The Boston Ave. location of the Boloco burrito restaurant chain is now operating on a month-by-month lease and is hoping to see an uptick in sales, without which it will be forced out of business, Regional Area Manager Matt Taylor told the Daily.
“No business opens with the goal of closing,” Taylor told the Daily. “We’re going to do everything we can to not close it. That means free burrito days and installing [touch screen] kiosks – and they’re not inexpensive – all with the goal of increasing sales.”
Boloco’s five-year lease on the property expired last November. After receiving dozens of emails from the local community entreating the Boston Ave. location to stay open, the restaurant chain decided to retain the property on a month-to-month basis with its landlord, Walnut Hill Properties, which is operated by Tufts University.
Taylor worries that his efforts to bring more students to the struggling restaurant are failing and recounted continuous difficulties in making a profit since the restaurant’s opening in 2006.
“We saw the potential when we opened there, but that potential hasn’t come to fruition for us,” Taylor said. “The reality is, from a sheer business perspective, that it shouldn’t be open now.”
Walnut Hill Properties General Manager Bruce Ketchen is optimistic about Boloco’s chances.
“We’ve worked with this tenant, and we believe that we’ve worked out an arrangement whereby they should be able to stay there,” he said. “We’re not marketing [the property] to anyone else at this point; we don’t expect them to be leaving.”
Still, the restaurant’s continued viability as a business is contingent upon the continued patronage of its clientele, CEO and founder John Pepper said.
“We’ll keep doing our best to stay open on Boston Ave., but please think of us today when you are thinking of a place to eat with your friends or family, because that’s what it takes,” Pepper said in an email to InsideMedford.com. “As long as we can keep the restaurant growing, even just a little bit, we’ll stay. We hate bailing on neighborhoods.”
Scores of students lined up outside of Boloco two weeks ago for a celebration of the company’s 15th ‘birthday,’ a marketing technique that Tufts student Ankit Gupta believed was likely effective.
“There are a lot people who might’ve come [to Boloco] that ordinarily wouldn’t have, and decided they liked it,” Gupta, a junior, said. “It’s a short-term loss for a longer-term gain; their weekly or monthly burrito sales might’ve been higher because they’ve gained more customers.”
Gupta, who estimated that he eats at Boloco two to three times each week, expressed hope that the location would stay in business through the end of his college career, but was not convinced that all of their efforts were worth the personal expense.
“The touchscreens might’ve been a poor investment, because no one uses them,” he said.
Gupta also worried about Boloco’s degree of transparency with the community, but understood that, as a for-profit company, Boloco would not be eager to reveal its inner workings.
“Why would you want people to know that you’re almost out of business?” Gupta said. “I was just curious because I like the place, and I don’t want it to close.”
Despite the cheery outlook presented by the company’s website and the CEO’s public comments, Taylor is still unconvinced that Boloco will remain on Boston Ave. for long, unless more customers come to the store.
“We’ve seen an uptick in sales, but not to the extent that’s required,” he said. “If you like what we do, come in; if you don’t like what we do, we won’t be there much longer.”