The concept for Bubbakoo’s Burritos was created at the University of Delaware in early 1990s. Paul Altero developed the restaurant’s business plan while he was a student at the university, but it was several years before the idea would come to fruition.
“I always had a passion for burritos and tacos,” says Altero, co-founder and CEO of Bubbakoo’s Burritos, which today has eight locations in New Jersey, six along the Jersey shore.
The road from the business plan that Altero wrote as a business school assignment to the opening of the restaurant’s first location in Point Pleasant, N.J., in 2008, had some detours and a critical connection with the man who would become his partner.
Altero spent 10 years working as a regional director for Johnny Rocket’s, the restaurant franchise whose themed decor is based on 1950s diners. During his time there, he met Bill Hart, a district manager for the franchise. “We really connected,” Altero recalls. “We worked hand-in-hand.”
Altero shared with Hart his vision for a burrito restaurant. “We were getting kind of excited about the idea,” he says. Hart had a culinary background and the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to help launch a new restaurant, Altero says. The duo left Johnny Rockets in 2008 and opened the first Bubbakoo’s Burritos later that year. Hart serves as the restaurant’s president.
“Business was a little soft in the beginning,” Altero says. But it wasn’t long before the restaurant’s “Ameri-Mex” concept caught on. A second location opened in 2009 and the franchise has enjoyed ongoing success. “We’ve opened one a year for seven years,” he says. The food was well received by “Millennials and Gen-Xers who are members of the shore scene,” but the customer base eventually expanded to include older individuals and their families, Altero says.
All Bubbakoo’s Burritos are located in former eateries, which made opening them easier because much of the infrastructure was already in place, Altero says. He also prefers to open new locations in areas that feature other restaurants. “We don’t see other restaurants as competition because we are so different,” he says. Locating in areas where there are other restaurants is an advantage because it attracts more potential customers.
Altero describes the Bubbakoo’s menu as a “fusion.” It includes burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, taco salad and the Chiwawa, a lightly fried, panko-crusted cheesy rice ball smothered with nacho cheese and a choice of toppings.
“Burritos made your way” is the concept on which the restaurant was built. Customers who order burritos can choose from chicken, beef, pork or shrimp along with numerous toppings and sides. “We make it with you,” Altero says of the ordering process. The meat and seafood selections include crispy fried chicken, buffalo chicken or shrimp and barbecued pork.
“We can really get creative,” Altero says. “We have variety. We are constantly in the test kitchen. We like to keep the menu fresh. We like to keep the menu different.”
Outstanding service is the other key component to Bubbakoo’s success. “We’re really big on dialogue and talking to people,” Altero says. “Personality is hard to teach.”
Word of mouth is the most valuable marketing tool for Bubbakoo’s Burritos, Altero says. The company also employs a public relations firm and maintains a strong community presence. “We like to do different events,” he says. “Community involvement pays for itself tenfold.”
Long-term plans for Bubbakoo’s Burritos include expansion outside of New Jersey. Altero says that the restaurant’s business concept, systematized procedures and vendor access can have franchisees up and running quickly. The company’s support includes location assistance, ongoing training and field support, supplier assistance and marketing.