OCC Entrepreneur and Businessperson of the Year Bubbakoo’s Founder Paul Altero Serves Up Burritos, Business Acumen
“Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur,” says alumnus Paul Altero, the co owner and founder of the Bubbakoo’s Burritos restaurant chain. “And that’s great. I like that spirit. But you have to pay your dues. You have to work hard and learn.”
When Altero speaks at his alma maters – both OCC and the University of Delaware – he encourages his young audience. “Kids need to hear that they can do it,” Altero, 47, noted. But he also emphasizes diligence.
While attending high school at Donovan Catholic, Altero felt he likely didn’t possess the diligence or maturity to attend a four-year college. “I wasn’t financially prepared to go to an institution I couldn’t afford,” he said. “ So, there was that affordability factor. And my father was sick at the time with cancer so I didn’t want to go far away from my home for college.”
Altero decided to enroll at OCC. “It was 100 percent the right choice,” he remarked. “How could it not be a great choice? It’s affordable, and you get a quality education.”
“Community college is an awesome option,” he added.
As he said of his time at OCC, during which he also worked, “I really enjoyed the business classes I took.” When he started at the University of Delaware to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management, he felt prepared. OCC fostered his “maturity and academic acumen.”
After graduating from OCC with an A.S. in Business Administration in 1993, Altero continued his education and received a B.S. from the University of Delaware in 1995. He then set his sights on Atlantic City. He held management roles for Resorts Hotel & Casino, Pizzeria Uno, Nordstrom’s restaurant division, and Friendly’s restaurants. He then began a 10-year stint with Johnny Rocket’s, where he became Regional Director of Eastern Operations when he was in his early 30s. Before leaving Johnny Rocket’s, Altero advanced to Interim Vice President of Operations, overseeing locations both regionally and nationally.
In 2008, Altero opened the very first Bubbakoo’s Burritos in Point Pleasant. “The idea came from my days at the University of Delaware,” he noted. As an undergrad there, he traveled to visit a cousin in Washington, D.C., and was introduced to the concept of the make-your-own-burrito, which seemed to be gaining popularity.
“This was always something I wanted to do…but I wanted to do it differently,” said Altero.
The chain’s menu, he noted, is not your standard offering. The most popular items: the crispy buffalo chicken burrito, the hibachi steak and shrimp burrito, and sriracha pork burritos all set Bubbakoo’s apart from its competitors.
In addition to the custom burritos and tacos, the restaurants offer burrito bowls, quesadillas, nachos, taco salads, and “The Chiwawa,” a lightly-fried, panko-crusted cheesy rice ball smothered with nacho cheese, choice of meat, and toppings. There are also student meals, a kids’ menu, and a “lifestyle menu” with items such as a keto bowl, a whole food plant-based bowl, and various vegan choices.
Bubbakoo’s, which Altero co-owns with Bill Hart, is also known for its service standards and energetic atmosphere.
In 2015, Altero was named the Businessperson of the Year by the Future Business Leaders of America, and he is a three-time recipient of the University of Delaware’s Blue Hen 17&43 Award. In 2018, Bubbakoo’s Burritos was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Franchises and was ranked Top 10 Hottest Mexican Franchises.
It was “scary and exciting” opening that first location, said Altero, who took out home equity loans and maxed out credit cards to do so. But he kept doubling down and rolled the proceeds into more stores. Now, there are 32 locations in California, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Pennsylvania, as well as throughout New Jersey– with 32 more restaurants currently under development nationwide.