It began, John Pepper says, with a phone call Wednesday from City Hall: Could one of his Boloco restaurants supply burritos for a major announcement the mayor wold be making in front of City Hall on Thursday?
In an interview with Universal Hub, Pepper, founder and CEO of the Boston-based burrito chain, said he didn't have to think twice about saying yes, in part because the company has long worked with the city to promote bicycling - it's one of two corporate sponsors of the annual Hub on Wheels citywide bike ride.
Pepper agreed to have the Federal Street Boloco provided 200 burritos - even though he knew it would mean some extra work, because the 1:30 announcement time came right on the heels of the Financial District restaurant's busiest period - lunch.
But neither the mayor's office nor Pepper counted on the dogged inspectors of ISD. Pepper said that Thursday morning, the manager at another Boloco got a call from an inspector at Inspectional Services: Did Boloco have a permit to serve up the burritos at the announcement? Pepper said the manager told him it wasn't his restaurant that was involved, but that he didn't think so. According to Pepper, the inspector gruffly replied the outlet better get one or he'd go down there and shut the place down.
Boloco started in Boston and most of its outlets are still here, but Pepper said he never realized he needed a permit to donate food to a city event. Rather than risk having one of his stores shut down, he said, he sent a worker down to ISD at 1010 Mass. Ave. to "pay $30 to donate food to the city."
Pepper said he couldn't believe a city inspector had just threatened to shut down one of his restaurants for trying to do something good for the city, and said the whole thing began to gnaw at him.
"I was stewing for about five hours," he said. He said he got into bed and couldn't get to sleep. As his wife asked him what he was doing, he reached for his iPhone and composed a series of tweets, including, "How a city can thank businesses for supporting its civic efforts with rudeness, threats, and disrespect has us reeling today."
Pepper said he believes Menino is serious about trying to make it easier for small businesses to operated in Boston, but he added he's amazed that two city departments couldn't communicate on something as simple as donated burritos - or that one of his managers would be threatened with a shutdown over them.
The mayor's office did not respond to a Universal Hub call for comment today.
This is not the first time this month that restaurants have run afoul of ISD. On April 6, the Boston Licensing Board ordered two restaurants to shut down because they had been operating without food-serving licenses. Owners of both restaurants said ISD workers had told them they only needed to get health and fire inspections and never told them they also needed permits from the licensing board.