Taste the difference
Bubbakoo’s Burritos has been all about building better burritos since 2008, and in turn has grown the brand by delivering a combination of outstanding service, attention to detail and the highest quality ingredients
It was in 1999, while the pair were working at the Johnny Rockets restaurant franchise, that Bill Hart and Paul Altero first met. At the time, Bill was in the role of Supervisor at the company’s Albany, New York, location, and it was Paul who was sent there to assist its growth as General Manager. The latter quickly took the former under his wing – so to speak – and together they climbed the ladder of the business over the next ten years, with Bill ultimately managing its Midwest market and Paul the entire East Coast.
When Johnny Rockets was sold in 2007, the pair set the wheels in motion for establishing their own food brand. As fate would have it, back in 1995 Paul had completed a school project centered around a fictional burrito shop called Bubbakoo’s Burritos. Thirteen years later, in 2008, Bill and Paul turned this project into reality with the opening of the first Bubbakoo’s Burritos (Bubbakoo’s) in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Since then, the brand has expanded to multiple locations along the Jersey Shore, serving thousands of its now legendary burritos in the process.
“We believe that there is a lot that sets Bubbakoo’s apart from the other burrito shops out there,” begins Founder Bill Hart. “Firstly, the taste and freshness of our food is unmatched, and we are always looking to add next level flavors. We offer your standard beef, chicken and pork options, but that is not what makes us special, rather it is menu options such as our cooked-to-order hibachi style steak and shrimp burrito that our customers have fallen in love with. Our steak is hand trimmed and marinated for 24 hours and cooked-to-order while we assemble the rest of your burrito. We also have a Buffalo crispy chicken quesadilla that is one of our top sellers, as well as other favorites including our General Tsos chicken, Sriracha pork, ghost pepper shredded chicken, and sweet chili shrimp. We have also created a signature entrée called a ‘Chiwawa’, which is a fried rice ball that we flatten and top with queso and all of your burrito bowl favorites.”
“Secondly, what makes us special is the fact that our service standards are always incredibly high. How we treat our customers from the minute they walk into one of our locations until the minute they leave is a very important part of our training. From the moment somebody steps in, we want them to feel genuinely welcomed into our restaurants. We like to start a conversation with our customers, creating a comfortable experience, during which time we can do things such as offering them suggestions on how to create something unique for their taste buds. Ultimately, we want our customers to know that here at Bubbakoo’s, we are capable of much more than what they are perhaps used to.”
People and places
Each Bubbakoo’s restaurant boasts a cool, fun and relaxing atmosphere for customers to enjoy, with Bubbakoo’s branded surf and skate videos, and a diverse playlist of background music setting the tone and energy of the brand. “We currently have 39 locations open, with another 65 in development,” fellow Founder Paul Altero adds. “Our original goal was to open a few corporate locations, franchise a few more, and see where it took us. Having experienced the success that we have to date, our new goal is to find great people to grow our brand across the country. Indeed, one of our biggest thrills is watching other people and their families take such pride in the Bubbakoo’s Burritos name.”
The first ten Bubbakoo’s locations were wholly owned by the company itself, but since then the adoption of a franchising model has really been the catalyst behind the expansion of the brand. “Franchising was always in our plans, having witnessed its strengths first-hand at Johnny Rockets,” Bill confirms. “It is a way to grow a brand rapidly, but if done too fast with the wrong people and in the wrong markets it can be a failure. To avoid this, we laid out a plan to develop the brand from its core market and effectively ‘spider’ out from there. Our first several franchisees were local to us and our experience with them allowed us to put together the necessary tools and systems to provide the support needed.
“When looking for franchisees, we look for partners that align with our core values. In addition, we seek multi-unit operators that currently have restaurant experience, understands the franchise model, and strong liquidity. We invite all of our franchise prospects to tour our restaurants with us, and we finish this off with a large lunch, which offers us time to sit down, relax, and really get to know one another in a comfortable setting.”
One of Paul’s often used phrases is that the pair are very much in ‘the people business’. It is perhaps apropos, therefore, that they invest immense focus on their men and women how help Bubbakoo’s succeed on a daily basis. Among the many people who have helped the brand to grow are its three Vice Presidents; Gus DiGiovanni, Vice President of Operations (who previously served as Director of Operations for Dunkin’ Brands), Ron Bidnoist, Vice President of Construction (former Senior Director of Operations for Marie Callenders Restaurants in California), and Christopher Ives, Vice President of Finance (whose past roles include Operating Officer for Frutta Bowls and Accounting Manager for OnDeck Capital Inc.).
“Without the right people in place throughout the business, you inevitably become unstuck with a dark future ahead of you,” Paul states. “As a growing brand, we constantly have new people coming into the Bubbakoo’s family, and we take a lot of pride in making sure that we take care of them from the very start, giving them the right training, and offering them honest feedback and direction to help them achieve the career goals that they have with us.”
Community is also massively important to Bill and Paul, and as an active member of the community, Bubbakoo’s has long been committed to the overall well-being of all of those it interacts with. As a business, it is dedicated to paying it forward, whether that be by fundraising or supporting or devising specialist programs to reward and help people. An example of the latter would be its Read it to Eat it Program, designed to reward students for continuing education.
The idea came about when Bill was looking to help his own two school age sons achieve their weekly reading goals, but doing so in a fun way. “At the time, my mind turned to Pizza Hut’s Book It Club program before it hit me that we could do something similar ourselves,” he exclaims. “The concept is simple. We reach out to schools and let them know that we are offering this program in their area. Teachers then email us asking for a certain number of coupons. We, in turn, send them a branded index card for the kids to fill out naming five books that they have read. Once this has been signed off by their teacher it entitles them to a free student meal at Bubbakoo’s. Today, over 60,000 kids in more than 250 schools participate in this program nationwide, and we are very excited about watching this grow as we open in new markets in the future.”
Speaking of the future, where do Bill and Paul hope to see Bubbakoo’s in the coming years. “In the next three-to-five years, we see the company being much bigger than it already is now! By the end of 2021, we hope to have 200 locations signed, with at least 100 of these open. Come the end of 2022, we would like to see both of those figures doubled. Our brand definitely has the strength to reach 1000 units or more, and we plan to see it hit that target,” Bill concludes.