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    Why a Boston Mexican Chain is a Fast Casual to Watch

  • Fulfilling the need for fresh-Mex in the university-saturated city of Boston, Anna's Taqueria founder Mike Kamio generated a devout following.

    Anna’s Taqueria / Brian Samuels

    It was founder Mike Kamio’s experience in Northern California that led him to start Anna’s Taqueria in Boston. “I grew up surrounded by food in San Francisco,” Kamio says. After spending almost a decade working in finance roles in Silicon Valley and watching the Mexican food industry rise in California, Kamio moved to Boston for another business opportunity. It wasn’t long, however, before he realized Boston was in need of a San Francisco, Mission-style burrito restaurant.

    “The opportunities were there, but no one was grabbing them,” he says. So Kamio set up shop on the East Coast, opening his first Anna’s location in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner neighborhood in 1995. Brookline and the greater Boston community, in return, fell quickly in love.

    Today, the brand is nearly 180 employees strong, stretched over eight company-owned Boston locations that are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The restaurants serve burritos, tacos, quesadillas, bowls, and salads, stressing fresh ingredients—everything on the line is made that day—authentic recipes, and expert rolling and assembly technique. Kamio emphasizes that Anna’s has always been about providing customers with quick, inexpensive, and fresh food.

    The most popular menu items include Al Pastor Tacos, the Carnitas Burrito, and the Grilled Chicken Burrito. “Our grilled chicken is an approachable crowd favorite that has been a menu option since we first started,” Kamio says. Carnitas, too, have been a consistent best-seller, but Al Pastor was a latecomer. “We saw a demand for it, and developed a recipe that quickly became a big hit. It has fresh onion, fresh cilantro, and a pineapple marinade.”

    Of course, all these fillings are customizable to whatever toppings and base the customer wants, Kamio says, to create a meal that can be made to fit into anyone’s diet. Anna’s Taqueria also serves breakfast dishes, as well as fresh squeezed juices and horchata.

    One of the keys to Anna’s success, Kamio says, is the locations the team has chosen over the years. Beyond the space itself—each restaurant varies in size—Kamio looks for hubs like Harvard Square, in the middle of a community with a lot of people flowing throughout the day. “We really are a neighborhood taqueria,” Kamio says.

    Anna’s grew organically in key Boston neighborhoods. Two years after opening in Brookline on Beacon Street, an east-to-west street, Kamio went against the advice of others to open a location only blocks away, with traffic running north to south instead. The two stores may be only four blocks away from each other, but Kamio says they feel like they’re worlds apart.

    Because Boston is a big college town, many of Anna’s locations are close to local campuses, and the brand has garnered a strong connection among both students and alumni alike. The latter, Kamio says, will often stop by Anna’s when they return for a visit.


    Anna's Taqueria

    OWNER: Mike Kamio

    HEADQUARTERS: Newton, Massachusetts

    YEAR STARTED: 1995

    ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed

    TOTAL UNITS: 8

    TOTAL FRANCHISED UNITS: 0

    annastaqueria.com


    The trick to hooking and keeping these customers, Kamio says, is consistency in price and product. The value componenet, after all, appeals to people of all ages. Still, Kamio finds himself humbled by the huge following Anna’s has built over the decades.

    “Years ago, I went with a friend of mine to see a potential location, and a couple came up and peeked into the window next to us,” Kamio says. “They said, ‘You know what would be really great here? An Anna’s Taqueria.’ It blew me away. I feel very lucky that we have developed such a loyal fan base.”

    Although Anna’s locations can vary inside, each is built to remind guests of walking into a family kitchen. “It’s warm, comfortable, and a little bit nostalgic,” Kamio says. Bright ceramic Talavera tiles provide pops of color against the eggshell-white countertops and light-yellow walls. The focal point of every restaurant is a central counter where customers interact with staff as their burritos are built.

    To be fully immersed in the various Boston neighborhoods, Kamio finds it important to give back to the community. Regular initiatives include the brand’s Charity Roller Program, wherein organizations come to Anna’s for a night and roll burritos to raise money for their causes. All the proceeds go directly to the rollers’ charity of choice, with past participants including Casa Myrna, which provides domestic violence services; MassEquality, which works against discrimination; and most recently Boston Marathon runners.

    Being a quick car ride from any of his locations, Kamio is most interested in the opportunities close to home. “We still see a lot of opportunity in the Boston area,” he says. It also ensures he can react quickly should emergencies ensue, as happened this past February when a car crashed into the Brookline location.

    Unexpected crises aside, the team is focused on its newest challenge: the brand’s newest location in the Prudential Center, an iconic mall and office skyscraper located in Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood. It’s a far cry from Anna’s usual university stomping grounds, but he isn’t the least bit deterred.

    “It’s a very new type of location for us,” Kamio says. “Even the weather patterns are different.”