our long & winding story
OK, OK… let’s start with the facts, because the story that follows really is long & winding:
February 24, 1997 in Boston at the corner of Mass Ave and Boylston across from the Berklee College of Music
Gregg Harris, Jason Hutchinson, Adam Liebman, John Pepper
WHAT’S BEHIND THE NAME
Boston Local Co.
WHAT WE DO
Boloco offers a unique but simple menu of classic and modern burritos, bowls, salads, and snacks made from fresh, high-quality ingredients (usually organic and naturally-raised), prepared and served by authentic and customer-focused teams in a comfortable atmosphere. We work daily to make the work of our people meaningful which we believe ultimately leads to a unique and superior experience for our customers – we are very much a people-first business. While Boloco’s most popular menu item is the Classic Burrito, “Modern Mexican” describes our distinctive food offering, which is like a classic Mexican burrito in construction, but like authentic Mexican cuisine finds inspiration from the most delicious recipes from around the world. Boloco’s burritos and bowls are hot, delicious and addictive with bold flavors inspired from people and cultures around the world. We literally can’t stop eating our own food!
OUR TROPHY CASE
2017, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008 – Top 100 Fast-Casual Shakers & Movers in the US – Fast Casual Magazine
2012 – EY Entrepreneur of the Year Winner – New England – Ernst & Young
2011 – EY Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist – New England – Ernst & Young
2008 – Boston Globe Blind Taste Test – Burritos
2008, 2007, 2006, 1998 – Best of Boston – Boston Magazine
2006, 2000, 1999, 1998 – Boston’s Best – Improper Bostonian
2006 – Best Fast Food – Barstool Sports
OUR LONG & WINDING STORY
Gregg Harris and John Pepper meet in their hometown, Cincinnati, OH as high schoolers. Gregg is the dog walker for John’s girlfriend.
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. At the party, Gregg gives Pepper a book entitled “How to Open a Restaurant.” (Pepper never reads it)
Gregg and Adam reunite in San Francisco. They both quit their real jobs to work at burrito shops (they are now friends). They meet Jason Hutchinson at one of those joints – World Wrapps on Chestnut Ave in the Marina. Night after night the trio whisper over the grill about their future dreams back East. Gregg and Adam decide secretly that while Jason’s culinary skills are welcome, his music taste is not.
Pepper heads back to New England to get his MBA at the Tuck School at Dartmouth. 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.
# Locations open = 0
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. 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 company’s 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 first lease at the Berklee College of Music is signed in November and construction begins. The young men are on their way!
# Locations open = 0
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 globally-inspired flavors that give more people a reason to visit. Bring in the insanely popular frozen beverages 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 begin with the owner of Wrap Culture to figure out how to join forces.
Under Wraps location total = 1
Under Wraps buys Wrap Culture – all three locations are rebranded to The Wrap. Harvard Square (#2) and Cleveland Circle (#3) are now open.
With ever expanding waist lines often being blamed on fast food, and despite the negative effect on the economics (“lower average check”) of the business, the Regular Size (Small) burrito is introduced in addition to the Original Size (Large). The innovation machine is just beginning! #restaurantinnovation 😅
Health insurance made available to all full-time and most hourly employees. 🩺
Running on fumes, the young founders hire their first experienced restaurant professional as Director of Operations. Weeks later the company’s first inventory was conducted and Cost of Goods Sold was calculated for the first time.
The Wrap wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian only weeks after signing on as an advertising customer for the magazine. The young founders convince themselves that the award is well-deserved.
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.
Using professional 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 cost and extra 2-3 seconds and for the first time every second really did count. Able to handle over 150 transactions per hour. #restaurantinnovation 😅
Breakfast menu is introduced, including the Truckstop Special inspired by the Flatbed #2 at the famed Harry’s Truck Stop in Lebanon, NH.
The Wrap wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian for the 2nd year in a row. They renew their advertising contract.
English Lessons begin and are taught in-house to Spanish-speaking employees by recent BC grad Claire Sousa. The impact on culture is positive and immediate!
Co-Founder Gregg Harris leaves the business to pursue his MBA at Columbia. Thank you Gregg! 🙏🏼
The Wrap location total = 4
The Wrap and local competitor Jera’s Juice join forces, creating Stellar Restaurant Group, Inc. Each with 4 locations, the idea is 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) the significant losses at these stores weren’t able to be contained, and b) space and lease constraints did not allow the full Wrap menu to be incorporated. The Jera’s Juice founders leave the company to pursue other interests. The Wrap loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first 9 months of the year. A true shit show with many, many valuable lessons learned that come into play in the years that follow.
Newbury Street (#5) opens with our first outdoor patio! Tom Brady and Tom Cruz both are spotted in this first fast casual location on the Rodeo Drive of Boston. In short order this one location pays for all of the losses incurred in the Jera’s Juice merger. A great reminder that one strong asset can make up for multiple losers in certain cases!
Wins “Boston’s Best Wraps” by the Improper Bostonian for the 3rd year in a row! Continues to advertise!
Northeastern University (#6) opens. And opens strong!
To be safe, a moratorium on all new restaurants is put in place until the company can prove that current locations can all be profitable. The briefly fancy company offices on the Boston Marathon finish line are relocated to the “Dungeon”… a one-window basement space of a building on Boylston with access only through the back 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 and earn higher incomes.
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)
Raised minimum wage in the company to $8 per hour, jumping ahead of Starbucks which started employees at $6.50.
The Wrap location total = 6
Jera’s Juice location total = 1
Sales grow in all restaurants. All restaurants profitable with Harvard Square #2 leading the way!
Fleet Bank (later Bank of America) agrees to lend enough money to open 3 new restaurants!
Things are looking up ⤴️
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.
Both locations open well below projections. Work to be done.
The Wrap invests in start-up restaurant B.Good, a 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 witty, compelling 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”. (follow-up letters to Seattle since this infamous meeting finally received a response 7 years later – persistence pays!)
The Wrap location total = 8
Dartmouth College (#9) location opens in Hanover, NH.
Federal Street (#10) location opens in Boston’s financial district.
All locations are growing in sales but at 10 locations things are getting messy. Systems are breaking. Frustration is impacting the culture. Time to get serious. Time to recruit an experienced leader to help us scale successfully. The founders do everything possible to keep the train on the tracks… anything but easy.
B.Good opens its first location at 131 Dartmouth Street. Boloco assists in the opening and owns 10% of the fledgling burger joint.
The Wrap sells the franchise rights for all states outside of New England to an experienced operator group. Dreams of hundreds of locations become just slightly closer.
The Cajun Wrap is re-positioned as the Cajun Burrito – as a test. No changes to the ingredients were made. Only the name changed from Wrap to Burrito, and sales doubled nearly immediately. We knew a major positioning change was in our future.
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 these changes 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 – uninspired descriptors that The Wrap had never been associated with. In markets outside of Boston, and even in Boston itself, The Wrap name fares poorly in one-way-mirror intercepts (even as compared to the control name “mammoth” which was intended to be the loser). Jabo’s was the top name contender, per customer feedback, until the experts told us it involved creating a character named Jabo. Boloco was second. Boloco quietly stood for Boston Local Company, sounded like it was a place that could sell a kick-ass burrito, and most importantly was fun and could be trademarked. When you typed in “Boloco” in Google in early 2005, literally nothing came up. We secured boloco.com and the easy part was done.
The Hard Part: 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 paid – is introduced for those employees who work for the company for more than 10 years.
Franchise Locations open in malls in Indianapolis and Charlotte.
Boloco location total = 10
Franchised location total = 2
Dental Insurance is offered for the first time. Sounds standard and boring to most, but this was a joyous occasion for Elvis at Harvard Square who immediately had his teeth replaced with the gold stuff. Plus, most restaurant companies offered no health or dental benefits still. We were trying to keep up with Starbucks and making progress.
Franchise Locations, mostly in mall settings, open in Seattle, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Diego, Cleveland, and Bentley College (MA).
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.
Boloco 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!” Nobody has given us a hard time about the name Boloco since.
Wins “Best of Boston” from Boston Magazine for Best Neighborhood Takeout, the Monopoly equivalent of 2nd Prize in a beauty contest.
Boloco location total = 11
Franchised location total = 8
Instead of sprinkling small donations to anyone who asked, Boloco commits $15,000 in “earned” donations per year to an inspirational Boston non-profit, Community Servings (www.servings.org). Earning the $15,000 meant that any activities outside of the normal course of business that took place included a matching donation to CS to achieve the $15,000. One example was when we instituted a speaker series for our management teams called Delivering Leadership where local leaders come to speak to Boloco managers and in return for their time a $500 donation is made to Community Servings. Boloco also “volunteers” in Community Servings kitchens once per month – paying our team members for their time and matching that pay with further earned donations to CS – and dedicates portions promotional sales throughout the year to hit $15K. The goal of the earned partnership is to write the smallest end of year check possible to hit the committed $15K because we would have already earned that amount through meaningful activities.
Buys back franchise rights sold in 2004 due to conflicting growth plans and a bit of culture clash. All Franchised Locations are renamed to Currito and the two companies agree to fully separate and gradually move in different directions.
After 39 presentations over a six month period, Boloco raises $10 million in growth capital from Winona Capital for expansion to buy out long-time original investors. Laird Koldyke, a former investor in many successful retail and restaurant operations, becomes Chairman of the Board.
Commits $5,000 to the Prouty event supporting the Dartmouth Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover, NH. Serves a thousand burritos for the first time in a single event.
Wins “Best of Boston” from Boston Magazine for Best Neighborhood Takeout. More beauty prizes that more and more obviously make little to no impact.
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
Steps taken to move towards a greener Boloco:
– 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
Chicken is converted to a naturally-raised product, signifying the successful conversion of all meats at Boloco to naturally-raised.
Increases Commitment to $20,000 to Community Servings.
Sean Boyce (seanboyceart.com) officially becomes the local artist for all New England boloco restaurants. His oil paintings depict the unique and interesting aspects of the local area near each of our restaurants while conveying a mood that fits with the Boloco personality.
Wins first-ever Blind Taste Test conducted by the Boston Globe – all panelists self-proclaimed devotees of local taqueria Anna’s Taqueria
Opens first restaurant in the great state of Vermont! (Church Street, Burlington, VT #14)
Wins Best of Boston 2008 for best location within a chain… unfortunately the lucky location (187 Elm Street in Somerville) closes its doors forever (our first and only in 12 years) the very same day the award is announced. The closing party included champagne served in our Boloco Corn cups. We have asked Boston Magazine not to select us for other awards in the future.
Switches all plastic bowls to 100% compostable bowls derived from bamboo.
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).”
Selected #28 in Fast Casual Magazine’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers in the US.
Concord, NH (#14) opens.
Boloco on the Boston Commons (#15) in Boston opens (12/12/08) – also birthplace of Edgar Allen Poe.
Boloco location total = 15
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-cuttingceremony. 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 newfound 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 infamous 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, we finally calculated 6,257 guests had visited on this ferocious winter storm and Free Burrito Day was formally earned.
Celebrate our 13th birthday, 2/24, with Free Burrito Day. 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”).
30 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. Initial reward – Mayor Mondays (a guest and two friends eat for free). Like all rewards, it was subject to (and did) change. And when Four Square disappeared years later, so did the Mayor’s Card (RIP).
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 than end of this decade when the supply chain gets this shit straight hopefully.
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 Cycling Team participates in the Prouty charity ride in Hanover, NH for third year in a row. 26 riders pedal in the 50 and 100 mile rides raising over $25K to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. (We raise over $75,000 to benefit important causes via cyclingthroughout 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.
49 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. Also: Boloco Block Party and debut of the boloco Smoothie Bike.
Burlington becomes our first restaurant to serve beer. We host a burrito & beer tasting with Magic Hat Brewery benefiting 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? Free Burrito Day!We raise $2,926 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 and yet winner has yet to be crowned.
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.
Try to figure out how we can produce our own Boloco LipDub. #FAIL
Partner with super-cool tech start-up PeopleMatter to streamline our hiring process.
4 stores + more than 40 charities = 2nd Annual 12 Days of Giving. We raise $8,223 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.
Total Boloco Locations: 16
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 a 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 less than minimum hourly wage for a free pound of rice and beans (ok, and some other goodies)
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.
“Burritogate” – After agreeing to donate 200 burritos to the City of Boston to support a serious celebration of the city’s bike share 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 event and demanded that a permit be produced or our Federal Street location would be shut down. After a tense 15 minutes of debate, head chef Jason Hutchinson stripped his chef’s coat off and scrambled to 1010 Mass Ave and back to City Hall Plaza in the nick of time with a permit. Burritos were served, people were happy, but it was time for a business to speak up… in less than 140 characters, of course, on Twitter. “How a business can thank businesses for supporting its civic efforts with rudeness, threats, and disrespect has us reeling right now”. 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 with mug shots of Pepper and Mayor Menino front and center. 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 sign two leases in Washington, DC. Nation’s Capital here we come… summer 2012. We remind ourselves over and over again as we agree to most staggering rents ever… there is no recession in DC. There is no recession in DC. There is no recession in DC. We would build them, but people would need to come. Our biggest risk yet.
The first twitter firing ever takes place. A “twiring” some called it. Nobody was actually fired.
Boloco Location #18 opens at Atlantic Wharf in Boston, next to an already legendary Jody Adam’s Trade as well as some other fine neighbors. With four self-service kiosks and 2 traditional cash register areas, 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 customers 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.
Total Boloco Locations: 18
Boloco celebrates 15 years with the Life is Good Kids Foundation, giving away over 38,000 free burritos in late February and raising over $20,000 for the kids. VIDEO
Boloco wins the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in New England. It’s not that our food was better than Boston’s legendary chef and runner-up Barbara Lynch… but combining our people-first focus with our innovative food and practices apparently sealed the deal. Pepper wears a tux for the last time at the ceremony.
Boloco Location #19, and first outside of New England, opens in Bethesda, MD. The new restaurant design, updated menu, state-of-the-art technology, including 4 kiosks at the entry, cause one of our more esteemed board members to declare we have finally “arrived” in the big leagues. If only the wise words of board members could determine a certain and prosperous future! The restaurant opens with a bang and all is good in the world of Boloco.
Boloco Location #20 opens in beautiful Wellesley, MA.
Boloco hits the nation’s capital – Washington DC! Boloco #21 opens on 19th and L with plans to open 3 additional DC locations in the coming 18 months.
Total Boloco Locations: 21
Boloco opens #22 in Warwick, RI with our first drive thru! 30% of sales are delivered straight into customer’s vehicles. A whole new expansion strategy seems imminent… especially as Starbucks begins opening drive-throughs, we think we might be onto something. Not just for the fast food chains anymore!
Sales in DC and Bethesda slip and make raising our Series E round more challenging than expected. After turning down a $20 million growth capital offer in 2012 to wait for DC locations to open, we sign a term sheet for $15 million with the goal of reaching 60 locations by 2016. Due diligence to finalize the investment begins in July, leading into one the most challenging periods the company and its team have ever experienced.
Boloco opens #23 in Lynnfield, MA – but it’s technically #22 because we shuttered an underperforming #11 Tufts in the months prior. The silver lining is that the Tufts location was taken over by co-founder Jason Hutchinson and Adam Liebman and converted into wildly successful Tamper, a staple of the typical Tufts U student experience in the years to follow.
A management and board disagreement leads to the blocking of the aforementioned $15m growth investment and the departure of remaining founders Jason Hutchinson and John Pepper. A period of reckoning follows for the once promising Boloco brand and team. Time to baton down the hatches!
Total Boloco Locations: 22
Co-Founder John Pepper delivers a TEDx talk at Northeastern University on the business case for paying higher wages.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin speak at Boloco Atlantic Wharf as part of Raising the Minimum Wage campaign – still sadly stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009.
Short on cash and with sales dropping, Boloco board and management makes decision to close both locations in the DC area at the end of the year. Leases at #5 Newbury Street (Boston) and #8 Pearl Street (Boston) are not renewed with closure dates set for 2015.
Total Boloco Locations: 20
Co-Founder John Pepper buys back the company in June.
Boloco raises minimum starting wage to $12.00 per hour, with goal of reaching average wage of $15 by 2016.
To repay debt and shore up operations, Boloco sells #16 School Street (Boston) to Clover Food Lab, a local business that founder John Pepper invested in 2014.
Total Boloco Locations: 17
Boloco is one of only 12 restaurants in the country to become a Certified B Corporation, culminating its nearly 20 years of putting people and purpose first as its core business strategy.
Boloco partners with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and launches the Big Papi’s Kitchen Burrito and raises over $20,000 for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
Boloco completes buyout of its former Private Equity owners by selling 5 locations to its sister company, B.Good. Despite the loss of stores, it felt more prudent to be independent and free than to continue owing a few mill to “the man”. We closed our beautiful corporate offices overlooking the Boston Common for good… and transferred central communications and leadership to a small conference room in the back of Boloco at Berklee. Time to stick to the basics and find purpose and profitability!
Boloco says goodbye to #3 Cleveland Circle after 16 years of faithful service. One of the highlights was meeting James Taylor who was a regular customer in the late 90’s and early 2000’s 🎶
Total Boloco Locations: 11
Boloco surprisingly earns a spot on Fast Casual’s Top Movers and Shakers in the US. When co-founder Pepper protests the recognition and points the publisher to the recent blog post about Boloco’s challenges, the publisher adds Pepper’s name to the Top CEOs list for transparency and vulnerability in business. “Why the hell would you write that?” asked one industry vet. To this day, we don’t know if transparency and vulnerability are yet good for business results in the 21st century, but since they are so sorely lacking in business we thought we could at least push the concept to a new level.
Boloco sells 2 additional locations to Australian entrant Zambrero – #2 Harvard Square and #22 Warwick, RI.
Boloco completes the turnaround and returns to full profitability in 2017. Phew.
Total Boloco Locations: 9
2018 – March 2020
Lots of blocking and tackling. Focus on achieving livable wage as a basic wage for our team. Staying profitable. Building on our B Corp practices. Donations to good causes. Developing delicious new menu items with our good friend and incredible chef Justin Dain.
Life as a non-growth company is quite different than it was as a growth company. Not better or worse… just a maniacal focus on making the best of the here and now versus perpetual thoughts of world domination – not that we ever aspired to dominate anything.
In 2019, our landlord at #17 Copley Square bought us out to make way for Boston’s first Chick-Fil-A. Had we stayed, the cost was that our rent was allegedly going to increase from an already eye-popping $300,000 to over $600,000 per year. While the restaurant was always our top sales restaurant, that was just too big a nut to take on. Rent of $50,000 per month?? No thank you. Copley closed in October 2019.
Total Boloco Locations: 8
March 2020 – present