Big Mamma’s Burritos, a new quick-serve burrito restaurant in the Gordon Square Arts District, tested the waters with a soft opening last weekend and is now holding its grand opening on Friday, Nov. 20.
Franchise co-owner Jerry DePizzo, also the guitarist and saxophone player for popular Ohio rock band O.A.R., said he hopes the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood’s kinetic energy will bring the small chain good business. Their previous Cleveland location at Whistle and Keg Brewery in Historic Gateway was shut down following the protests in June.
“I was just very surprised with the decrease in foot traffic and kinetic energy in that downtown area,” said the restauranteur, explaining that although most businesses have been repaired, visitors and office workers haven’t yet returned to their pre-pandemic levels. “Overall, a triple A+ location just took a hard-right turn overnight. It is what it is.”
Shortly after the protests, DePizzo said he and co-owner Matt Crumpton began looking for open spaces in the community, eventually landing on Gordon Square. Now that the chain is set to reopen its new Cleveland branch, joining the initial Big Mamma’s location that opened in Athens in 2005 and the second in Columbus in 2016, the partners can focus on growing their customer base.
DePizzo hopes Big Mamma’s will offer something different in a relatively saturated build-your-own-burrito market through its various unique styles. “I always try to think, from the rock ‘n roll side, if I was an audience member, what would I want from this experience, this interaction, this show?” he said. “So, I carry that same mindset to the burrito side.”
DePizzo’s history of life on the road shines through when talking about his restaurant. “That rocks,” he describes the dash of chipotle ranch that he likes to add to Big Mamma’s chicken club style burrito, his favorite menu item, which wraps all the familiar trappings of a club sandwich – bacon, chicken, cheddar cheese – inside a soft tortilla.
Other popular items that you won’t find at places like Chipotle or Qdoba include a Philly-style burrito with steak as well as meatless options like a vegan chorizo and Beyond Burrito, which uses Beyond Burger vegan protein. Some other concepts are more traditional, and there’s also a build-your-own option.
DePizzo said his experience with the band has helped make him a better entrepreneur. “We run a small business,” he said. “O.A.R.’s a small business run by five guys. So, everybody has their own little aspect of it that they’re in charge of.” He hopes to continue working with the band as the small franchise develops a solid working culture and finds reliable general managers.
Gordon Square Arts District has had its share of struggles as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, losing several businesses in the wake of the March shutdown, including Spice Kitchen. Big Mamma’s Burritos replaces Daily Press Juice Bar, which opened in 2014. Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization gave out grants to help local businesses survive the pandemic, raising grassroots donations through the Fast Forward Fund.
“I’m excited for Big Mamma’s because I know there are a ton of fans from the Athens and Columbus area who I’m sure are very excited to see it open,” said Jessica Trivisonno, Director of Economic Development for DSCDO. “I’m also excited to have a fast casual option in the neighborhood that is takeout and delivery focused. They have a lot of food that can accommodate a variety of dietary needs and they’re open pretty late.”
DSCDO supported the restaurant by offering rent concessions during their build-out. “We have a committee made up of residents, board members, other businesses in the neighborhood and other stakeholders that help Detroit Shoreway decide which businesses get placed in vacant spaces,” said Trivisonno. “We had a couple of business interested in that space” but they ultimately decided that Big Mamma’s was the best fit.
Despite the setback of losing their Huron Road spot earlier this year, DePizzo said he and Crumpton are interested in moving the business into other regions like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, with their newest location in Gordon Square serving as a tentpole to expand. “What I really want to do is franchise Big Mamma’s Burritos,” DePizzo said. “We have three restaurants and I think we can prove our concept and show people that it’s a viable, franchisable business.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Playhouse Square had not been repaired following the civil unrest in June 2020. A few businesses have not been repaired, but most have.
Collin Cunningham is a freelance journalist who lives in Tremont. When he’s not writing or reporting, Collin likes to read, bike the city and spend time with his two lionhead rabbits, Curtis and Cloud.
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