Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boloco in Boston Common location will be replaced by Starbucks before the end of the year

Arthur Mansavage
Boloco at 176 Boylston St.

If you’re in the mood for a burrito other than El Jefe’s, you’ll need to act fast.

The Boston Common location of local Mexican restaurant chain Boloco will be closing before the end of the year to make way for a new Starbucks. Located at 176 Boylston St., the burrito joint that has been serving the Emerson campus for 15 years will close its doors for the last time around Thanksgiving.

“Our lease technically ends Nov. 30, so in all likelihood [it will close] that day or before,” said John Pepper, Boloco’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview with the Beacon. 

The Starbucks location is expected to open soon after that.

The acquisition of the chain’s Boston Common location has been in the works for a couple of years, according to Pepper, because of economic fallouts as a result of the pandemic.

“I suggested and introduced the landlord and their broker to the representatives of Starbucks, who I also know,” he said. 

Similar to brands like Patagonia and AllBirds, Boloco is a Benefit Corporation, or B Corp, meaning they are evaluated at a high standard of sustainability and equity in their corporate practices. Boloco also has a history of paying workers above minimum wage requirements and supporting frontline workers through their pandemic Feed the Frontline program.

“We’ve always put our people first … our real goal has been to be the highest payer of wages in the country,” Pepper said. “Nobody else [is] ahead of us in fast food.”

Pepper believes Starbucks shares a similar commitment to the community and its employees.

“I still hold Starbucks in a really high regard because they changed the path for employees in the industry,” Pepper said. “[They provide] some of the best benefits … [and] most competitive wages. People don’t remember that a lot.”.

When it opens, the Boston Common Starbucks will become the second Starbucks on Emerson’s campus, only 500 feet from a location at 62 Boylston St. Despite the proximity, Pepper believes the new location won’t have any major negative impact on other Starbucks locations or local businesses.

Starbucks recently closed a different location on Boylston Street last February, approximately eight months after workers voted to unionize that location. Pepper viewed the Boston Common location as a good replacement.

“It’ll be a great coffee shop of any kind, but I think it’ll be a great Starbucks,” Pepper said. “They’ll do right by the community. As big as they are, they still come in with some heart.”

Some Emerson students agreed that the new Starbucks location won’t negatively impact other Starbucks locations.

“I feel like it might lessen the load on the other Starbucks because it’s always busy,” said Roxy Fisher, a sophomore media arts production major.

Though none had been to Boloco, others believed that the new Starbucks would be bad for local businesses, especially as it is replacing a local chain. 

“It’s unnecessary [and] … destroying local business,” sophomore writing, literature & publishing major Teya Sorensen said.

Junior journalism major Zachary Poulin added that students should “get their coffee elsewhere … We don’t need any more Starbucks.”

Since Pepper opened his first location in 1997, then called Under Wraps, much has changed for the area and his business alike. That flagship location, located near the Berklee College of Music, closed last August, and another location in the Financial District at 50 Congress St. is also scheduled to close before the end of 2023.

As leasing agreements for all Boloco storefronts came due this year, Pepper, whose business has been struggling since the pandemic, found himself re-evaluating the way forward for Boloco.

“Leases are literally a time when you’re like, ‘do we keep going or not?’”  Pepper said. “You reach a certain age and you ask yourself, ‘Where’s all this going,’ and ‘What’s the purpose?’ Boloco has served an incredible purpose for a long time.”

Pepper left Boloco in 2013 after selling the chain to private equity firm Winona Capital Management in 2007. He bought back the company in 2015. When the pandemic hit, it caused extensive closures to Boloco stores and without the safety net of investors, selling off the remaining locations became the logical next step.

“We’ve sold a lot of locations on the way down, [but] … it hasn’t been that difficult of a decision, other than emotionally,” said Pepper.

After the dust from the pandemic settled, there was a lot more competition on the block from the arrival of El Jefe’s Taqueria and Tatte Bakery & Cafe in the spring of 2020, Pepper said. 

“The center of gravity shifted that way,” Pepper said. “You get a crop of new freshmen every year. If you don’t somehow get to them early, you’re lost pretty quickly … Then you get a whole crop of people who don’t even think about you for four years if you’re not careful.”

Pepper said things haven’t always been this way, as Boloco used to employ lots of Emerson interns. Pepper said he even spoke at Emerson in 2019 about B Corps.

“Emerson carried us for 12 years until the pandemic,” Pepper said.”That is the key thing that you can point at as making that such a successful restaurant for so many years.”

The historically progressive college and the progressive message of Boloco fit well together for over a decade, according to Pepper. 

“Emerson is an incredibly creative, innovative student body,” Pepper said.”[The students] were way on top of it and helped us be innovative in the food space.

For Pepper, it will be a bittersweet ending, as the location that once served as “ground zero” for all Boloco operations closes its doors. He reflects with appreciation on the influence that this Boloco had on the community at Emerson and beyond.

“It really was an incredibly awesome, busy, financially successful, and community-oriented restaurant,” Pepper said. “That’s the part that sucks, is that that is no longer.”

Two Boloco locations will remain open, one near the Boston Children’s Hospital and another in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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About the Contributor
Bryan Hecht
Bryan Hecht, News Co-Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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