Back to top

Creating a ‘bueno’ place to work

Photos by

Bob Lowry ’93 always knew he had an appetite for business—he just didn’t know it would come with a side of guac. Countless burritos (and tacos and quesadillas) later, we found out how he keeps everyone happy—customers and employees alike.

For nearly three decades, UMass students have leaned on Bueno Y Sano for their study-break burritos. Locals agree—the food really is “good and healthy,” not to mention quick and tasty. Since the first restaurant opened in Amherst in 1995, eight more have sprung up across western Massachusetts and beyond. Lowry spoke with UMass Magazine about how Bueno Y Sano’s commitment to do right—not only by its customers but also its employees—has created a business model that lives up to its name.

Did you always know you were going to be a restaurateur?

Nope, not at all. I was back in Amherst for homecoming weekend, I saw a “For Rent” sign in a window in downtown Amherst next to Antonio’s Pizza, and it just hit me at that moment. I’d had a burrito maybe a month before on Nantucket, and I guess that burrito had made an impression. I put it together and thought, I can figure out how to make a burrito—or at least I can figure out how to run a business that would sell burritos—and right next to Antonio’s would be a great place to put a restaurant. I just knew it was something I could pull off, and I wanted to be the boss.

You were a young boss!

Yes, I was 24. But that was what I wanted—to be the one in charge. I thought I would enjoy it and that I could create an environment where people would enjoy working. And that was all true! I have always enjoyed it, and I now teach a course at UMass called Introduction to Entrepreneurship. The leadership aspect of this job is just the right fit for me. We were really successful right away—within three years our revenue was over a million dollars a year.

Closeup of a hand holding a burrito

You’re not the only boss, though—a former employee of yours partly owns the business. How did that come about?

We hired Florentina Saravia, a woman from El Salvador, in 1995, and a few months later hired two of her sons, then 16 and 17. Initially, most of our employees were UMass students, but over time our workforce grew to be almost exclusively people from El Salvador. When our Northampton location opened in 2005, one of Florentina’s sons, Rolando, became my business partner. It was clear to me that he was key to recruiting, scheduling, and training, so it was a good idea for him to have some equity in the business and that has really worked out.

You’ve been quoted as saying that rather than figure out what someone has done wrong and then tell them, you prefer to figure out what they’ve done right and tell everyone.

Yes, exactly. I believe in the principles of positive reinforcement. We also like to use a secret shopper program—customers sign up to be secret shoppers and send their reports back to the staff. It’s almost entirely positive feedback. We also like to make an effort to have fun. We have a huge Christmas party every year—it’s a bit like going to the prom!

Did your marketing major at UMass position you for this?

Actually, when I look back, I can see that my time at UMass was my market research! Back then the food system there was kind of struggling, and people were hungry. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I didn’t feel all that motivated to go out and get a big job. My UMass degree gave me the confidence to try doing this instead. What I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you learn most of what you need to know by getting started and simply doing whatever it is you’re doing. That’s really the name of the game.

What’s your “usual”?

The smoked brisket taco plate! We have an old-school eight-foot Texas-style smoker. Try it—it’s legit.