We partnered with JVS (Jewish Vocational Services) 7 years ago. They’ve had a huge impact on the lives and futures of many team members at Boloco over the years. They asked us to share some words about the partnership, and so we did. Here is the article.
Many years ago, John Pepper, the CEO of Boloco, was mopping the floor at a Boloco late at night, and he got to thinking about his team members and the fast-casual restaurant industry, asking himself why people chose to work behind the counter and back in the kitchen. “The obvious answer is that in many cases they didn’t choose this job… this was what was available,” he said. “A lot of our people immigrated from other countries, and others had missed out on finishing various levels of education in the United States and elsewhere. Either way, while much lip service was paid to restaurants being a great place to start a career, I couldn’t see it… not in a reliable way, anyhow.”
According to Pepper, that’s when Boloco moved beyond the burrito business to begin its journey of finding innovative ways to develop its team members. “Boloco’s mission is to positively impact the lives and futures of our people and communities through bold and inspired food and practices,” he said. “While the current lives of our team members are directly influenced by their employer, the chances of a brighter future with steps towards their life goals are not always well supported when working in restaurants. JVS has filled that gap wonderfully over the last 7 years.”
JVS began providing English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes to boloco team members in 2011. Then, at Boloco’s request, JVS expanded its offerings to include bilingual (English/Spanish) courses in ServSafe® Food Handling. JVS has since held more than 10 ServSafe® Food Handler classes, certifying more than 75 boloco team members. “Our goal in 2018 is that every team member gets ServSafe® certified within 6 months of joining Boloco, regardless of role,” Pepper said.
Boloco does not view itself as the end of all team members’ journeys. As a B Corp-certified company, social entrepreneurship (i.e., using business to promote goodness in the world), one of boloco’s goals is to serve as “an important stepping stone” in its team members’ career path, and JVS is a key partner in helping the company achieve this goal.
Longtime Boloco team member Edwin Arboleda enrolled in the first ESOL classes taught by Colleen Coffey, JVS’s original instructor for the program. After a couple of years in the JVS program, Arboleda applied for a second job at the Marriott Hotel, where he successfully navigated four interviews, all in English. He has been working in different departments and continues to learn a great deal, and he even opened his own side business.
“At the beginning, [the classes] helped me to be more secure while working at Boloco by talking more to customers, providers (vendors) and my co-workers,” Arboleda said. “I learned skills to do a better job by being able to read the policies and other tools and transmit to other employees new or old. By learning English, I was later able to open my own business, Cosmos Fashion, get all the permits and all the necessary things to open it. I would like to thank JVS and Boloco for the opportunity of improving my English, and I encourage everybody in Boloco to attend this class.”
As a result of ESOL classes, Deysi Rivera, a team member at Boloco Children’s Hospital, now feels comfortable helping Boloco guests with just about anything because of the JVS partnership and her drastically improved vocabulary. According to Pepper, she now earns over $14 per hour because of her ability to add more value to Boloco, approximately $1 above the livable wage mark in Boston.
At the heart of the Boloco-JVS partnership is building connections—not only between ESOL class participants and their career paths but also between Boloco team members. Boloco Berklee General Manager Adam Freidman said that JVS has helped him out tremendously. “As you obviously know, the majority of our employees are Spanish speaking. In fact, I am the only GM in Boston whose first language isn’t Spanish. That is an incredible hurdle for me in terms of connecting with the teams,” Friedman said. “JVS has helped me begin to break that wall. It was mostly just from the increased confidence and knowledge that the teams are now willing to at least try communicating with me in English.”
Pepper looks forward to continuing to expand the partnership with JVS. “Going forward we need to help people prepare for further automation in our industry,” he said. “We will continue to help people who are passionate about foodservice and restaurants excel, but most importantly will be hospitality training, leadership, and many unrelated skills like coding, accounting, and other areas.”