands (literally) and we now make guacamole 100% from scratch. Our NEW inspired blend is made with avocado, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt.
Boloco finally gives up the fight to be different, unique and inspired. On April 1 it announces a name change to Chipdoba – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – literally. 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 towards a serious celebration of the city’s biking accomplishments, our friends at the Inspectional Services Department at 1010 Mass Ave (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, people were happy, but it was time for a business to speak up… in less than 140 characters, of course. “How a business 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 magic free burrito) to show the City how to properly say thank you by publicly thanking those they love, owe, cherish. And thank they did!
To make a very long and unnecessarily pathetic story short, 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 by 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 (except for that hot second on April Fool’s Day when we changed our name to Chipdoba).
But what about the Classic Burrito, you ask? OK, it’s true that about 18% of what boloco offers is Mexican-inspired, and while everything wrapped in a tortilla goes in the “kinda Mexican” category, 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, we celebrated by putting our friend, the Yucatan Habanero, on a pedestal. This burrito is grounded in Mexican culinary tradition…with tangy pickled onions, black beans, sour cream, boloco rice, and of course, our fiery hot habanero salsa (which you can add to any burrito we offer, by the way).
As the weather turned to warm, we introduced to the world (or, at least New England) two new inspired flavors:
The Spicy BLT and Korean BBQ.
We’d been told by a few burrito-eating connoisseurs that the Korean BBQ packs a serious punch, and the Spicy BLT is an awesome twist on a classic with its smokey chipotle mayo. These friends stuck around for a few months, and flags were raised at half mast when these were taken off the menu in November 2011.
The first twitter firing ever takes place. A “twiring” some called it. But for the record, nobody was actually fired.
After some heavy 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! It’s filled with all kinds of mini goodness that kids are sure to enjoy (like cookies and strawberry shakes) and parents, too (like organic applesauce from Vermont or steamed broccoli). And for good measure, we include a little pack of crayons for kids to color their Sean Boyce-designed kids meal box.
Our second location on Congress Street in Boston, Boloco Location #18, opens at Atlantic Wharf in Boston 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 is 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 sign two leases in Washington, DC. Nation’s Capital here we come … summer 2012. We remind ourselves as we agree to most staggering rents ever… there was no recession in DC. There was no recession in DC. There was no recession in DC.
Top 100 Shakers & Movers: #28Fast Casual Magazine 2008
Best BurritoBoston Globe blind taste test 2008
Best of BostonBoston Magazine 1998, 2006, 2007, 2008
Boston’s BestThe Improper Bostonian 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006
Best Fast FoodBarstool Sports 2008
- Order some food from:
- 19th Street, DC
- Atlantic Wharf
- Berklee College of Music
- Bethesda, MD
- Boston Common
- Burlington, VT
- Childrens Hospital
- Cleveland Circle
- Concord, NH
- 50 Congress Street
- Copley Square
- Federal Street
- Hanover, NH
- Harvard Square
- Newbury Street
- Northeastern University
- Pearl Street
- School Street
- Wellesley, MA
- Warwick, RI
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