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Bubbakoo's and the Top 500 logo.jpg Bubbakoo’s Burritos
Bubbakoo’s Burritos’ founders pride themselves on operating a concept that’s different form the other fast-casual burrito chains.

Bubbakoo’s Burritos continues expansion into the Midwest

The restaurant from the Jersey Shore peddles premium proteins without forgetting about value

Bubbakoo’s Burritos had another successful year in 2023. The surfing and skater themed concept founded on the Jersey Shore in 2008 opened 17 locations, closing out the year with 115 restaurants, according to cofounder Paul Altero. Sales grew by 24.6%.

Restaurant openings picked up speed in 2024, he said, with 14 new restaurants opened so far this year and up to 13 more in the pipeline.

The concept is mostly franchised, with 12 company-owned units, and operates mostly at inline locations in the suburbs.

Altero and cofounder Bill Hart, who met when working for casual-dining chain Johnny Rockets, pride themselves on operating a concept that’s different form the other fast-casual burrito chains. It has a casual vibe and atypical menu items such as the Chiwawa — panko-breaded cheesy rice balls topped with burrito fillings — and unusual proteins such as hibachi steak and shrimp. Specialty burritos include one with General Tso’s chicken and another inspired by the Philly cheesesteak. Southwestern spring rolls are counted among the appetizers and desserts include fried Oreo cookies and “love chips,” fried flour tortilla chips dusted in powdered sugar and drizzled with raspberry or caramel sauce.

Bubbakoo’s operates mostly in the Northeast and Florida and is expanding into the Midwest, particularly Ohio, which has restaurants spanning from Cleveland to Cincinnati.

The chain did open a couple of locations in California some years ago, but “we didn’t do so well,” Altero said.

“I just don't think we had the brand identity,” he said. “I think in time we’ll get there.”

Same-store sales were down by 4% last year, but Altero said his franchisees are happy and are glad to see the chain continue to grow.

“Happy franchisees tell other franchisees about us, and they're eager to sign on to the brand,” he said, adding that the new franchisees are coming to him organically. “We have no real marketing behind it.”

Altero said Bubbakoo’s has also benefited from the adversity it has faced. He and Hart opened their first location during the Great Recession, and most of their restaurants were still on the Jersey Shore when it was walloped by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

During COVID, Altero and his team found operational efficiencies and also were able to shrink the restaurants’ footprint from nearly 2,000 square feet to as little as 1,400 square feet.

To adjust to rising costs in 2023, Bubbakoo’s introduced value meals. “They’re very successful. For $8.99 you can get two tacos, chips and a beverage,” he said. “We have several options in that category, and we thought that was critical.”

The chain also started to advertise around sports in markets where it has a large presence, including the New York Yankees’ spring training in Florida.

“We had signage within the stadium, and I can’t tell you the amount of people that pulled out their cell phones and screenshot it and sent it to me,” he said.

They also partnered with the stadiums at Rutgers University and Ohio State, and, in Major League Baseball, with the Cincinnati Reds, where a Bubbakoo’s banner appears once every nine innings. “[That] was pretty exciting for us, being such a small company,” Altero said.

He added that he sees a long runway for growth for the concept. “It’s just a matter of time before we’re at 500 stores and working our way to 1,000 stores.”

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]

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