For the past 10 years, Burrito Gallery along East Adams Street has been one of Downtown’s busiest lunch and dinner destinations.
With the addition of a new partner with experience in franchising, what has worked at the original and only location might soon be duplicated.
Burrito Gallery co-founder Paul Shockey said Tuesday that John Valentino, owner of four Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurants in Jacksonville, has joined Burrito Gallery as an equity partner and is the new CEO of the operation.
“After 10 years, we feel we should have more Burrito Galleries around the city. We’re doing great, but we haven’t been able to take that next step,” he said.
Shockey would not comment on the details of the partnership, other than that it’s an “equity deal” with Shockey and his partners transferring Gallery Restaurant Group stock to Valentino. The group also owns Uptown Market at 1303 N. Main St. in Springfield.
Valentino has been a Mellow Mushroom franchisee since 2004. He has four locations in Jacksonville and employs more than 400 people, he said.
“We want to move what is already a good thing forward. We’re going to refine Burrito Gallery and make it more efficient,” Valentino said.
Other discussions include a possible remodeling of the flagship Burrito Gallery and expansion of the kitchen and outdoor seating, he said.
Valentino discovered Burrito Gallery in February 2005, soon after he became a Mellow Mushroom franchise owner, while visiting Downtown during Super Bowl XXXIX.
“I went in and bought one taco. I liked it, so I went right back in and bought two more,” he said.
Valentino said Mellow Mushroom and Burrito Gallery share some common traits that he thinks makes the partnership and plans for Burrito Gallery’s future a good move.
“It has the same vibe. Burrito Gallery is kind of off the beaten path with quality food,” he said.
“We think our product is duplicable. We’re taking the Mellow Mushroom model of success and applying it to Burrito Gallery,” said Shockey. “We were looking for an equity partner or an investor. John also brings knowledge and expertise.”
After a decade as managing partner of the corporation and hands-on general manager of the restaurant, Shockey said the new arrangement is at first a “strange dynamic” for him and the other original shareholders.
“We had to admit we don’t know everything and get over that ‘owner’ mentality,” he said.
Valentino expects to also make some improvements at Uptown Market, possibly extending the hours of operation and adding new items to the menu, but there are no franchise plans at this time, he said.
Possible locations for the second and future Burrito Gallery locations already are being evaluated.
“We’re looking at sites and within a year, I think we’ll open the second Burrito Gallery. We’re ready to expand the brand,” said Valentino.