BTB Burrito, an Ann Arbor favorite among University of Michigan students, recently completed its move from South State Street to South University Avenue. The restaurant had temporarily been consolidated with Good Time Charley’s, a staple student bar and restaurant, from March through August.
Owner and founder Adam Lowenstein, a University of Michigan alum, opened the restaurant in 2004 during his senior year with business partner Justin Herrick. Lowenstein also owns Good Time Charley’s.
Business junior Julianna Schaffer said she enjoyed the ambience of the S. State St. location, which had been located there for the past 16 years.
“It had a nice atmosphere. They just had this one table and counter with really nice employees,” Schaffer said. “It was a great place to end up at the end of the night.”
Beginning in March, Lowenstein said BTB Burrito began to experience a loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Businesses in college towns who are dependent upon student customers took a double hit, which is that we were closed for dine-in and our customer base was sent home,” Lowenstein said.
For the next five months, BTB operated from the Good Time Charley’s kitchen and, like many businesses over the summer, struggled to survive without their core customer base.
“The number one thing we had to do was just be efficient and save money while our customers were out of town,” Lowenstein said.
When BTB returned to S. State in September, Lowenstein expected a return to normalcy, but the pandemic offered a series of new challenges. One of these challenges was the inability to operate through their normal late-night hours. Lowenstein also said he worried about the safety of his staff given the difficulty of enforcing strict mask-wearing and social distancing.
“The business model was based on staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, so when we started closing at midnight it cut off a lot of sales,” Lowenstein said.
LSA senior Arturo Pérez, who has eaten at BTB Burrito during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the setup feels very different than before the pandemic.
“It felt more rushed,” Pérez said. “They got rid of the table and most people would wait outside for pickups, they don’t eat inside. Usually there’s a line of people waiting, sometimes they’re drinking, and they had music going too.”
Lowenstein said there is a physical location that serves as the hub for pickup and delivery orders, though some orders may come from a different restaurant’s kitchen. This led to a change in sales that offset the losses of the walk-in business to favor deliveries.
“In a way, it’s like a ghost kitchen, where the brand exists online, and people order, and it gets delivered, but it may come from a different restaurant,” Lowenstein said. “Except we do have a physical location where people can come pick it up and interact with somebody.”
BTB Burrito was having some trouble maintaining sales through third-party delivery services such as Uber Eats or Doordash, both of which take roughly 20 to 30% of each order, not including customer charges, Lowenstein said. On top of that, the service provided was unreliable and began to cause problems for the restaurant.
“We were getting a lot of bad reviews, and we lost a lot of customers because we were depending on these third-party services,” Lowenstein said.
To combat this problem, BTB Burrito hired their own drivers, who now also deliver alcoholic beverages from Charley’s, boosting overall sales.
According to Lowenstein, these new changes will likely influence the status of the lease for the S. State location, which ends in December.
“At Charley’s we have a much longer lease, and we’re already paying rent here, so we can utilize the space and hopefully maintain some of the delivery sales and some of the pickup sales,” Lowenstein said. “In years to come, we’re going to have a decision to make whether or not we try to reopen in our old location or stay on South U.”
Lowenstein added that he feels it will be difficult to commit to a new lease term with students set to leave for the winter, which will bring about a drop in sales.
Right now, however, Lowenstein is optimistic because they were able to bring over a lot of employees and upgrade their service through a new, consolidated delivery system using Good Time Charley’s kitchen and beverages.
“BTB is an institution that’s been around for a really long time, and it was a really hard decision for us to decide to close those doors, because we just don’t know if we’re going to open up again on State St.,” Lowenstein said. “It’s not goodbye to the brand — it’s definitely going to be around and hopefully here for another 16.”
Daily News Contributor James Gerard can be reached at email@example.com
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